Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You

Course No. 1670
Professor Peter M. Vishton, Ph.D.
The College of William & Mary
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Course No. 1670
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What Will You Learn?

  • Use insights from neuroscience to “hack” the human brain with practical, evidence-based strategies for living a better life.
  • Delve into the brain to find out why we behave the way we do, and learn how to change our unconscious behaviors to improve our day-to-day lives.
  • Understand the unconscious mechanisms for human behavior, and use insights from neuroscience and psychology to improve your life.

Course Overview

What if you aren’t as in control of your actions as you think you are? What if your subconscious is driving your decisions without your approval? Is there a way to “hack” your brain to perform better, live healthier, and break your bad habits? We all can think of things about ourselves we’d like to change, but as neuroscientists are coming to realize, changing our behaviors isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Many of our everyday decisions are rooted in the subconscious, which means we have to “outsmart” our own brains to see results.

Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You will give you insights into how your mind works and the tools you need to make lasting change. Taught by Professor Peter M. Vishton, Associate Professor of Psychology at William & Mary, these 24 exciting lectures give you a wealth of practical strategies for enhancing your thinking and improving your well-being. You’ll see how the subconscious guides much of our behavior, leading to a kind of autopilot through much of life, including when it comes to making important decisions.

The brain is an amazing instrument, and neuroscientists today have more information than ever about how it works—as well as strategies for helping us live better every day. The surprising thing is just how counterintuitive some of these strategies can be. For instance, the best way to combat procrastination is often to…do nothing for 20 minutes. By forcing yourself to do nothing, you won’t get caught up in time-sucking avoidance behaviors like checking email. After 20 minutes, you’ll find yourself focused and ready to get to work.

Neuroscientists have stumbled onto countless insights for living better, many of which go against the grain of what you might think you know. Examine why exercise is less helpful for weight-loss than we had previously believed (but is valuable in other ways), why talent is an overrated predictor of success, how the effects of mindfulness meditation have benefited us since our hunter-gatherer days, what procrastination can do for your creativity, and more.

Whether we’re distracted by too many tasks, being influenced by crafty marketers, or simply living in a rut of bad habits, our conscious brains aren’t always guiding us toward the best actions. Fortunately, Professor Vishton offers the latest in scientific research to outsmart the automatic workings of your brain. Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You empowers you take charge of your life and harness your brain’s full potential.

Uncover Evidence-Based ‘Hacks’ For Your Brain

One common misconception is that we only use 10 percent of our brains. In fact, Professor Vishton explains, it’s clear that we use much more than that, but we may only understand 10 percent of our brains. The good news is that recent years have seen an explosion of knowledge about the brain, and with that knowledge comes new opportunities to perform better. One key theme running through Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You is that a few simple practices really can offer dramatic results in our performance, creativity, physical health, and mental well-being.

From the myth of multitasking to the mechanisms behind falling—and staying—in love, Professor Vishton shows you what is happening inside your brain, which will help you achieve your goals like never before.

  • Improve Your Physical, Mental, and Emotional Health: Curb your unhealthy snacking, unlearn your phobias, improve mindfulness, and combat depression. These things are easier said than done, but brain-based strategies for living healthfully offer immeasurable dividends.
  • Master the Mental Game: Researchers have discovered that simply imagining yourself performing an exercise can make as big an impact on your strength as physical practice. From how language shapes your brain to the practice of “monotasking,” encounter ways to improve your performance.
  • Hone the Subtle Art of Persuasion: Learn the tricks of the salesperson’s trade, from after-dinner mints at a restaurant to the pricing strategy at your local watering hole. Researching the art of persuasion will empower you in your negotiations and make you a savvier consumer.
  • Uncover the Key to Happiness: If money doesn’t buy happiness, where do you turn for a fulfilling life? Based on longevity studies, see why valuing your time and deepening your friendships might be the most important thing you can do for yourself.

Build a Toolkit of Strategies for Better Living

When you complete this course, you will have an abundant list of practical, everyday ways to strengthen your creativity, improve your problem-solving, enhance your health, and generally operate on a higher level:

  • Examine why keeping a notebook might be the easiest way to shake bad habits such as biting your fingernails.
  • Delve into the psychology of anger and emotional mirroring, which will help you better diffuse interpersonal tensions.
  • Perform a bit of time travel to outsmart your “present self” to make life better for your “future self.”
  • Consider eating fermented foods next time you feel the blues and need an emotional pick-me-up.
  • If you want to boost your creativity, try taking a walk—preferably in a nice outdoor green space.

These are just a few of the many tips and strategies Professor Vishton offers to help you overcome your brain’s hardwiring.

In each lecture, he backs up each of his strategies with evidence from psychological studies and the recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience. You’ll explore some of the classic experiments in psychology, from John Watson’s behaviorism to Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies. Thanks to research with EEGs, fMRIs, and other technologies, you’ll go inside the brain to find out how our neurochemistry drives our behaviors—and what we can do about it.

Participate in Each Lecture

One thing that makes this course so unique is that not only do you walk away with practical tips, you also get the chance to put these tips into practice during the lectures. How do you use a five-gallon and a three-gallon jug to measure out exactly four gallons? How do you connect two ropes hanging from the ceiling if they’re more than an arm’s width apart? Professor Vishton gives you ample opportunities to test your creativity and problem-solving skills with engaging puzzles, brainteasers, word games, and more. These mental calisthenics are sure to get your neurons fired up.

Whether you are looking for a mental stimulus or want increased clarity for the challenges of everyday life, Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You offers a satisfying blend of theoretical knowledge and practical know-how to help you jumpstart a more productive and fulfilling life.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Take Control of Your Automatic Brain
    Recent decades have seen an explosion of understanding about our brains, and with this new information come some surprising and counterintuitive conclusions about our behavior and decision-making processes. In this first lecture, examine the disconnect between our actions and our consciousness of those actions. Are we as in control of ourselves as we like to think? x
  • 2
    Beat Procrastination by Doing Nothing
    From time to time, procrastination affects us all. Here, you'll discover several evidence-based strategies for reducing procrastination by attacking it at its source. Three tips show you how to be more efficient and effective. Along the way, you'll study the neurochemistry of why we procrastinate-and what makes it so tempting. x
  • 3
    Train Yourself like a Dog
    The unconscious plays a strong role in developing bad habits. To help you examine and modify your behaviors, Professor Vishton gives you several tips, ranging from the very simple (keep a notebook of your activities) to the complex (employ behavioral psychology). Which of your habits would you most like to change? x
  • 4
    Clean Your Kitchen, Improve Your Diet
    What can neuroscience tell us about healthy eating? Can scientific insights help you curb unhealthy snacking? In this first of two lectures on food, see how simple changes such as cleaning your kitchen and changing your food's packaging may have a measurable effect on unhealthy eating habits. x
  • 5
    Eat Slow, Eat Small, Eat Smart
    To be healthy, you must eat healthy. This second lecture on food considers the hormones that drive hunger cues and how your body responds to different foods. Find out why high fructose corn syrup is bad for you-and why exercise might not help you lose much weight. x
  • 6
    The Myth of Multitasking
    Our modern world seems to demand multitasking. We constantly check email, make phone calls, and live on the go. But recent research clearly shows that we are more efficient and creative if we can focus on one task at a time-a strategy known as monotasking." Consider how the brain works when confronted with multiple tasks." x
  • 7
    Future You and Better Decisions
    Enter the fray of a negotiation between the present you" and the "future you." Do you take $10 today, or wait for $15 next week? While the answer may seem logically clear, we have a powerful, built-in desire for instant gratification. Learn what you can do today to make decisions you will approve of tomorrow." x
  • 8
    How to Become an Expert on Anything
    You might think talent is ingrained, and that either you have it or you don't. But cognitive research reveals that practice is just as-if not more-important for success in a given task. Discover strategies for how to practice any skill, and how to stick with it until you become an expert. x
  • 9
    Tune Up Your Brain with Meditation
    We all have a conception of what meditation is-but what actually happens inside your brain? Could it be that meditation built into our evolutionary makeup? And how can regular practice benefit us? Reflect on the answers to these questions and more in this eye-opening lecture. x
  • 10
    Take the Sleep Challenge
    Explore the mysterious realm of sleep. While your body may shut down, your brain performs important, fascinating work to help you be more focused, creative, and productive in your waking life. Here, you'll discover why eight hours of sleep is so crucial. Then you'll consider the role of dreams. x
  • 11
    Boost Insights and Creativity
    Have you ever wished you could be more creative? From listening to the right music to getting into a creative frame of mind, Professor Vishton offers several practical, easy-to-implement strategies for finding more creative solutions, solving puzzles, and enhancing your mental prowess. x
  • 12
    Enhance Performance with Imagery
    Imagine you could lift more weights or better perform an athletic task without once putting on your sweats or driving to the gym. It turns out that mental training has genuine physical effects, all because the human imagination is such a powerful tool. Learn how to use imagery and the imagination to boost your performance. x
  • 13
    Overcome Your Aging Brain
    There's no doubt that neurons die off and mental decline occurs, but the good news is that we can stave off these ill effects through exercise, new experiences, and more. In this lecture, delve into the aging brain to see what happens as we get older, and what you can do to mitigate the force of time. x
  • 14
    Grow Your Brain Out of Depression
    Even if we never experience a major depression in our lives, mild depression is like the common cold" of mental illness. Yet most people fail to seek help, instead trying to power through these unfortunate down periods. Here, Professor Vishton offers several ways to fight these mild depressions." x
  • 15
    Hack Your Brain to Unlearn Fear
    From flying to public speaking, we all have a number of arguably irrational phobias. Where do these fears come from? How do we learn them? And most importantly, how do we overcome them? Go on a step by step journey through the world of fear, and learn what you can do to minimize common phobias. x
  • 16
    Use Your Body to Alter Your Mind
    Jog your brain into activity-literally. In this fascinating lecture on the relationship between the body and the mind, you'll learn why forcing yourself to smile has genuine mental benefits, see how physical activity can aid your problem-solving skills, and more. Test yourself at the end to see these theories in action. x
  • 17
    Suppress-Don't Repress-Anger
    Here, Professor Vishton considers the mechanisms behind anger, which leads to an explanation of how humans mirror each other's behaviors and emotions. Understanding the roots of our anger then provides a way to diffuse tense situations and gain better control of our emotional landscapes. x
  • 18
    How Little Things Cause Big Persuasion
    Shift your attention from outsmarting yourself to the ways people try to outsmart you. This first of a two-lecture unit on persuasion examines how the reciprocity effect," apparent expertise, and scarcity are all subtle methods of persuasion. Uncovering these techniques will make you a savvier consumer, negotiator, and more." x
  • 19
    How Framing Changes Decisions
    Continue your study of persuasion with a look at two common techniques in sales: getting your foot in the door" with a small request and asking for a big, "door in the face" kind of favor-using either as a prelude to what you really want. Whether you are in the business of persuasion or simply want to be better informed, this lecture is invaluable." x
  • 20
    How Language Changes Your Brain
    Humans have a language instinct unlike any other living creature. Explore the exciting world of linguistics and the brain, discovering how language influences our behaviors-even when we are not conscious of it. What you'll learn is that for your physical health and mental well-being, words most certainly matter. x
  • 21
    How Your Brain Falls in Love
    Poets have been ruminating about love for ages, but what do the neuroscientists have to say? Here, consider why people fall in love, and what role simple exposure, facial symmetry, and eyes play in romantic attraction. Review what happens inside the brain when you fall in love. x
  • 22
    The Neuroscience of Lasting Love
    Look beyond the superficial qualities of attraction and delve into love as a long-term emotional commitment. Examine the three main "love systems" in the brain and what we can learn from them. This lecture shows us why staying in love can be a bigger challenge than falling in love. x
  • 23
    How Your Brain Creates Happiness
    We all want to be happy, but achieving this state of being is the million-dollar question. In this first lecture on happiness, find out precisely why money truly doesn't buy happiness. You'll investigate the effects on your brain of earning a higher salary or winning the lottery, and then reflect on the way time is ultimately more valuable for happiness. x
  • 24
    Happy Brains Are Smart Brains
    Round out your course with some helpful tips for living a happy, fulfilled life. From exercising in green, natural surroundings to putting more value on your time, happiness is most definitely achievable-and it can even become a habit. All it takes is a little work to outsmart yourself. x

Lecture Titles

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What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 216-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 216-page printed course guidebook
  • Illustrations and photographs
  • Questions to consider
  • Suggested reading

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Your professor

Peter M. Vishton

About Your Professor

Peter M. Vishton, Ph.D.
The College of William & Mary
Dr. Peter M. Vishton is Associate Professor of Psychology at The College of William & Mary. He earned his Ph.D. in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Cornell University. Before joining the faculty of William & Mary, he taught at Northwestern University and served as the program director for developmental and learning sciences at the National Science Foundation. A consulting editor for the journal Child Development,...
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Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 94.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies I am extremely grateful for this research on the brain that is changing my whole life! This course has enhanced also those around me because the Professor has scientific data to back up his well organized tips for happiness and wisdom. Thank you
Date published: 2019-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent tips! Professor Vishton is a top notch lecturer. The course is well developed with fascinating research findings and great tips. I don't care for the physical background - stage? and find it a bit distracting. Overall though, I'm delighted with the course.
Date published: 2019-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It’s at a moderate pace. Gives me a chance to incorporate and practice the strai. Book and video are redundant. It’s ok as it cements the content.
Date published: 2019-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fundamentals of Photography This is an excellent course. I appreciated the fact that Joel Sartore took us "behind the scenes" to show how he accomplished some of the shots. The demonstrations throughout the course are a great teaching tool and Mr. Sartore is an excellent communicator.
Date published: 2019-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love the Professor's style I bought this to help me understand why I am having so much trouble with procrastination and goal "reaching." Man, what an eye opener. I have watched the complete set of DVD's and now have started on the book. I am planning on reading and viewing until I have these concepts mastered. So many questions answered.
Date published: 2019-02-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent tips! I bought this within the month and am really enjoying it. It is clear and concise and has great tips for a better you. {great for New Year's resolutions. I suffer from depression and found the tips for understanding this very helpful.
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The title was intriguing, and I thought there would be a lot more new information on the brain and the way it functions. Instead, the classes I've listened to are just tips on ways of living... and mostly things I already knew or are just common sense. Some may enjoy it, but I lost interest after 3 or so lectures.
Date published: 2019-01-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Some surprising information. Interesting information. Some information and strategies truly surprised me. Engaging presentation
Date published: 2019-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from There is a lot of information out there about the brain. This course does an outstanding job of debunking the myths and recommending real solutions based on scientific evidence. Professor Vishton is an excellent teacher and easy to follow. I highly recommend this to anyone who is looking to change their thinking patterns.
Date published: 2019-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Articulate and Interesting Professor The professor sums up lots of research in social psychology and in social sciences and presents them in an easy to understand and at times, entertaining fashion. The materials are not new to me since I am familiar with the topics he chose to discuss but I have sure, learned a great deal about how to make arcane subject matters interesting. He is a good speaker and excellent presenter.
Date published: 2018-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good info I've watched the first two lectures and have already learned some invaluable tips. Recommendations on behavior are supported by explanations of brain physiology and functioning and supporting experiments and research. Well worth the money.
Date published: 2018-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good course. For me the course is very enlightening. only completed first 12 lectures so far.
Date published: 2018-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good presentation in many ways! As an active health psychologist, cognitive science educator, and life coach, I appreciate Professor Vishton's interesting narratives, lively research summaries, and very valuable tips. I have recommended the series to several of my clients.
Date published: 2018-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Helpful I have learned so much and improved my life at work with this video. Several of the suggestions I had tried in the past but understanding what is going on behind the scenes made it so much easier to stick to healthy habits.
Date published: 2018-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great actionable ideas I’ve listened to dozens of the Great Courses. This series is one of the best.
Date published: 2018-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this a few weeks ago and started listening in my car to and from work. There are at least a score of specific techniques that can be immediately applied to improve as well as arrest the decline in mental facility or improve cognitive capabilities. I strongly recommend to anyone.
Date published: 2018-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well organized An extremely enjoyable set of lectures, informative and easy to read and understand
Date published: 2018-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I received my course Brain Based Strategies this week. I sat down and started the first lecture. It is fascinating.
Date published: 2018-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Insight Into The Brain I listened to the audio version in my car as I drive to appointments. The various lessons give specific information as to how we can best use our brains in specific situations! I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in how the brain can be used to best accomplish your desires. The content is filled with stories that help translate the theory into relatable knowledge. A goldmine of information!
Date published: 2018-07-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I give it 2 stars. first several lectures were useful but it quickly ran out of gas. this should be a 12 lecture max course as that is pretty much the limit of the useful content.
Date published: 2018-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really good Probably the best course I have. Evidence based and full of helpful tips to improve behaviour.
Date published: 2018-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent It's a clear course, really important topic, and very good program from the instructor's presentation until the edition. Magnificent ,
Date published: 2018-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I can be brainier than I ever thought!!!! Am halfway through the book, but haven't checked out the video yet. Terrific education on parts of the brain, research studies and specific examples of brain activities.
Date published: 2018-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better Than Expected This course was interesting in unexpected ways. Some of the information was familiar but much was new. How to increase happiness, how to diffuse anger, how to persuade were all new to me. Because my father had Alzheimer’s Disease, his information on things that may prevent it was especially meaningful for me. The professor has an easy to grasp lecturing manner. Video isn’t needed for this course. Audio is fine.
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! This lecture series is educational and offers great tips for everyday use. The professor is well spoken and teaches well. As a returning student taking a Cognitive Psychology course I am retaining more information after listening to these lectures! Thank you
Date published: 2018-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoying Every Minute I just recently bought the video download, and I enjoy spending 30 minutes in the morning before my day to set my intention. I feel this video lecture is very eye opening and informative to helping me become a better person. Thank you for giving people the opportunity to achieve better living.
Date published: 2018-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This has something for everyone I bought this a couple of months ago. It has varied and interesting topics with many great take aways.
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful This has been the most useful of the Great Courses I have purchased. The professor is an excellent speaker, and he presents the subject matter clearly and concisely. Most importantly, this course presents extremely valuable information to control your actions by the most unexpected means. It should be a required course at the high school and college level.
Date published: 2018-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this course! I can't tell you how much I enjoyed and benefitted from this course. I really enjoyed the science but the information on application of the knowledge was even better. Application was a part of every lecture. The professor was an excellent speaker. I have already bought the course for my brother.
Date published: 2018-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Bet It's an interessting theme and I'm glad I baught it
Date published: 2017-12-13
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