Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades

You have written many books, what inspired you to write “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades”?

Based on the world’s largest brain imaging database, we now know that success or failure at school—and in every area of your life—depends on the moment-by-moment functioning of your brain. When your brain works right, you work right. When your brain is troubled, you have trouble in your life. The earlier young people learn about brain health and how to care for their brain, the better they’ll do in school and beyond.

How has technology impacted the way our brains work?

Too much screen time increases the risk of ADHD, and social media raises the risk of depression and loneliness. In addition, research at the National Institutes of Health found that young people who had daily screen time usage of more than seven hours showed premature thinning of the cortex, the outermost brain layer responsible for processing information from the physical world.[i]

How important is nutrition and diet in brain health?

The foods you eat have a powerful impact on your brain and greatly influence the way you think, feel, and act. Your diet can either help you focus and ace your exams or give you fuzzy thinking and increase test anxiety. A growing body of evidence suggests that eating a healthy diet may help prevent, treat, or improve ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, addiction, and eating disorders.

What about sleep?

Getting less than six hours of sleep at night is associated with lower overall brain activity and can adversely affect your productivity. Teenagers who on average get one hour less sleep than their peers are 38% more likely to feel sad and hopeless, 42% more likely to consider suicide, 58% more likely to attempt suicide, and 23% more likely to engage in substance abuse.

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The book includes resources to take a self-assessment quiz that will provide insights into knowing your brain type. Describe the five brain types: balanced, spontaneous, persistent, sensitive and cautious, and how they impact how we perform.

Based on the world’s largest database of brain scans related to behavior—over 150,000 and growing—we have identified five primary brain types.

Type 1 is the Balanced Brain, and this group tends to do what they say they’re going to do, show up on time, and follow through on tasks they promise to get done.

Type 2 is the Spontaneous Brain, and these people tend to enjoy doing things on the spur of the moment, love trying new things, and often think that rules don’t apply to them. They may struggle with organization and can engage in risky behavior.

Type 3 is the Persistent Brain, and these are often take-charge people who won’t take no for an answer. They tend to be tenacious and stubborn. In addition, they may worry, have trouble sleeping, be argumentative and oppositional, and hold grudges from the past.

Type 4 is the Sensitive Brain, and they tend to feel deeply about their family, friends, and all fellow humans and are more likely to have lots of automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) and low moods.

Type 5 is the Cautious Brain, and they tend to struggle more with anxiety, which causes them to be more cautious and reserved. On the flip side, it makes them more prepared.

Do you believe that the difference between doing well in school and not doing well is not really IQ, rather it is related to motivation and mindset- do you agree? If so can you elaborate?

The ability to learn is not fixed, like IQ. I will admit that I was merely an average student in middle school and high school, but I went on to graduate near the top of my class in college and medical school. Did I suddenly have a higher IQ? No, I was motivated to improve and put my mind to it by developing better strategies that allowed me to study and learn more efficiently. You can improve your success in school with simple strategies.

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Can you discuss the importance of self- esteem and motivation?

In order to be a better student, it is critical to believe in your ability to perform and to know why it is important to you. One of the best ways to figure out what motivates you is to write it down. Tell your brain what you want and let your brain help you match your behavior to get it! When you focus on negativity, you will feel depressed. If you focus on fear, you are likely to feel anxious. If you focus on achieving your goals, you are much more likely to succeed.

Can you provide some good brain habits and identify bad habits to eliminate?

Good brain habits include protecting your brain because even minor head injuries can cause mental health problems and cognitive issues, drinking enough water because even a little dehydration lowers brain function, doing some physical activity every day to boost blood flow to the brain, getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, and eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon.

Bad brain habits to eliminate include anything that could damage the brain like riding a bike without a helmet, guzzling caffeine that limits blood flow to the brain, eating a lot of sugar that negatively affects moods, binge drinking that harms the brain, and believing every stupid thought you have because ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) lie and hold you back.

How quickly can we expect to see positive results?

When you adopt healthier brain habits, you can notice a positive impact almost immediately in terms of moods, energy levels, and clearer thinking.

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What is the most important take away from your book?

The most exciting thing we have learned from our brain imaging work is that your brain can change. You are not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better.


Daniel Amen, MD

Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., which has eight clinics across the country with one of the highest published success rates for treating complex psychiatric issues with the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior, with more than 160,000 scans on patients from 121 countries. Amen is the lead researcher for the largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study for professional football players that demonstrates high levels of brain damage in players with solutions for significant recovery as a result of his extensive work. His research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury was recognized by Discover magazine’s Year in Science issue as one of the “100 Top Stories of 2015.” Amen has authored and co-authored more than 70 professional articles, seven scientific book chapters and 40-plus books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, “The Daniel Plan” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” His most recent book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades,” includes editorial contributions from his teenage daughter, Chloe Amen, and niece, Alizé Castellanos.

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