Key Takeaways

#1 – The Value of Rest. Our natural inclination to think more is better often leads us to underestimate the value of rest. Yet, whether we’re looking to build muscle or brain, rest is essential. We grow when we rest, and the purpose of both physical and cognitive exercise is to send the signal to grow once we rest. In this day and age of information overload, deliberate prioritization of rest and downtime is more important than ever.

#2 – Knowledge Work as a Cognitive Endurance Activity. In the world of endurance sports, of the most useful ideas that has emerged, or at least grown in popularity, in recent years is that of polarized training. Research indicates that our best results from the standpoint of inducing adaptations that improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance are achieved when workouts are limited to the extremes, or the poles. Workouts in the middle ground, which is where a lot of people train, produce the worst results, and kind of are the worst of both worlds.

James has introduced the idea of cognitive gears, which maps onto these concepts from endurance sports. Our best results from cognitive work are achieved when we break our work into shorter bursts of intense focus, and then periods of rest, rather than spending time in the middle zone. Just as success in endurance sports demands careful attention to the generation and management of energy, so much of improving cognitive function and performance is about how we generate and manage the energy that fuels our brain.

#3 – Physical and cognitive health are tightly linked. As discussed in the first episode, it’s easy to forget that the mind is a biological entity, and that our cognition is directly dependent on your physical health. Improving cognitive function and performance should always start with improving physical health, as it will usually produce the greatest improvements in the shortest amount of time, while also protecting the health and function of the brain over the long term.

Related mental models: Hardware & Software, Mismatch

Links, etc:

Nourish Balance Thrive
Show notes and transcript from Nourish Balance Thrive podcast
James Hewitt
Hintsa Performance
The “Learn to Uke” Brain Fitness Challenge
The Brainjo Collective, a community of lifelong learners


Episode 6 – Optimizing the Performance of the Knowledge Worker