Imagine, for a moment, growing up as “the boy with the broken brain”.
For a young Jim Kwik, that was a very difficult reality. When he was five years old, Kwik had an accident that left him with brain damage that affected his ability to learn and function for the rest of his childhood.
But despite — and perhaps thanks to — the challenging years that ensued, Kwik is now a world-class brain performance coach who has worked with celebrities and business leaders such as Will Smith and Elon Musk.
So how did he go from being the “boy with the broken brain” to becoming a brain expert? At the age of 18, during a particularly dark period of his life, he crossed paths with a person who triggered an epiphany by asking the right questions.
How does my brain work so I can work my brain? How does my memory work so I can work my memory? I made that my study.
– Jim Kwik
Kwik shared his story in an emotional Goalcast original video. Check out the full clip below or keep reading for a serious dose of inspiration:
While the rest of his classmates were clamoring around the classroom’s window to take a look at fire engines outside, Jim pulled up a chair to get a better view. Just as he managed to peer over his classmates’ heads, someone began pulling on the chair, which caused him to fall and land head-first on a radiator.
“I was bleeding everywhere. There was a pool of blood and my parents, the way they describe it, it was very traumatic,” says Kwik.
His parents said he was never the same. From then on, Kwik would have a painfully difficult time learning, often requiring his teachers to repeat information several times before he understood what they were explaining.
A difficult childhood
Over the next several years, Jim Kwik would become much more shy and introverted.
His difficulties learning in school quickly separated him from his classmates. Simple tasks such as reading in class became torturous because, while the rest of his class had learned to read, he still hadn’t.
“I would just look at pages and I’d just see letters and they didn’t mean anything to me. We would get in circles and the teacher would give a book out. One by one, you would have to read out loud to the other students.” he said.
“Then, when the book got to me, I just didn’t know what to do. I would just stare at it and I would just start crying.”
Over time, Kwik developed deep-seated beliefs about his own inadequacy; that he wasn’t, and couldn’t ever, be good enough; that he would never be like the other children.
I remember my teacher pointing to me, talking to another adult, saying, ‘That’s the boy with the broken brain.’
But what Kwik lacked in apparent learning ability, he made up for with his imagination. Through the help of his favorite X-Men comic books, Kwik eventually learned how to read, studying comics under the sheets of his bed in the nighttime hours.
“My favorite comic books growing up were the X-Men, not because they were the strongest or the fastest, it’s just they didn’t fit in because they were mutants and they were bullied like I was bullied. They were pushed aside and told that they weren’t worth anything.”
“It was a metaphor for me of what people were capable of and what humans are, their potential is.”
It would take Kwik three years to learn to read. Kwik’s challenges continued throughout his school years until a fateful encounter that would change his life forever.
The quest for an answer
At the age of 18, Kiwk was on the verge of quitting school when a friend invited him to go to California to spend the weekend with his family. It was during this trip that Kwik would experience a life-changing epiphany.
While giving Kwik a tour of his property, the father asked a simple and unassuming question: “How’s school?” Kwik broke down and started crying.
After hearing his story, his friend’s father asked him a very important set of questions: Why are you in school, what do you want to do, and what do you want to share with the world? Kwik had never asked himself those things.
After handing him a few pieces of paper and a pen and having him write down the answers to those questions, his friend’s dad looked him in the eye and told him, with index fingers spread a foot apart, “Jim, you are this close to everything on that list.”
Kwik, in obvious disbelief, then watched as the man took those fingers and placed them on each side of his head. At once, he realized what that meant – his brain was the bridge and the key to everything he wanted in life.
From that point on, instead of asking “Why doesn’t my brain work like the other kids?” Kwik began to seek a deeper understanding of the inner workings of his own mind. “How does my brain work so I can work my brain?”
His perspective had shifted in a way that allowed him to develop personalized solutions.
A light switch just went on and I started to understand things for the very first time. I started to have better focus. I started to read faster and I wasn’t getting distracted all of a sudden. I started to make friends. I started to be more confident,
The epiphany that changed everything
According to Kwik’s official biography, this was the turning point that changed his life: “As the years wore on, I undertook a journey to learn about my brain – why it was broken and what I could do to fix it. That journey led me to discovering different learning habits, including accelerated learning systems and tactics,” he wrote.
“I discovered that, no matter the circumstances, we can rebuild our brains. And after working on myself, I realized my brain was not broken…it just needed a better owner’s manual. This shattered my own limiting beliefs – and over time, it became my passion to help others do the same.”
For me, Kwik’s epiphany and the main insight others can gather from it is most powerfully summed up in these words:
What I’ve learned is this, a lot of people say oh, I’m not that smart or how smart am I or how smart are my kids? They’re asking the wrong question. It’s not, how smart you are. It’s how are you smart?
What are you good at? How do you learn? What is unique about you that you can leverage to give yourself an advantage?
We’re all different. That’s a good thing, but it can also be frustrating if you feel different from everyone around you. But that doesn’t mean you’re any less than the people around you — you just need to learn how you work best.
Kwik believes that we all have superpowers– gifts that are unique to us that we can use to do incredible things. We just need to discover what they are.