Here are my key takeaways from the book Limitless by Jim Kwik. The book is about how to reach your full potential, which Kwik views as basically limitless. The author is a renowned brain expert, so this book looks at optimizing your brain and mind.
Here is a clickable table of contents to help you navigate this article.
Advice for where to start:
If you have any negative or limiting self-talk, start with Part 1: Mindset. If you struggle to take action, start with Part 2: Motivation. If you are a student who wants to learn faster for school, I suggest you jump straight to Part 3: Methods.
Why did the author write this book?
As a child, Kwik struggled with learning due to a childhood brain injury. It wasn’t until university that he finally started devoting effort to learning how to learn. After seeing drastic improvement to his learning ability, he dedicated his life to teaching others how to learn more effectively. He grew up believing he had many limitations, and he knows how crippling that feels. He hopes to help others see that they can be limitless so that they can contribute their full potential to the world. He’s been doing that for years through consulting, speaking engagements, online courses, and his Kwik Brain podcast. He wrote this book to consolidate all his teachings from his past work to create an accessible book for the mass public.
What are the main ideas of the book?
Kwik believes that there’s three keys to becoming limitless: Mindset, Motivation, and Methods.
Part 1: Mindset
He defines mindset as
“The deeply held beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions we create about who we are, how the world works, what we are capable of and deserve, and what is possible.”
He gives the analogy of a baby elephant that’s tied to a stake in the ground. As a baby, the elephant doesn’t have enough power to pull the stake up, so it eventually stops trying. By the time the elephant is grown up, it has more than enough power to overcome the stake, but it doesn’t try because of what it learned as a baby. People’s limiting mindsets are like that stake.
To unlimit our mindset, Kwik talks about
Types of Genius
Overcoming Limiting Beliefs
The 7 Lies of Learning
1.1 Types of Genius
In school, we learned that smart people get good grades. The problem is, people are smart in different ways, and school doesn’t measure all of the ways. Kwik mentions four types of geniuses:
Dynamo Genius: They have amazing creativity and ideas. Example: Shakespeare.
Blaze Genius: They have an extraordinary ability to connect with people. Example: Oprah.
Tempo Genius: They have the ability to see the big picture and stay on course towards that grand vision. Example: Nelson Mandela.
Steel Genius: They are great at details. Example: Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google)
Kwik recommends people to identify what type of genius they have and to evaluate their ability from that perspective rather than from the book-smart perspective.
1.2 Overcoming Limiting Beliefs
Next, Kwik talks about overcoming our limiting beliefs through three steps.
Step 1: Name Your Limiting Belief. For example, you might think you’re not good company to others, that you’re not interesting. You can name it the “I’m not enjoyable to be around” belief.
Step 2: Get to the Facts. The key here is to not focus on how you felt but what actually happened. For example, you might have felt horrible speaking in a group. But what happened? Did anyone say you’re boring? Did anyone tell you go to away? Probably not.
Then ask yourself, “How much of my perceived poor performance was because my self-talk just wouldn’t leave me alone?”
Step 3: Create a New Belief. Your limiting belief probably used words like “always” or “never”. For example, “I always screw up” or “I can never do well in school.” Of course, no one always or never does anything. It’s just your emotions exaggerating things.
So create a new, accurate belief to replace the limiting one. You can realize that there were times you did decent on tests, so you can create the belief that “I don’t always get an A, but when I work hard, I increase my chances of success.”
Another example: “I may not be the most charismatic person, but I’m certainly fine enough to be part of a social conversation.”
1.3 The 7 Lies of Learning
When Kwik uses the word “lie”, he means Limited Ideas Entertained.
Lie 1: Intelligence is fixed.
New Belief: My intelligence can grow if I believe it can grow and then I put in the work to grow it.
Lie 2: We only use 10% of our brains.
New Belief: I am learning to use my whole brain in the best way possible.
Lie 3: Mistakes are failures.
New Belief: Mistakes are signs that you are trying something new, and they are opportunities to learn. Life isn’t about comparing yourself to anyone else, it’s about comparing yourself to who you were yesterday. There’s no such things as failure, only failure to learn.
Lie 4: Knowledge is power.
New Belief: Knowledge has to be acted on. Knowledge combined with action equals power.
Lie 5: Learning new things is very difficult.
New Belief: When you learn how to learn, the challenge of learning new things can be fun, easier, and enjoyable.
Lie 6: The criticism of other people matters.
New Belief: It’s not other people’s job to like, love, or respect me. That’s my job.
Lie 7: Genius is born.
New Belief: Genius is not born; it is made through deep practice.
Part 2: Motivation
He defines motivation as
“the purpose one has for taking action. The energy required for someone to behavior in a particular way.”
In this section, Kwik goes over
The three lies about motivation
The formula for motivation
Small Simple Steps
2.1 Three Lies About Motivation
Lie 1: Motivation is fixed.
Truth: You can increase your motivation.
Lie 2: You have to enjoy something to be motivated to do it.
Truth: You simply need to have a strong enough reason to do something, even if you don’t enjoy doing it.
Lie 3: Motivation is something I either have or don’t have.
Truth: Motivation can be created.
2.2 The Formula for Motivation
Motivation = Purpose X Energy X Small Simple Steps
We need a clear purpose to that we know why we need to act. Then we need sufficient energy to take action. Finally, small simple steps prevent you from getting paralyzed or overwhelmed while acting.
To get clear on your purpose, articulate clearly in writing why you need to do what you need to do. Put in other words, ask yourself, “Why MUST I do this?”
It’s important to not get confused between purpose and passion. Finding your passion is like finding a true love. You have to go out on many dates to find the perfect match, and you have to put in effort to build a relationship. Since a passion can be nurtured, you can have multiple passions.
On the other hand, purpose is about using your passion to serve other people. For example, Kwik’s passion is learning, and his purpose is teaching other people how to learn.
Another important step in finding your purpose is to get clear on your hierarchy of values. For example, Kwik’s values are love, growth, contribution, and adventure, in that order. If you ask him why he does what he does, he can say because it’s aligned to one of his values. If you ask him to pick between spending time with family or going on an adventure, he’d pick family because love is higher on the hierarchy for him. Once you see how doing something is aligned to the values that you consciously set, you create motivation.
For example, an A-student doesn’t pick up her stack of textbooks because she’s in a good mood. She does it because she wants to be top of her class so she can create a better future for her family who sacrificed a lot for her to have a good education.
Ultimately, motivation comes from feelings. The main feelings that can motivate us are pleasure, pain, hope, fear, social acceptance, and social rejection.
Here’s a simple exercise to create motivation to do something. First, write down all the disadvantages you have to deal with if you don’t do the task. Then make sure you really FEEL the emotions. Don’t keep it intellectual. We make decisions based on feelings. Next, write down all the benefits you can gain from doing the task. Make sure the list is actually exciting. Then FEEL those emotions.
After having a clear purpose for doing something, you need enough energy to act. If you have a purpose for reading 30 minutes a day, but you’re tired all the time, you may not succeed in completing the task. How can people maintain high energy levels? The major suggestions he gives are
Studies show that there’s a direct connection between a good diet and a healthy brain. Here are some of Jim Kwik top brain foods: avocados*, blueberries*, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, turmeric, walnuts*, eggs*, and water.
*Side Note: The Medical Medium, who is a health expert I trust, advises against eating eggs because it feeds common viruses that most people have living inside of them, and these viruses release waste products that can lead to chronic disease. He also highly praises frozen wild blueberries, saying they are thousands of times more nutritious and powerful than the cultivated blueberries sold in plastic clam shells. As for avocados and walnuts, he agrees that they are healthy, but he reminds people to not eat too many each day because too much fat, including healthy fat, is stressful for the liver.
Regular exercise is important to protect memory and thinking skills. You don’t need to become an Olympic athlete though. Even 10 minutes of aerobic exercise a day can have large benefits.
Side Note: For those of us who struggle with consistently exercising, Doctor Rangan Chaterjee made a great 5-minute kitchen workout that people can do conveniently in their kitchen without changing into workout clothes or going to a gym.
Having a dirty or messy environment is mentally taxing. We should create a clutter-free and distraction-free working environment to boost our energy. Having a clean environment can also mean avoiding places with polluted air.
Your peers also affect your energy level. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn said,
You are the average of the five people you spend most time with. -Jim Rohn
If you spend time with passionate, high energy people, you will catch their energy. If you spend time with pessimistic complainers, your energy will get drained.
Finally, getting enough quality sleep is key to having energy. Studies show that regular exercise after a couple months can improve sleep amount and quality; exercise is not an instant magic pill to improve sleep, but it does have big effects if you stick to it. Mindfulness meditation is another tool to help relax people with busy minds.
2.5 Small Simple Steps
Even if people have a purpose to do something and the energy to do it, they can get paralyzed or overwhelmed by how big or difficult the task seems. That’s where small simple steps come in handy.
A small simple step is “the tiniest action you can take to get you closer to your goal.” For example, if your task is to write a difficult email to a coworker, the small simple step might be to just sit down. That’s it. After you sit down, the next small simple step is to open your email. That’s it. Then the next small simple step is to click the button to start a new email.
You might be wondering, is that really going to help? The answer is yes because uncompleted tasks create tension at the front of our minds until the task is completed. That's called The Zeigarnik Effect.
For example, if you’re in the middle of watering your garden, and then suddenly your neighbor asks you to help them carry a new couch into their house, during the whole time you’re helping them, you just want to go back and finish watering your garden so you can stop thinking about it. Well, if you sit down and open a new email, you’ll just start wanting to write that email so you can stop thinking about it later.
2.6 Flow State
Flow state is when you get so immersed in doing something that you lose track of time, there’s a sense of effortlessness, you feel total focus, and you feel comfortable. Kwik states that one someone achieves flow state, they will become highly motivated to try to get into flow state again in the future.
Flow state has four stages. The first stage is struggle, when you just start and you’re trying to concentrate. The second stage is relaxation, when you start getting relaxed into the task. The next stage is flow, when you have that intensely focused experience. The last stage is consolidation, when you pull together everything you accomplished during flow state. This last stage might feel like a low because you just came out of the high of flow state.
He gives the following advice on finding flow state:
Give yourself enough time to do the task at a comfortable pace; he recommends at least 90 minutes
Do something you love
Have clear goals
Part 3: Methods
Jim Kwik defines method as
“A specific process for accomplishing something, especially an orderly, logical, or systematic way of instruction.”
This is the largest section of the book, and it covers
The difference between average performance and super performance is often focus. Focus is like a magnifying glass that magnifies sunlight (your energy) to create a fire.
Many people find it so easy to get distracted all the time. The good news is that focus can be trained like a muscle. We can think of awareness like a glowing ball of light that moves to distant parts of your mind. To improve focus, you need to train your awareness to fixate on one spot of your mind for an extended period of time. If you notice the light move to something else, bring it back. With practice, the habit of getting re-focused can become second nature.
To calm your busy mind, Kwik gives the following recommendations. First is the 4–7–8 breathing Method. Basically, you exhale fully, close your mouth, inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7, and then exhale completely through the mouth for a count of 8. Do it four times. The second method is simply to go do something that’s been stressing you out. The third method is to schedule time for distractions (like checking your phone notifications).
There’s so much information to learn and only limited time, so it’s extremely important that we study effectively. Kwik gives many major tactics, of which I think the first two are the most critical.
First is to focus on active recall rather than passive recognition. Many people study using passive recognition, which is simply looking at your notes and seeing how much you recognize. When reviewing, you might think to yourself, “Yup, know that, seen that, remember that, got it.” And yet when it comes time to use that knowledge, it becomes hard to remember it. To employ active recall, first study something, then close your book and actively say or write down what you remember.
Second is to do spaced repetition instead of cramming. As you might already know, cramming is stressful and the result is that while you might remember the information for the test the next day, after the test you’ll probably forget almost everything. Kwik recommends reviewing once in the morning and again before dinner for four days in a row before a big evaluation.
Third is to get in a focused and enthusiastic mental state before studying. Often that can be as simple as sitting in a posture as if you’re about to learn the most important information of your life. if we slouch and are tired, we’re not going to get good results.
Fourth is to use your sense of smell. Since smell brings back memories, you can put a certain perfume or cologne on your wrist while studying, then smell that smell during the test to help bring back memories.
Fifth is to use music to put you into a state that makes learning easier. He specifically recommends baroque music because it stabilizes the mind to help you reach deep concentration and focus. As a result, it helps you learn vocabulary, memorize facts, and read more effectively. This type of music tends to have 50–80 beats per minute. He recommends simply searching for a baroque playlist on any music streaming service you use, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.
Sixth is take effective notes. To do so, first be clear on WHY you are taking notes. For example, the notes you take in a weekly meeting will be much less detailed than the notes you take in a weekly leading up to a major client presentation. Second, use your own words whenever possible instead of transcribing word for word what the speaker said. This way, you’re actually processing what the speaker said. Third, you should both capture and create notes. On the left side of your notebook page, capture things that the speaker said. On the right side, create your own notes by answering questions like How can I use this? Why must it use this? When will I use this? Below is an example.
Notice that the notes aren’t just transcribing word for word what the speaker said, which is probably defining and explaining each of the leadership traits. The notes are useful because they identify how those notes are going to be used.
Most of us would love to have a better memory. Whether it’s remembering names of people we’ve just met or remembering large amounts of information for a test or presentation, a good memory is extremely helpful. Kwik gives the following tools to improve memory:
MOM (Motivation, Observation, Method)
Linking words to images (visualization)
Linking new information to old information (association)
Creating a story to link a sequence of words
Use the loci story method
Memory Tool 1: MOM (motivation, observation, and method)
Motivation simply means having a strong purpose to remember something. For example, if I give you a list of 10 words and told you, “If you can repeat this list to be in order in one hour, I’ll give you 1 million dollars,” you’d probably be able to remember that list in one hour. So we need a strong reason to remember.
Observation basically means being present and focused. If something tells you their name and you’re thinking about the food on the table there, you’re not likely to remember that name.
Methods are all the tactics explained in the following paragraphs.
Memory Tool 2: Visualization
Linking words to images is quite simple. If someone’s last name is Baker, actually imagine them in a baker’s outfit. Imagine them with a big white hat, smelling like bread.
Similarly, if you learned the word adaptable, you can turn it to an image by imaging a tap dancing table and how the table is able to change the dance style according to different music. When we visualize things to be weird and vivid, it's extremely easy to remember.
Memory Tool 3: Association
Linking new information to old information is key to memory and we’ve been doing it all our lives. For example, if you think of the word “cherry”, you might think red, sweet, fruit, pie, etc. That’s how you remembered the word.
Continuing the example of the word adaptable, you can imagine a chameleon on the tap dancing table. Then you remember, "A tap dancing table sounds like a-dap-table". There's a chameleon on it, so the word means "being able to change with the situation."
Memory Tool 4: Add Emotion
Information by itself is hard to remember, but when you add emotion to it, it becomes much easier to remember. We can add feelings of humor, adventure, or excitement.
To continue the above example of the word adaptable, you can the table tap dancing to your favorite song, which creates feelings of humor and enjoyment.
Memory Tool 5: Create a Story
If you need to memorize a sequence of words for some reason (e.g., the Periodic Table elements for a science test), you can link the words together by creating a story. Most people just use rote learning, that is they’ll say “Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium…” over and over again until the brain finally remembers it. This type of learning is inefficient. Kwik gives a story example:
Imagine you’re standing next to a giant fire hydrant. Then you attach a bunch of balloons to the fire hydrant. The balloons somehow take the hydrant off the ground so that it flies high up in the sky. Suddenly it starts raining batteries and the balloons pop.
He goes on and on with the story for about 10 events, each event representing an element of the periodic table. He then explains the first event, hydrant, represent hydrogen. The second event, balloons, represents helium. The third event, batteries, represent lithium, etc. Notice that the story uses visualization, association, and emotion. Since the story is so vibrant, it’s easy to remember the story, and since you linked each major event to a word, it’s easy to remember the sequence that you have to memorize.
Memory Tool 6: The Loci Method
The loci story method is basically the story method with one additional feature: Your story involves you going through different parts of a setting (such as a house), and each setting has one object that represents something in the list your trying to memorize. The benefit of this method is that you don’t have to come up with a new story every time. You just use the same story, except you change the items in each setting.
For example, you can imagine a big mansion with 10 rooms, and during the story you walk through all 10 rooms. In each room you find a different object, which you can change to suit the list you’re trying to memorize. Again, you have to make the story vibrant by using visualization, association, and emotion.
3.4 Speed Reading
In our current information age, the ability to read faster without losing comprehension is a key skill to learn. Reading activates your brain and improves your memory, focus, vocabulary, imagination, and understanding.
There two main challenges that limit our reading speed and focus. First is regression, which is when you’re reading and then you forget which line you’re on so you have to go back and re-read. Second is subvocalization, which is your inner voice saying every single word on the page out loud inside your head.
One big misconception people have about speed reading is that comprehension is sacrificed. In fact, the opposite is true if you do speed reading correctly. Comprehension should be increased because you’re more focused. Kwik gives the example of driving on a highway. When you’re driving really fast, you become more focused. Similarly, when you’re reading really fast, you become extremely focused and therefore comprehension should increase.
Kwik gives the following advice to improve reading speed and focus:
Use a finger or pen as a tracker on the page so you don’t get lost while reading
Force yourself to read really fast, and then slow down. You should be able to read fast and focused now.