Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers
Imagine standing on the furthest outpost of your planet. From there you can see the universe as it formed, with absolute clarity. You see infinite stars, solar systems, and galaxies. You can see time itself. Your mind can suddenly connect every dot that ever existed. You understand the fundamental order and function of life and the universe it inhabits. You can use this gift to move forward, change and improve yourself and all that surrounds you. Such seems the promise of bestselling author Jo Boaler by the title of her latest book, Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers.
The basic tone of the book is inspirational self-improvement. It presents itself as well researched, with documented facts and conclusions. One must pause here. Wikipedia reports that Professor Boaler is not without research controversy. It reports that professional colleagues in 2006 accused her of scientific misconduct and challenged her research. No adjudication was made of any allegation.
At the outset, Professor Boaler introduces the foundation of her message. Neuroscience has demonstrated the neuroplasticity of the brain. This means that the brain can grow beyond its initial configuration as one learns. She provides dramatic examples of this phenomenon. The most striking involves the drivers of London’s “black cabs.”
Driving a cab may seem pedantic, intellectually eclipsed by GPS and generally irrelevant because of Uber and Lyft. In London, however, cab drivers must be mentally agile. To be credentialed, they must pass a test called “The Knowledge.” This involves the virtual navigation of 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks within central London. No peeking at a map or GPS is allowed. The average person requires 12 attempts to pass “The Knowledge.”
The brains of the black cab drivers have been tested and examined. Uniformly, the hippocampus of their brains grew significantly as they studied, passed the test, and drove their cabs. That portion of the brain controls spatial and mathematical concepts. Yet within two years of retirement, their hippocampus returned to normal size. Lesson: the brain is another muscle in the body. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
From there, Professor Boaler articulates precise steps to achieve the Limitless Mind. First, one must overcome inherent barriers. Cultural and gender admonishments that “you just don’t have the mind for math” must not be only ignored, they must be defiantly rejected. Educational bigots are most dangerous to development of the Limitless Mind.
The path to the Limitless Mind is clearly and understandably presented. Success depends upon one dramatically changing and rejecting limiting self-beliefs imposed by upbringing. Mistakes or short-term failures must not stop the journey to internal enlightenment. Rather, one must realize that solving those problems stimulates brain growth through neuroplasticity. Patience and flexible thinking are cardinal elements for growth. There is no magic bullet or process of instant gratification available. Building the Limitless Mind is building a new identity.
In general terms, Professor Boale outlines the opportunity to stand on the event horizon and achieve god-like mental prowess. However, one might observe from that vantage point, her words are platitudes commonly available in any self-help book. One might not be able to find a specific technique or exercise to cast aside an overbearing past that confines the mind. For some, the exhortation of “you can do it” may not be enough to train a mind to live without barriers. The book does not explain how the drivers of the black cabs trained themselves to pass their daunting test. The technical insight needed to pull the sword from the stone and in triumph lift high “The Knowledge” seems not apparent in this volume.