THE ELITE COGNITION PROGRAM: Cognitive Performance Coaching
“Most people live in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, and of their soul’s resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole organism should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger.”
– William James
WHY ELITE COGNITION?
Part of the Brainjo Center for Cognitive Enhancement, the Elite Cognition Program is an individualized, results driven, scientifically based system for optimizing human brain function.
A REMARKABLE OVERSIGHT
We all know that keeping a car running well requires ongoing care and maintenance of its parts, or the hardware that supports its operation. Otherwise, parts degrade, and performance suffers.
With care and attention, however, that hardware lasts longer before failing, and functions better during its lifespan.
Furthermore, the integrity and sophistication of that hardware plays a crucial role in determining the car’s capacities. Improvements in the quality of the parts and their engineering translates to improved performance of the vehicle.
For those who routinely push their cars to the limits of their performance, such as a Formula One driver, considerable time and effort is also placed in optimizing that hardware to deliver even the slightest competitive edge.
Everyone who’s owned an automobile is familiar with this concept. And so we provide regular care and maintenance to our cars to keep those parts in working condition. If we delay or procrastinate and our car breaks down, we hold ourselves accountable. We understand the wear and tear of repeated use to be a natural law of the universe.
Yet, all of this could be said of the human brain.
We are all born with neurobiological hardware, including the 80 billion neurons whose coordinated activity underpins all of our thoughts and actions, along with the massive network of structures that support their operation.
The difference between the parts of our brain and the parts of a car, of course, is that both their level of complexity and importance is on a vastly different scale.
But do our actions reflect that?
Chances are, if you’re like most people, the answer to that question is a definitive no. Not even close. But why?
If the hardware that runs our brain is both vastly more complex and more important to us than that of our cars, why do we not devote, at the very least, the same level of time, care and attention as the average car owner.
Given that we are nothing without our brain, that it is the engine behind everything we will ever create, shouldn’t there be nothing more important than protecting, optimizing, and, where possible, upgrading its hardware?
More on that in a minute.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”
– Chinese Proverb
Hardware alone won’t make a car navigate its way through a city neighborhood, or adroitly glide around the curves of a racetrack at blistering speed.
The hardware is useless without something to run it. In computing terms, that something is the software – a collection of procedures, or algorithms, that provide the instructions for how to use the hardware to achieve a particular result.
In the case of a car, that set of instructions is provided by the driver (or in the case of an autonomous vehicle, by actual software).
And while the integrity and sophistication of the hardware defines its range of capabilities, it’s the skill of the driver – or the sophistication of the software – that determines where in that range of capacities the car will perform. The best drivers, the best algorithms, are able to get the most out of the existing hardware.
Only an expert driver is capable of extracting the most out of a Formula One car’s hardware. A novice driver can’t come close to pushing the car to its potential.
Peak performance requires optimization of both the hardware and software, with ongoing development and attention to both.
Again, the same is true of our brain. It is the most complex and sophisticated “machine” in the known universe, but its potential is constrained by the sophistication of the software that runs on it.
What’s remarkable about the human brain, however, is that it’s a general purpose machine that we can program in nearly limitless ways.
Learning is how we acquire new algorithms for running our neurobiological hardware. We can acquire algorithms for running, jumping, drawing, typing, talking, presenting, reasoning, whistling, listening, and on, and on. This of course includes all the domain specific algorithms that apply to our line of work.
Once again, the integrity of the hardware upon which those algorithms are built is what defines the scope of possibility.
Even more remarkable is that, once learned, those algorithms become part of the neurobiological hardware. Knowledge, once acquired, is integrated into the physical structure of the brain, a feature that allows for continuous and exponential gains throughout our lifespan – a capability very few take full advantage of.
In sum, getting the most out of a car, or a brain, requires optimizing both its hardware (the parts) and its software (the algorithms).
Furthermore, any improvement in the underlying hardware expands the range of capabilities of the entire system.
Optimizing all relevant domains in order to maximize the intelligence capability of any human brain is the primary goal of the Elite Cognition Program (ECP).
NEXT GENERATION COACHING: Elite Cognition at Work
Every individual’s greatest asset is his or her brain.
Every organization’s greatest asset is its collective human intelligence, or the aggregate output of all of its individual brains.
Individuals and organizations who recognize this rightly devote time and resources to developing that asset.
Yet, despite the fact that the changing brain function is the goal of all training, development, and coaching, an understanding of modern neuroscience is conspicuously absent from these programs. And ignorance of the brain’s constraints, inner workings, and the scope of its potential leads to inefficient, incomplete, and even counterproductive approaches to personal development.
The concept of protecting and optimizing the “hardwire” side of human brain function is essentially absent altogether.
And the “software” side is typically narrowly focused on developing a subset of cognitive capabilities (social interactions, self regulation).
A comprehensive approach that considers all of the relevant domains is not only aligned with the fundamental objective (changing brain function), but a robust approach to the cultivation and optimization of human intelligence has never been more important.
The Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution is here, and only promises to grow in its reach, continuing to subsume many of the jobs and tasks once performed by humans.
Yet, AI has clear limits. Contrary to the hype, AI is far from competing with human intelligence in several key areas like communication, understanding, reasoning, problem solving, novel idea generation/innovation, and creativity – the very parts of human cognition that distinguish us as a species.
As such, as narrow AI levels the playing field by reducing costs in the tasks it performs well, it will simultaneously increase the value of our uniquely human areas of intelligence. And the organizations that create cultures of continuous learning, with deliberate and thoughtful approaches to the care and cultivation of human brain function and intelligence, will thrive.
THE ELITE COGNITION PROGRAM: 3 Primary Goals
There are 3 primary goals for ECP. The first two of these are related to the care and maintenance of our neurobiological hardware, the third to the realization of cognitive potential through the thoughtful and continuous addition of new software.
ECP GOAL #1: Protect the brain against degradation and disease.
Most people fear losing their “minds,” or their cognitive faculties, more than they fear death itself.
Yet, as alluded to above, few of us do much of anything to make that fate less likely. There are a few reasons for this.
One is structural. There is simply no well established model for delivering these services.
Some might think that the prevention of brain dysfunction and disease would fall under the jurisdiction of the traditional health care system. It does not.
Our health care system, and the medical testing behind it, is concerned primarily with identifying and treating disease, in recognizing the final stages in a process that’s often years to decades in the making. Which, for the vast majority of neurological disease, is many years too late.
A “clean bill of health” in this context only means that a catastrophic failure in one of the body’s regulatory systems hasn’t been identified.
Yet, the need for these services this is greater than ever – due both to the rise in our aging population, and to the tremendous recent growth in our understanding of the root causes of neurological disease and degeneration. There are more people at risk, and there is more than ever that we can do about it.
Another is our prevailing attitudes about the brain. For many, what goes on inside our skull is a black box of sorts. Its workings feel mysterious, and its level of of complexity is – ironically – more than anyone can wrap his or her brain around.
Furthermore, the human brain is so exquisitely well designed and resilient that we take its reliability for granted. That resilience allows us to can endure damage and injury for years, creating the illusion that it is still in excellent condition. It is only when it reaches a breaking point that we become aware of the damage we’ve done – when it’s too late to undo.
But our understanding of human health in general, and the conditions that support cognitive and brain health, has grown tremendously in recent years. There is so much we can do to protect the brain from degradation and disease, far beyond doing crossword puzzles, “brain games” on our smartphones, or eating more blueberries.
Outside of those in the niche worlds of biohacking and elite performance optimization, the idea that we can protect, optimize, and even augment our neurobiological hardware is a concept that is still foreign to most.
For a car, protection against degradation and dysfunction involves things like regular oil and filter changes, changing brake pads, ensuring adequate transmission fluid, and so on.
For the brain, protection against degradation and dysfunction is almost entirely a matter of the food we eat and the lives we lead. As the modern world has continued to diverge from the ancestral habitat in which our brains evolved, the quality of the environmental inputs we provide our brain has continued to decline.
Alarmingly, multiple studies have confirmed that the size of the average human’s brain is smaller than that of our Stone Age Homo Sapien ancestors, who possessed essentially the same set of genes. Our brains are shrinking because the environment of a typical modern human doesn’t provide the optimum set of raw materials and inputs the brain needs to thrive.
But our mismatched environments are doing more than just stunting our brain growth. Almost all of the diseased brain states affecting people today are not the product of genetic inevitability, but a direct result of a lifetime of suboptimal care for the health of our brain.
All of which is entirely preventable.
Worse yet, we’ve learned to brush off the warning signs. Contrary to popular belief, aging should not cause meaningful decline in cognitive function.
With adequate protection, humans should be able to enjoy robust cognitive performance throughout our lifespans. “Senior moments” should not be viewed as an inevitable and un-modifiable symptom of the aging process, but rather as a signal to investigate and remedy their underlying cause.
The silver lining here is that, because this area is so commonly neglected, adopting a few protective measures can radically improve both our existing cognitive capabilities and the future of our brain health, well being, and quality of life.
ECP GOAL #2: Enhance, Optimize, & Upgrade the “Hardware.”
When it comes to caring for our car, most of us are primarily concerned with supporting its basic operation. We just want it to get us from point A to point B without breaking down, and seldom are we concerned with pushing it anywhere near the limits of its capabilities.
For a Formula One driver, on the other hand, it’s another story. He or she will be pushing their vehicle to the limits of its capabilities, and so they are keenly interested in optimizing its function and, where possible, upgrading it.
Those of us who wish to extract peak performance from our neurobiological hardware should take a similar approach.
And so, in the Elite Cognition program, after enacting measures to protect the brain’s biological hardware against disease and injury, we can then devote our attention to optimizing, and even “upgrading,” that hardware – while ensuring that we don’t sacrifice long term health for short term performance gains (a common practice in the world of biohacking and cognitive enhancement).
The demands that we place on our brain vary considerably during the course of a day. The neurobiological requirements of daydreaming in a bathtub are markedly different than delivering an important presentation to a roomful of clients, for example.
Cognitive optimization ensures that, when demands are high, when we are driving our neurobiological machinery to the limits of its performance, it is up to the task.
ECP GOAL #3: Develop Uniquely Human Intelligence Capabilities (“software”)
One of the greatest and most enduring misconceptions about human brain function is the belief that it is fixed, constrained by genetics, and largely static after adolescence.
While research in the neurosciences in recent decades has overturned these ideas, their influence remains, and as a result very few of us take full advantage of the potential hidden inside our skulls.
As mentioned above, one of the most remarkable properties of the human brain is its ability to learn, to acquire new algorithms in response to our needs, throughout our lives.
We can add new “software” to our brain at any age, and with a thoughtful approach to doing so, can experience exponential growth in our intelligence capability, while also cultivating the conditions for the emergence of creative genius. This is not a special property of a select few brains, but a property of every brain.
With respect to the software side of brain function, our goal is to adopt a systematic approach to the continuous expansion of the uniquely human aspects of our intelligence so that we may fully realize our effectiveness, contribution, and cognitive potential.
ELITE COGNITION: Program Specifics
The central aim of the program is to develop and then sustain ongoing systems for protecting the brain from degradation and disease, and boost its function at all levels of organization, providing the most effective approach to personal development and the realization of peak cognitive performance.
The program has been developed by Drs. Josh Turknett and Tommy Wood, combining Dr. Turknett’s expertise in clinical neurology, cognitive neuroscience, ancestral health, neuroplasticity, accelerated learning and creativity with Dr. Wood’s expertise in neuroscience, biochemistry, nutrition and metabolism, ancestral health, and peak physical performance.
The program itself is modeled after the Elite Performance Program that has been used to optimize the health and performance of over 1000 elite athletes.
The Elite Cognition Program will be delivered through an initial in person consultation, ongoing monitoring of plan implementation through Trello, and regularly spaced in person or virtual check-ins.
To organize the process and to ensure that the highest yield changes are adopted first, the program itself is organized into 3 phases, each with a specific purpose and set of goals.
Each phase includes data gathering and the creation of a customized action plan. The Elite Cognition Plus Program (ECP+) also includes advanced lab testing, analysis and imaging, when necessary.
PHASE 1: Debugging & Protection
Overview: The aim of the debugging and protection phase is to identify barriers to the brain’s baseline neurobiological operation, primarily at the neuronal level, and to protect against damage and disease.
Phase 1 includes a thorough audit of diet and lifestyle. For those in ECP+, it will be supplemented by review of advanced lab testing and, when needed, brain imaging.
The actions taken in this phase will typically lead to marked improvements in performance and well being, as the typical adult hasn’t experienced a brain with a fully functioning neurobiological foundation since early childhood.
Phase 1 begins with extensive data gathering, which includes:
Prior to the first visit, clients will fill out a comprehensive intake survey to identify specific needs and areas for growth.
In the interview, we will further explore topics from the intake survey, set goals and expectations.
Testing will assess all major domains of cognitive function to identify:
Cognitive strengths and weaknesses
Potential warning signs of early, preclinical neuropathology
Neurological exam (ECP+)
Clients in the ECP+ program will also undergo a standard neurological screening exam to identify any occult signs of neurological impairment or disease.
Advanced Lab Testing (ECP+)
Clients in the ECP+ program will also undergo advanced lab testing (blood, urine) to identify impediments to neuronal function at the molecular level, which would include (but not limited to):
Neurotransmitter synthesis (information flow)
Mitochondrial function (energy availability)
Substrate availability (including nutritional deficiencies)
Inflammatory and oxidative damage
Brain Imaging (ECP+)
Clients in the ECP+ program may also undergo advanced MR imaging if deemed necessary after the initial data acquisition phase.
Based on the information acquired in the data gathering phase, a detailed analysis document and initial action plan is formed, consisting of a set of specific keystone habits and behaviors to acquire, and metrics for assessing their acquisition.
PHASE 2: Maintenance & Refinement
The primary goal of this stage is to continue establishing the habits begun in Phase 1, refine them as needed, and add in supplemental behaviors to amplify their impact.
In this phase, some of the initial assessments may be repeated to ensure that they have responded appropriately to the measures.
PHASE 3: Augmentation
Overview: With the foundational behaviors for optimizing our neurobiological “hardware” and protecting it against disease and degradations firmly established (along with concomitant improvement in relevant metrics), we move to the augmentation phase.
One of the great misconceptions in the realm of human intelligence is that it is fixed, and that transformative insights of “genius” are limited to a few gifted brains.
In this phase, our focus will shift towards software upgrades, using the brain’s incredible learning capacity to increase problem solving, creativity, productivity, idea generation, and innovation.
The approach to augmentation will be synthetic, informed both by an understanding of the cognitive neuroscience of these particular domains, and by the extraction of best practices from the study of habits and behaviors of peak cognitive performers throughout history.
Where appropriate, and as their sophistication, safety, and effectiveness improves in the coming years, the augmentation phase will also include the strategic and careful use of supplementation and neuro-modulation technologies.
The ultimate goal of all 3 phases is to create a set of habits that sustain the system, making the maintenance of Elite Cognition effortless, freeing high level cognitive resources to focus exclusively on purpose driven, creative work.
“An interest in the brain requires no justification other than a curiosity to know why we are here, what we are doing here, and where we are going.”
– Paul MacLean
A FINAL WORD: Human Thriving from First Principles
While getting the most out of our brain, the most remarkable gift each of us possesses, is in and of itself a worthwhile endeavor, to say the least, there’s an even deeper benefit of optimizing human brain function.
Our brain is the conduit of all that we experience, from the thoughts we think to the emotions we feel. Its function is the only determinant of our well being.
As such, optimizing brain function is the ideal framing device for how to achieve and sustain personal fulfillment, and the ultimate goal of the Elite Cognition Program is to provide the most direct and effective approach to human thriving.
About the Creators
The Elite Cognition Program was developed by Dr. Josh Turknett and Dr. Tommy Wood.
Joshua Turknett, M.D. is a board-certified neurologist, and has practiced in the Atlanta area for over a decade. He has conducted clinical research in the areas of stroke, Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, migraine, epilepsy, neuropathy, and Parkinson’s disease.
He is the founder of Brainjo, a company that uses the science of learning and neuroplasticity to create optimized learning systems, and has recently partnered with Turknett Leadership Group to create the Brainjo Center for Cognitive Enhancement.
B.A. Neuroscience, Wesleyan University
M.D., Emory University
Neurology Residency, Shands Hospital (UF)
His relevant areas of expertise includes cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, accelerated learning and neuroplasticity, and ancestral health.
Dr. Tommy Wood is a UK trained medical doctor with a PhD in physiology and neuroscience. His areas of published research include neonatal brain injury, adult neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases, as well as nutritional approaches to sports performance.
He received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school at the University of Oxford.
He currently serves as Chief Scientific Officer of Nourish Balance Thrive, a company that uses advanced biochemical testing to optimise performance in athletes, from weekend warriors to Olympians and world champions. He is President of the Physicians for Ancestral Health society, and on the scientific advisory board of Hintsa Performance, which includes developing nutrition and lifestyle strategies for F1 drivers.
B.A., Natural Sciences & Biochemistry, Univ. of Cambridge
M.D., Univ. of Oxford
Ph.D., Univ. of Oslo
Post-doc., perinatal brain injury, Univ. of Washington
Dr. Wood’s relevant areas of expertise include neuroscience, ancestral health, advanced lab testing, nutrition and biochemistry, elite performance coaching and health optimization.
Drs. Wood and Turknett are also co-hosts of the Physicians for Ancestral Health podcast.