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You can improve the way your brain works

Darwin's sandwalk
The 'sandwalk' where the great scientist. Charles Darwin, did much of his thinking


SONOMA - A fertile brain bubbling with game changing ideas is the by-product of habits consistently practiced.

A fertile brain does not emerge by accident, nor is it given on a golden plate.

It needs to be shaped and transformed through consistent good thinking and good practice over time.

This means that everyone must take responsibility for their own brain and the discipline and practices to make it fertile.

Neuroscientists say our brain is malleable and learns through habits consistently practiced.

These can ‘reshape’ the neural wiring of the brain which, over time, changes.

“Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to continue growing and evolving in response to life experiences,” write the editors of Psychology Today.

This being so, we are the architect of our own brain: We become what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not good luck, it’s a habit.

I had the privilege to study the lives of some of the most creative minds on the planet.

I discovered that one of the recurring themes was that they are creatures of habit.

The cumulative effect of habitual behaviour produced a compounding effect that enabled them to become giants in their respective specialisations.


Darwin grounds
A representation of the grounds around Darwin's home, Down House. You can see the much worn track, the 'sandpath', which Darwin called his 'Thinking Path'

Charles Darwin’s daily walks are a case in point.

“The grandfather of modern evolutionary theory walked in rain and sunshine, in youth and age, in company and solitude,” Dr Damon Young wrote in Psychology Today.

“This constitutional was not just for cardiovascular fitness, or to post his thousands of letters.

"It was a vital part of his intellectual routine.

The ‘sandwalk’ was a gravel track near Down House, his home in Kent – he called it his ‘thinking path’.

“Every day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, Darwin strolled and reflected amongst the privet and hazel, often alongside his fox terrier.”

So it is possible to reshape our brains. We are its architect.

As drops of water falling on a rock eventually create a hole, so consistent habits chisel new neural pathways inside the universe of the brain.

Then we have a brain that overflows with sparkling ideas.

A fertile brain capable of a superior level of creativity, analytic skill and insight is not accidental but the by-product of habits of the mind that make the brain our greatest asset.

And to maximise its fertility and creativity, we need to discipline our brain through habits consistently practiced, by enabling it to absorb knowledge by reading, discussion and argument, by pushing it to think through difficult problems, by training it through consistent practice, and by understanding the cumulative effect of habitual behaviour.

There all things we can do sitting in a chair, or by taking long, thoughtful walks like Charles Darwin used to do.

Charles Darwin’s daily routine

Darwin's study - interior - armchair
Charles Darwin's study and his favourite armchair

Compiled by his son Francis

In his middle and late life, there was little variation in Darwin's daily routine

7.00 am              Rose and took a short walk

7.45 am              Breakfast alone

8.00 am              Worked in his study (he considered this his best working time)

9.30 am              Went to drawing-room and read his letters, followed by reading family letters aloud

10.30 am            Returned to study, for a period he considered the end of his working day

12 noon              A walk starting with visit to greenhouse, then usually alone or with a dog, round the ‘sandwalk’, the number of times depending on his health

12.45 pm            Lunch with the family was his main meal of the day. After lunch read The Times and answered letters

3.00 pm              Rested on the sofa in his bedroom, smoked a cigarette, listened to a novel or other light literature read by his wife Emma

4.00 pm              A walk usually round the ‘sandwalk’, sometimes further afield and sometimes in company with others

4.30 pm              Worked in his study completing matters of the day

6.00 pm              Rested again in bedroom with Emma reading aloud

7.30 pm              Light high tea while the family dined. In later years he never stayed in the dining room with the men, but retired to the drawing-room with the ladies. If no guests were present, he played two games of backgammon with Emma, usually followed by reading to himself, then Emma played the piano, followed by reading aloud. Even when guests were present, half an hour of conversation at a time was all that he could stand, because it exhausted him

10.00 pm            Left the drawing-room and was usually in bed by 10.30 pm, but he mostly slept badly


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Bernard Corden

Brain-centric closed system approaches invariably degenerate into Watson and Skinner behaviourism and disregard many other important factors such as interaffectivity, interconnectivity, intercorporeality, embodiment and personhood.

Indeed, the human brain does not make decisions, it merely hosts conversations. The following texts offer a much more sophisticated worldview:

Michel Foucault's 'Birth of the Clinic'

Guy Claxton's 'Hare Brain Tortoise Mind' and 'Intelligence in the Flesh'

Thomas Fuchs also offers some fascinating research covering depression, intercorporeality and interaffectivity.

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