The brain can give you improvement at a level that we can barely count

We are used to improvement occurring incrementally…

…we lose weight at 2lb per week
…we increase our strength in the gym by a small amount on each visit
…our income goes up by a single digit figure per year

But because of the amazing structure of our brain, mental improvement can occur exponentially. I will explain this mathematically.

If I give you 2 coloured pens, red and green, there are only two combinations using both colours – red/green and green/red. My wonderful partner used to be a Maths teacher and she told me that combinations is not the correct term. It is actually permutations. And she said it in a slightly patronising fashion, it has to be said.

Back to the pens. Now imagine I give you three coloured pens, red, green and blue. How many permutations are there using all three colours?


It is called factorial and the way to work it out is by multiplying 3 x 2 x 1. But here’s the thing. I increased the number of pens by 50% from two to three but increased the number of permutations by 300% from two to six.

That is an exponential level of improvement. But it gets even more interesting with more pens, if interesting is the right word.

5 coloured pens create 120 permutations – 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1.

How about 10 coloured pens? 3.6m permutations. Yes, really. Just ten different coloured pens create 3.6m permutations!

Now before you punch yourself in the face to wake up from my Maths lecture, I will tell you what this has got to do with the brain. The brain has 100 billion brain cells but even that’s not the most important bit.

Each brain cell can connect with up to 10,000 other brains cells AT THE SAME TIME.

That makes the total number of connections in the brain….well, a lot. Maths was never my strong point at school but rest assured, it is a number so big it is difficult to grasp.

So what’s my point? The way we store and recall information is down to that astonishing, beautiful, all powerful network of connections.

Think about that the next time you cannot remember more than 10 digits. The problem is not that you don’t have the ability. The hardware is already there (the brain); the challenge is that you don’t have the correct software (memory techniques).

I know this personally. In 1995, I sat my Fire Service promotion exams and failed them for the third time. I was told I would never pass. Then I bought a book on memory techniques and 8 months later went to the 1996 World Memory Championships placing 4th. When doing the Fire Service exams I couldn’t remember 13 things on a fire extinguisher which was one of the things we had to learn. Inside a year of buying that memory book, I could memorise 1300 digits in an hour.

My memory hadn’t improved in that year. I already had the hardware – my brain – to be able to memorise the objects, I just didn’t have the software to make the most of it. The software was some simple memory techniques written in a book that cost me a fiver.

Make the most of your brain. You have capabilities that you don’t even know exist yet that will absolutely knock your socks off.

Author: David Thomas