How To Make Your Brain Sharper

I wanted to make my brain better so I took drugs.

I took Klonopin, Amatryptiline, Adderal, Percocet. Alcohol. Often at the same time

I took Adderall to be smarter. The Klonopin to handle the anxiety that comes with Adderall. The Amatryptiline to sleep because I can’t sleep on Adderall. The Percocet to feel happy when everything else wears off.

When I started to withdraw from the Klonopin I’d have nightmarish hallucinations for three or four hours while just sitting on my couch.

I tried Adderall because of my drug dealer: My daughter.

My life is messed up. I’m doing too many things and I need help or I’m going to explode.


I run a business with $60mm+ in revenues.

I do standup comedy 3–5 times a week.

I write books and articles and, of course, answers for Quora. I’m going to write three books this month. They are already almost finished.

I am invested in about 30 different businesses and often I have to help the CEOs with critical life/death decisions often with just a few minute update to prepare.

One of my companies makes a gun that shoots out a steel cable at the speed of sound and wraps around the criminal.

This is an alternative to killing people.

I play chess all day long while I’m on the phone with other people and I have to pretend that I am not playing chess.

If you are on the phone with me, I am playing chess.

The other day I called a friend of mine. He wanted to talk. He was suicidal.

I hope I helped him.

I won two games and lost three while we were on the phone.

I do a podcast 3–4 times a week.

A podcast means eight hours of prep, 2 hours of doing the podcast. One hour of “post-game analysis”.

Four podcasts a week is a full 40 hour work week.

For me, that’s when my week first starts. I have another 40 hours to go.

(Tyra Banks on my podcast)

I used to go to sleep early. But that’s been ruined by standup comedy.

On nights I do standup I start being scared the second I wake up.

What jokes will I tell? What will I do if the audience doesn’t laugh?

Most comedians tell the same jokes over and over for years. That would bore me. I don’t understand why they let themselves get bored like that.

I think of new things each time. Life is funny. Life is absurd.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the basketball player (heck, most people don’t know), told me a funny story.

He and Wilt Chamberlain are in an elevator. They are both 7′2″.

A guy gets in the elevator. A guy about my size.

He looks up at them and says, “How’s the weather up there?”

Wilt Chamberlain spits on him and then says, “It’s raining.”

That joke last night on stage got more laughs than all of my other jokes.

EXCEPT for the one where I was on my hands and knees in front of a doctor in the audience begging him to transfer some testosterone to me.

I’m engaged to a sex columnist.

I hate that I do so much. I need to reduce. But I don’t know how. In my entire life I’ve only added to the things I do.

Last year I reduced a lot of my activities. But then I added being an advisor on “Billions” (TV show), which was about 30 hours a week. And I added doing standup.

And, I’m also paid for my ideas. I make a living on my ideas. If I had no ideas, I’d be a broke drug addict.

So I need to every day sharpen my brain, exercise it, maximize it, make it better than everyone else’s.

Sometimes friends tell me, “Whatever you need, I’ll help you.”

This is what I say:

If you ever see me in the street with a needle out of my arm, please just pull me out of the gutter and onto the sidewalk.

They always laugh.

When they laugh I know they won’t help me.

(my first TV credit)

The brain is just a tool. Life is hard. Life needs health, love, money to survive.

You can say, “it doesn’t need money” and you’d be right.

Money doesn’t solve all of your problems but it does solve your money problems.

And assuming your body is healthy, then you need your brain to be a highly honed killing machine.

Nature doesn’t care if you live or die. Six billion people are competing for the world’s resources.

Your brain is a tool. But you need to sharpen it on steel.

You need it to process the past, over deliver in the present, and predict the future.

This is my brain routine. It’s been a miracle for me. A thousand miracles.

  • READ EVERY DAY. I know people have said this (“reading” is a cliche) but I have a specific reading routine every day:
    • Read non-fiction that challenges my brain (example: Antifragile by Nasseem Taleb).
    • Read a book about a hard game (chess, poker, backgammon, Go, scrabble, would suffice). Games are safe ways to practice the death match of life.
    • Read QUALITY literary fiction. Usually autobiographical (Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, Amy Hempel, some others). This teaches you how to communicate better than anyone else.

The books I’m reading from this morning:

Ultraluminous” by Katherine Faw (fiction)

Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright

No Time to Spare” by Ursula Le Guin (essays)

Springfield Confidential” by Mike Reiss (memoir)


WRITE 10 ideas a day.

  • I’ve written about this before but, just to summarize, the basic idea is:
  • The IDEA MUSCLE is like any other muscle. It atrophies quickly and then you can’t use it without developing it.
  • To develop it, you have to exercise it every day, no excuse.
  • The 10 ideas are not supposed to be good ideas. They are just exercise. You WILL NOT come up with 3,650 good ideas a year. You might come up with 3 good ideas a year.
  • Within 3–6 months your brain will be an IDEA MACHINE, where ideas will simply flow out of you. This is helped me in so many sales and negotiating situations I can’t even count. It’s also helped me when I’ve been stopped by police speeding the wrong way down a one way street with a suspended driver’s license. And so on.
  • Within a year, you will be a SUPER IDEA MACHINE and, trust me, you will start making money off of your ideas.
  • NEVER STOP. I write down ten ideas a day. I often use the ideas. Sometimes I write: “10 ways Google can be better” and send them to Google. I’ve now visited Google, LinkedIn, Amazon, and MANY other companies because of this approach.
  • Since I started doing this I’ve generated about 40 million dollars for “James, Inc” and another billion or so for the people I’ve helped.

(checking my list of ideas I wrote on a waiter’s pad before going on stage).



Intelligence is competitive. You have to learn to be a great competitor. A killer (in games).

We are moving towards a “you eat what you kill” global economy. Meaning a global meritocracy.

This is not a political opinion but just reality.

Games teach you how to be competitive:

  • how to find secret resources and tricks when you are losing
  • how to handle loss and failure as ways to learn
  • how to learn from mentors
  • how to seek out ways to continue improving
  • how to find your own unique voice.
  • how to always look for the unexpected.

People say there are no new ideas. There are. The “unexpected” is all over but we seldom see it.

Every day I play chess and backgammon. Every day I read books or watch videos on chess to learn.

I’ve been doing this for 33 years.

I don’t do it to be a great chessplayer. Games are the steel I use to sharpen this blunt tool that sits above my eyes.


(White to move and checkmate in 2 moves. Solve 10 problems like this every day and you’ll sharpen your brain very fast).


I watch an hour or so of comedy every day. Not to get better at comedy. I started doing this ten years before I hit the stage to do standup comedy.

Comedians are the modern philosophers. It’s the hardest skill on the planet. Yes, it’s harder than heart surgery. It’s more difficult than making a rocket ship to fly to Mars (which is a stupid thing anyway).

Comedians see the world differently. They look for the things that are weird, or make them angry, or make them annoyed, or the things nobody else sees.

This is also what entrepreneurs do. But comedians do it all day long and entrepreneurs do it once or twice.

Then comedians have to figure out how to change that angry-looking thing they saw into words that will make other people laugh.

Do you know how hard that is?

The average child laughs 300 times a day. But the average adult laughs just…five times a day.

A comedian doing a five minute set makes the average adult laugh 20 times in just those five minutes.

That’s so hard it’s almost impossible.

When I study comedy I see all of the sub skills the comedian has to master to accomplish that task of 20 laughs in five minutes.

  • overwhelming confidence on stage (“the party is where I AM AT. You’re just invited.”)
  • Charisma. You won’t laugh at a comedian you don’t like. And you have to get total strangers to like you in the first ten seconds.
  • Control of the crowd. If the audience takes control, the comedian is doomed.
  • Crowd work. Talking to individual members of the crowd and making their boring commentary filled with fun and laughter.
  • Improv. Comedians have their set of jokes. But as Mike Tyson says, “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face.” Comedians often have to make up stuff on the fly within micro-seconds (if there is silence or heckling, etc) or they lose the crowd.
  • Timing. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Watch a Dave Chappelle video. If he just said his jokes, maybe 1/10 of the people would laugh. It’s HOW he says it.
  • Expressions. Half the humor is in how the comedian performs it. Different than timing.
  • Reading people. You have about one second to look at the audience and size up every single individual sitting in the club. This helps in negotiating, sales, relationships, everything.
  • The UNEXPECTED. People laugh when they expect you to say one thing and you say something totally different, and totally truthful, that they didn’t expect.

The “Unexpected” are the seeds you must plant in the brain and water every day.

I was heckled two weeks ago.

I had a joke about Hitler. And it followed an extreme joke about abortion which followed a joke about making fun of my daughter.

So perhaps people didn’t like me anymore.

My joke was, “Not everyone needs to pursue their dreams. This is BS advice.

“For instance, Hitler was fine as a mediocre art student and then someone told him, ‘Adolph, why don’t you pursue your dreams?”

At that point, a German woman in the audience raised her hands as if to shield herself and she shouted, “Enough already. IT’S TOO MUCH!!”

I said, “We’re in a comedy club. NOTHING is too much.”

But I should’ve said, “I’m Jewish, and you’re German and you’re telling me what I can’t say….just like Hitler.”

And she never let me get to my punchline.

“Hitler did pursue his dreams. And that’s why he grew that stupid f**king mustache.”

(worst mustache ever)

It’s war on that stage. I’ve been on stage 100s of times now doing comedy. It’s war every single time.

I take video of every set. I study every second. I analyze my timing on every line. I see where I should have waited a quarter second more.

I see where I missed opportunities for the unexpected.

But I went home that night and cried. I need to handle the psychology better.

In 2008 I went on a date. I watched comedy for an hour beforehand.

During the date I kissed the girl within the first ten minutes. I had never done that before. We ended up having a relationship.

The unexpected.


If you write a book, you’re going to get rejected.

If you come up with a business idea, some investors will say “no”. Some customers will hate it.

If you have a joke, some people won’t laugh.

I was addicted to OUTCOMES forever. I needed the dopamine of “Likes”, “money”, approval, validation.

Process is watching that video after you mess up on stage. Studying the game after you lose. Resubmitting to a new publisher after being rejected 15 times and insulted repeatedly.

Process is outlining the improvements to your product and then executing those improvements.

Process is having the difficult conversation.

Process is falling in love again.

Process is being kind when nobody expects you to be.

Outcomes are echoes of the past.

Process is your brain actually being used.

Use it or lose it.


I wrote a best-selling book, “The Power of No”.

The key to “yes” versus “no”.

Either do things for free, or charge an amount ridiculously expensive.

Otherwise you are saying “yes” to too much.

In advance: make very specific rules for when you should do something for free.

Most things you won’t do for free. And most people won’t pay you a ridiculously expensive amount for the things they ask you to do.

This gives you time for all of the above things to sharpen your brain.

Then you can outsource “yes” and “no” to your superpower brain.

I do comedy for free.

I said “no” to give a talk in Qatar for $60,000. Who the hell wants to go to Qatar?

For a million dollars I’d go to Qatar.


I have more. I can write “Brain 2.0. “

But this is a good start. Just do the above.

I’m not saying I’m the expert about improving your brain. I’m just trying to survive. I’m eager for validation so I use my brain to get it.

I invest in my self. But I diversify that investment.

Maybe that’s the most important rule of all.

But actually, the most important rule of all:


Always Be Stupid.

Then every day you’re a clean and untouched sponge ready to soak in the world around you.


Do one thing today that is totally unexpected.

P.S. Why make the brain smarter?

For your legacy. Legacy is not a book, or a tweet, or followers, or a title, or money, or even charitable works.

This is my only legacy:

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