Einstein’s Stolen Brain & Unique Productivity Hacks…

They stole his brain. Seriously. He explicitly said he didn’t want his body or his brain to be studied. He left clear instructions to be cremated, and his ashes scattered.

That didn’t stop Thomas Harvey. Harvey was the pathologist from Princeton University who performed the autopsy on Albert Einstein’s body shortly after he died in 1955. Harvey removed Einstein’s brain for examination — and he didn’t put it back. In the name of science, he placed the brain in a jar of formaldehyde and took it home. Over the next 40 years, bits of Einstein’s brain were distributed to researchers to be studied. What is left of the brain now resides back at Princeton where this all started.

“Einstein brain — T.Harvey” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Einstein was brilliant. He was exceptionally creative. He had incredible insight and intuition. In 1905, when we was only 26 years old, he came up with the quantum theory of light, proved the existence of atoms, and created the theory of special relativity.

It was unfathomable for the research community to understand how one human being could be so smart. They needed to examine his brain for the answers. And they did. Over the years, research was conducted on the remaining bits of Einstein’s brain. In 1999, Thomas Harvey along with Canadian researchers claimed that Einstein had an abnormal folding pattern in part of his parietal lobe, a region that has been linked to mathematical ability. Their results were published in The Lancet. Einstein, however, wasn’t known to be a great Mathematician. So, what is the research telling us?

It seems that physically Einstein’s brain is not all that different from normal everyday human brains. Perhaps the secret to Einstein’s superior intellect lies not in the physical brain, as the researchers assumed, but instead with Einstein’s intangible insights and creativity.

So, does this mean we can we all be like Einstein — with our normal every day brains?

The answer is yes.. and we don’t need Einstein’s brain. We do need to unlock our own unique creativity and insights, in the same way Einstein did. As a starting point, we need to understand Einstein’s key productivity hacks.

Einstein’s Unique Productivity Hacks

Einstein, like many successful people, had some unique daily habits that simplified and enhanced his life. These habits allowed him more time to focus on what he loved — habits that also helped him maintain his deep insightful creativity.


Einstein claimed he needed 10 hours sleep a night, as well as daytime naps, to help him think more clearly. While this sounds relatively innocuous, there was something very unique about Einstein’s naps.

Einstein would sit in his favourite armchair with a pencil or spoon in his hand and drift off. Einstein would wake up to the sound of the pencil or spoon hitting the floor, which had fallen from his hand. In doing this, Einstein would wake himself up before hitting the second stage of sleep. This might only take 5–10 minutes but these micro-naps were a regular occurrence throughout Einstein’s day.

Waking up before hitting the second stage of sleep was key to the micro-napping process, because the first stage of sleep is said to unlock the part of our brain that creates vivid imagery. Therefore, Einstein was waking up with fresh, free-flowing, creative thoughts and vivid images. He could solve problems better than regular, strictly night-time sleepers.

Simplify Your Wardrobe

Part of Einstein’s recognizable charm was his disheveled look. In addition to his often unruly hair, Einstein never wore socks. No matter what he was engaged in — be it an outdoor activity or a formal dinner, he didn’t wear socks. He apparently thought they took too much time and effort, and they would often get holes in them.

Einstein didn’t stop at his socks. He simplified his wardrobe further by having several versions of the same grey suit. This way he could alway be comfortable and confident in his attire — devoting less time and brain power to choosing an outfit each morning.

Einstein is not alone in the practice of wardrobe simplification. Some of the most successful and productive individuals in history have followed suit. Steve Jobs was known for wearing his black turtleneck, jeans and sneakers. Mark Zuckerberg is known for sporting a grey t-shirt, with a hoodie and jeans. Barack Obama is said to have variations of the same suit. Clearly these successful leaders are on to something.

Do What You Love

There is no better way to succeed than doing what you love… and this is something Einstein knew very well.

In 1915, having just completed the two-page masterpiece on the theory of general relativity, Einstein wrote a beautiful letter to his 11-year-old son, Hans Albert. The excerpt below illustrates Einstein’s ultimate key to success. The full letter can be found in the book Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children by Dorie McCullough Lawson.

In the letter, Einstein writes to his son: “I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .”

By doing what he loved, Einstein was able to maintain a sense of curiosity and wonder throughout his life. This allowed him to pose curious questions, eventually leading to such breakthroughs as his theory of relativity. There is no better way to succeed than doing what you love.

To Sum Up…

​​Einstein didn’t want to leave his body and physical brain to research — probably because he knew that the researchers wouldn’t find the answers they were looking for. He intentionally left us with his remarkable works, his deep human insights, and his amazing productivity hacks as follows:

  1. Micro-napping: Try taking short naps frequently throughout the day to unlock your creativity and problem-solving capacities. You can even do this at your desk. Make sure you set an alarm for 5–10 minutes (the average duration of a stage 1 sleep cycle), or hold an object like Einstein did you make sure you wake up before entering the second stage of sleep.
  2. Wardrobe Simplification: Ok, I’m not saying you should rush to throw out all your socks, instead try having a few copies of the same outfit in your closet. You’ll always look great and you can then devote your decision-making efforts to bigger and more important things.
  3. Doing What you Love: This is key and may take a bit of time for you to sort out — especially if you have gotten off-track. Do the kind of things that you love so much, you don’t even notice time passing, as you engage in them. On some level, you probably already know what these things are. You just need to go for it.

​Blog post written by:
Karen Johnstone-Hobbs

Originally published on Foxy Science: www.foxyscience.com/blog

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