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Your Brain At Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long [Hardcover]

David Rock
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 28 2009

Meet Emily and Paul: The parents of two young children, Emily is the newly promoted VP of marketing at a large corporation while Paul works from home or from clients' offices as an independent IT consultant. Their lives, like all of ours, are filled with a bewildering blizzard of emails, phone calls, yet more emails, meetings, projects, proposals, and plans. Just staying ahead of the storm has become a seemingly insurmountable task.

In this book, we travel inside Emily and Paul's brains as they attempt to sort the vast quantities of information they're presented with, figure out how to prioritize it, organize it and act on it. Fortunately for Emily and Paul, they're in good hands: David Rock knows how the brain works-and more specifically, how it works in a work setting. Rock shows how it's possible for Emily and Paul, and thus the reader, not only to survive in today's overwhelming work environment but succeed in it-and still feel energized and accomplished at the end of the day.

YOUR BRAIN AT WORK explores issues such as:

- why our brains feel so taxed, and how to maximize our mental resources

- why it's so hard to focus, and how to better manage distractions

- how to maximize your chance of finding insights that can solve seemingly insurmountable problems

- how to keep your cool in any situation, so that you can make the best decisions possible

- how to collaborate more effectively with others

- why providing feedback is so difficult, and how to make it easier

- how to be more effective at changing other people's behavior

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Your Brain At Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long + Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work + Coaching with the Brain in Mind: Foundations for Practice
Price For All Three: CDN$ 82.77

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“Simply put, this intriguing book offers fascinating research about the brain’s functions, limitations and capacities, and it teaches us how we can “direct” our own brain chemistry in order to achieve fulfillment and success. Well worth reading and ingesting these skills.” (Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

“This is the best, the most helpful, and the brainiest book I’ve read on how the brain affects how, why and what we do and act.” (Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business and University Professor, University of Southern California and author of On Becoming a Leader)

“This book will improve how you work—by showing you how your brain works!” (Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There)

“Rock makes the science of your mind accessible and relevant.” (Daniel Akst, Fortune Small Business)

“Rock deserves an ovation for his writing and direction.” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

“Rock makes the science of your mind accessible and relevant.” (Fortune Small Business)

“…highly informative look at the way our minds work at work.” (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

About the Author

David Rock is a consultant and leadership coach who advises corporations around the world. The author of Coaching with the Brain in Mind, Quiet Leadership, and Personal Best, he is the CEO of Results Coaching Systems, a leading global consulting and coaching organization. He is on the advisory board of the international business school CIMBA and the cofounder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and Summit. He lives in Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very heavy, but absolutely brilliant. Sept. 14 2011
I know what you're thinking: a book on how to use your brain? It's not so intuitive as you think. As it turns out, the brain has been one of the least understood 'realms' in science, and only very recently are some huge discoveries being made that totally change the way we view, and hopefully, use it.

Ok, so let's start with one of the oldest most clichéd metaphors out there: your brain is a computer. It's a good one. Our brain can save, store, and interpret, and manipulate terabytes of data per day. It takes in and saves audio files, visuals at super high res, tons of systems, names, trivia, thousands of words, in multiple languages, all interlinked for instant access. But we find the brain so much more powerful and creative than actual Personal computers (and even super-computers), that we make the fatal mistake of assuming that our brains can do anything. They can't, mostly because of evolution.

You see, we took tens of thousands, if not millions of years to evolve into the current homo-sapien brain. But in just the last 30 years of 'Computing Evolution': the computer industry has exploded with innovation in both hardware and software: modern PC's are getting faster and more capable every year. Meanwhile, our brains are pretty much the same as they were 100,000 years ago. It turns out our brains are like your 5 year old Dell laptop that keeps freezing up whenever we have more than five programs running: we suck at multitasking. And yet, Multitasking has been a buzzword for years now. Ever since we got hooked on emails, text messages and Instant messaging clients, we've convinced ourselves that we're really working at 100% capacity. We're not. We're just bouncing from one stimuli to the next.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Salvation for the Over-worked Oct. 2 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an imaginative, entertaining yet incredibly insightful narrative that explains and clarifies the ways in which we allow work and other habits to clutter our everyday lives and then succumb to the ravishments of self-inflicted injuries.

By offering clear descriptions of the ways our minds likely are guiding our behaviours as well as how they could or should be doing so, we gain tremendous insights on how to design and implement different routings between the myriad of 'cues' and the hoped-for 'rewards' that ensue. While the remedies are far from easy and require some serious effort the outcomes are more than worth the investment.

This should be required reading for every person at the thresh-hold of their adult life. Dr Rock is to be commended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible perspective, highly practical advice Aug. 28 2011
By Capcmom
This was such a great book. Wish it had been around 20 years ago! Very effective analogies made the material very easy to comprehend. Have already shared key insights and recommended it to a dozen colleagues.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An insightful, practical and engaging work with an approachable prose on one of the most controversial topics of this century. David Rock's work here is as great as his other works on coaching - Quiet Leadership. Quiet Leadership
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  154 reviews
190 of 196 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thumbs up from a neuropsychologist Nov. 15 2009
By Marsha Lucas - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
David Rock and I share a similar view: People become more open to changing the behaviors which hold them back when they can understand the brain science behind it all. If you teach a man to do a task, he'll complete the task; if you teach him how his brain is wired, and how to optimize and build it, he'll be one of the most successful (and well-adjusted) people you've ever met.

In "Your Brain at Work" David speaks clearly and meaningfully -- with humor and relevance to everyday life -- about why it is our brains work better under some circumstances than others. He's frank about the limitations of our cognitive abilities -- even the brightest among us -- explaining the "why" and "how" of the limits, and, most importantly, "how to make it better" without frazzling yourself with multitasking, split attention, and other inefficient ways of trying to do your work.

He manages to do this with warmth and humor, all the while bringing the reader inside the findings of some of the top researchers in neuroscience.

I'm a neuropsychologist by training, and now do psychotherapy with high-functioning, successful people who complain about feeling depleted, overwhelmed, out of balance, and burned out. I'm grateful to have this book to supplement our work on the brain-based issues that create the perpetual sense of swimming upstream.
99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book that Gives Advice Based on Scientific Research Dec 5 2009
By Ivan - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Your Brain at Work does an excellent job synthesizing a large body of scientific research on cognitive neuroscience and interpreting the results in a way that helps readers understand how the brain works and how to make it function more efficiently.

The book is laid out in a format of a theatrical play, where it introduces two ordinary people and follows their respective days. Both of the characters are facing a variety of challenges, very similar to the ones that millions of professionals deal with on a daily basis. After presenting a particular scenario and having one of the characters go through it, the author then performs a thorough analysis of what each of the characters did wrong and how they could have approached a particular challenge or activity in a much more efficient way. The best part is, obviously, that the analysis and the corrections in the behavior are all based on the most recent research in cognitive neuroscience.

The narrative is broken into different "acts" according to the progression of the work day of the characters and the type of mental processes that are being discussed. I think this is a particularly good structure because it a)personifies the cognitive challenges by bringing up prototypical characters that most of us can relate to b)organizes the context in a way that is logically progressive and easy to follow and c)makes the book easy for later reference.

As far as the content, to use the book's own language, a big dopamine rush is how I would describe it. It is really full of a good and useful insight, at the same time boasting a high level of writing that uses plenty of metaphors and is very easy to read (took me 5 days of reading before bed to finish). Some of the concepts that are tackled include mental energy management, dealing with pressure, mental blocks, creativity, need for certainty and autonomy, handling of relationships and managing expectations. The full list is a lot longer, and I think that once you start reading, you will notice that the implications of the issues addressed go far beyond just the workplace.

To conclude, I want to say that Your Brain at Work has really exceeded my expectations. It is based not on psycho babble and feel-good nonsense, as most books that are geared towards self improvement, but on solid scientific research. It doesn't instruct on what to do and how to feel, but explains the biological mechanism of action behind default human behavior and how it may lead us astray. In the ideal world, I think that all books that claim to assist with self improvement should be based on scientific research, but that's perhaps wishful thinking and a discussion for another day. Anyway, I highly recommend that you read this book, as I really feel that you will not be disappointed.
68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get this book July 8 2010
By Janis Grummitt - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase

This is one of the most practical `neuro' books on the market at the moment. It is aimed at the `lay-person' rather than the `neuro -enthusiast'. The focus of the book is based on Rock's belief that ....'by understanding your brain, you increase your capacity to change your brain.' As a `neuro-enthusiast and translator' I agree with him completely, and so do neuro-specialists such as Dan Seigel. However, it might be more accurate in the case of this book to say `by understanding your mind, you increase your capacity to change your brain'. This book is about more than the physiology and processing power of the brain. Many of these practical tips have been tried and tested for years but we now have evidence to show why they work. Rock clearly outlines these for us.


David Rock uses three parallel techniques to involve us. These run throughout the book:

* A story - The story of Emily and Paul allow us to identify with their thinking at work.
* A metaphor - The use of a stage and actors enable us to easily understand the roles of various parts of our thinking
* A reference to research and the physical brain - Research data that underpins the book. Mercifully he avoids using large numbers of neuro- jargon. He focuses on the role of the pre-frontal Cortex (the director) and the way in which we use our `director' in dealing with chemical responses. He introduces us to three positive chemicals; dopamine (feel good), nor-adrenaline (excitement) and oxytocin (collaboration).

The combination of all three of these works because it draws people with different thinking preferences into the content. For those of you are aware of the HBDI (Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument) the red dominants will follow the story, yellow's the metaphor and the blue's the data and analysis.


In the past 10 years, research into the functionality of the brain and ongoing discoveries around brain `plasticity' have changed our minds for ever. Many old theories and beliefs have been reinforced and others discredited. The Buddhist belief that `mindfulness' and focus improves the mind now has tangible proof (through PET scanning). On the other hand, multi-tasking, that previously touted holy-grail of efficiency, has been largely debunked. This is seriously important for all of us involved in developing human potential. It will not be a flash-in-the-pan any more than the understanding of the basis and treatment of infection was over 100 years ago.


Rock spends a large part of his book examining the consequences of our human social `wiring'. I recently read and enjoyed `The Power of Collective Wisdom'. This book added some of the missing pieces to that excellent book. I advise anyone interested in developing the potential of teams or organizations to read these two together.


Buy this book and read it. This is the way of the future. In a few years time, there will be a huge number of titles beginning with `neuro' or its equivalent. David Rock makes understanding this future more easy, this is the beginning of something important for us all.
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Encapsulation of the Literature June 30 2012
By M Kramer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In this review I will:

a. summarize the book's content,
b. provide an overview of the amazon reviews of this book, and
c. evaluate the book's merits.


The overarching message is that we benefit ourselves when we engage in metacognition (Rock's term). We improve ourselves by becoming more aware of how our power of awareness functions. Rock often expresses this idea metaphorically by telling us that it is to our advantage to develop a strong "director."

When we enhance our self-awareness, we appreciate that human beings are motivated by five types of phenomena: Social status, Certainty, Autonomy (independence), Relatedness (social connections), and Fairness. Enhancement of these five dimensions is experienced as rewarding. Diminution along any of these dimensions is just as aversive as physical pain.

When we are suffering because one or more of these dimensions has been threatened, we can use three procedures to restore our mental well-being.

The first is labeling. By describing an emotion we can reduce it. If someone insulted me, I can tell myself that I am angry. That will make me feel better.

The second procedure is reappraisal. By changing our perspective or our interpretation of a situation, we can lessen the negative emotion. If someone insulted me, I can take his perspective and realize that he is so upset that he is not responsible for his actions. Or, perhaps I could reinterpret the situation and realize that what I took to be an insult might not have been one after all.

The last procedure is lowering expectations. Decades ago I discovered that if many people told me that I must see a movie because it was amazing, I would often be disappointed, because it failed to be as amazing as I had expected it to be. On the other hand, if I just saw some random flick on a whim, and it was decent, I was really happy, because it was much better than I thought it would be. We experience exceeded expectations as highly rewarding, and unmet expectations as painful. We can develop the ability to set our expectations lower, allowing them to be exceeded more often.

In business and in life in general, we often confront difficult problems. Rock offers a number of methods for helping us develop better solutions.

First, we can simplify the problem to the greatest extent possible by using few words to state it.

Second, we can get our mind off the problem by quieting the mind-- e.g. by taking a shower or a walk.

Third, we can focus the mind on potential solutions and, as much as possible, stop thinking about the problem.


I bought this book because it had some of the most forceful, positive reviews that I have ever read for a self-improvement book. Since I have read books that have deeply affected my own life, I was pleased to read the reviews of so many readers whose lives were positively altered by the methods they learned from this book. I actually stopped reading a couple of books that I am in the middle of, because the potential impact of this book seemed so much greater.


It should come as no surprise to readers of Rock's book, that the over-the-top reviews of his book lessened my appreciation of it. Reading these reviews stimulated very high expectations in me. Unfortunately, those high expectations were not met. This book has had very little, if any, impact on my life. Very few of the reviewers have indicated what particular and specific changes they made based on the book's recommendations, and how that helped them. I have found it quite difficult to translate the insights given in the book into practical changes in my life.

As I stated at the beginning of the Content section, the overarching message of the book is the importance of metacognition, which is usually called "mindfulness." If your goal is to develop your powers of mindfulness, I can recommend books that give much more practical, useful advice than Rock's book. I started doing mindfulness practice about six months ago. To be perfectly frank, it's not at all clear to me that I have become any more mindful than I was before I started. But I am aware of the fact that there is a lot of evidence that mindfulness practice benefits most people who engage in it, so I soldier on hoping that at some point I will notice that mindfulness is benefiting me as well.

As far as lessening negative emotions using labeling, reappraisal, and lowered expectations, you would be better served by reading a cognitive-behavioral therapy book with practical exercises that help you develop those skills. David Burns's The Feeling Good Handbook is an excellent choice.

If you want to know more of the science Rock discusses, Heidi Grant Halvorson's Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, covers some of the same studies Rock does, but she presents it in a more accessible manner, making it much easier to implement changes in my life.

If, instead of self-improvement, your goal is to be stimulated intellectually on the subject of awareness and thought, take a look at Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained, or Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.

In conclusion, Rock's book does a decent job synthesizing a lot of content into a relatively coherent presentation. But I had trouble translating this content into practical changes in my life. There are other books on psychology and mindfulness that do a better job demonstrating exactly what the reader needs to do to bring about positive behavioral and emotional changes.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Written for one audience only, corporate america Nov. 11 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I really enjoy reading books that discuss how the brain works. After finding this book in my recommended list, I decided to purchase after reading several really good reviews.

I'll try to keep this simple for the sake of anyone reading my review and trying to decide on the book.

You might like this book if you:
-work in corporate America in an office setting
-your day is spent in meetings, conference calls, emails, phone calls, etc.
-you like books that pick one metaphorical reference for the story line and stays with it the whole time

You are less likely to like this book if you:
-do not work in an office environment
-your don't get much choice in what you do and when you do it for your job (such as store management where you deal with employees, customers, delivery truck drivers, and other things that just show up and you don't get to tell them you don't have them scheduled for now in your prioritization list)
-You like detailed explanations that are discussed from start to finish when they are discussed rather than sprinkled alongside an imaginary character the book is discussing.

I fall into the latter category and made it about halfway through this book and couldn't waste anymore time on it as it was clearly aimed toward those that who work in an office environment and actually have the option to arrange their day according to the books suggestions.
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