Published on:

16th Mar 2023

ENCORE: Building A Second Brain, Melvin Varghese, Ph.D.

Do you love learning new things but struggle to retain the information you’d like to remember for later use? This problem is an ever-present obstacle in my nerdy quest to accumulate knowledge. The good news? I’ve found something that works for me, and I’m sharing it in today’s show. Join me to learn more.

This is a solo episode about building a second brain. You may or may not have heard of this concept, but it has revolutionized my life. As I stick to my commitment of setting aside two hours every day to learn new things, I find that I can grow as a business owner, gain knowledge and expertise, become more proficient in offering valuable products and services, and improve my physical and mental health. The problem is that I can’t always remember everything I read, hear, and think. That’s where the magic of the second brain comes in to help. Let’s dive in.

You’ll Learn:

●     How note-taking helps me remember things and stay organized

●     How I was introduced to the “second brain concept” through the work of Ali Abdaal, a physician in England

●     The basics of the second brain: Instead of feeling pressure to store accumulated knowledge in my brain, I can store it online in a digital brain

●     How the second brain principles of productivity were developed by world-renowned productivity expert Tiago Forte, who has a free 10-part podcast on the topic (see Resources)

●     Ten Principles in Building a Second Brain:

○     Borrowed creativity

○     The capture habit

○     Idea recycling

○     Projects over categories

○     Slow burns

○     Start with abundance

○     Intermediate packets

○     You only know what you make

○     Make things easier for your future self

○     Keep your ideas moving

●     “The key is not to just consume content, but to personalize and recycle it.”

Resources mentioned:

Ali Abdaal

Forte Labs 

Find the 10-part podcast series on Building a Second Brain at Forte Labs

Apps and tools recommended by Melvin:

For live transcription of Mastermind groups: Otter

For pulling highlights from Kindle books: Readwise 

For capturing snippets of podcasts: Airr 

For pulling highlights from blog posts: Instapaper 

To use a central repository for information: Notion or Evernote or Roam Research.com  



Hey friends, welcome to session 264 of Selling the Couch, I hope that you are having a wonderful day. So today's episode is a solo one. And I wanted to start this episode by sharing a story or rather a scenario. As you may have figured out based on these podcasts episodes, I’m a little bit of a nerd when it comes to learning new things. And in fact, as Selling the Couch has grown and as I've really worked hard to create a schedule that's conducive to both doing things as well as ample time learning.

What I have actually tried to do is set aside two hours each afternoon to simply learn. And these days, I'm learning about podcasting, because, as you know, I'm a podcaster, and the world of podcasting is constantly growing. And so I think a lot about how to grow the STC podcast. I also have a course called Healthcasters, which helps you create and launch a successful podcast. And I'm learning a lot about online courses as well, because Healthcasters is an online course, and I'm constantly trying to figure out how to tweak things and all of those different things.

Then I actually have my second online course that's coming out in the future, with hopefully three to four more in the pipeline. And it's a course that's actually focused on helping you create, plan, launch and scale a successful online course. I know that most of us are really nerdy, and we're probably nerds just walking around as therapists.

I imagine, for you, if you're like me, which I imagine you are, you read through a lot of clinical stuff, a lot of business books, you go to a lot of trainings and conferences, and maybe you watch YouTube videos or live streams, or you listen to podcasts, or you read blog posts, or watch webinars, or however, the many ways that you can consume content. And I do this in the same way as you do so that I can grow as a business owner, I can get proficient when I offer products and services and gain knowledge and expertise that way, or just to improve my own physical or mental health.

Now I have a little bit of a confession which is; when I go to these things, generally I try to take notes, just because I find that taking notes and actively engaging with that material helps me to remember things a lot better. So I might jot down some notes at a conference or a training on some paper, or a Word document, or I might even - if I've got my laptop near me, I'll pull up the Notes app on my Mac, and just take some notes there.

Sometimes I use Evernote, or something like that to summarize a blog post that I want to incorporate into a future podcast episode or something for an online course or if I'm providing direct services, just something that I can reference later. Other times, I might even just put it in like a Google Drive document.

So here's the confession part in this episode; I try to take a lot of pride in just being organized, I find that just being organized makes business a lot easier, and my mental health just a lot better. But honestly, how I take notes and more specifically how I connect my past, current and future learning is not really very organized and in fact, I would say it's almost chaotic. And if I'm just being completely honest, there are times where I've taken notes in the past that I keep thinking, “Okay, I'm going to remember this and I got a reference this for something for the future,” and then I actually never do that, and it’s okay, I guess in some scenarios.

But to me, one is I’m just being honest, I don't have like the greatest memory where I can access all of this, like accumulated knowledge at the drop of a hat, and so I have to kind of take notes and in order to just remember things. I think, personally for me, and this is just something I've realized as a business owner, having a great way to take notes, and being able to access these notes when needed is really important. Because as healthcare professionals and business owners, we're knowledge workers, people seek our services based on our knowledge and expertise. We're also knowledge shares. So in other words, we accumulate this shared knowledge and we share it through various free mediums and through paid products and services.

So for example, let's say you go to a brain spotting training and you read an article later on brain spotting. And then later, you might listen to a podcast interview on somebody that has built a successful practice based on brain spotting. How do you take all of that knowledge? So how do you connect your past knowledge, your current knowledge and your future knowledge, so that you can make it easier to access this knowledge for your future self in however you want to use it, whether it's to incorporate it into a therapy session, or let's say you end up doing consults on brain spotting, or you want to plan some future content, or maybe you want to do some sort of a webinar or something just to explain, or even just create a simple video just explain to potential clients what brain spotting is.

But how do you do that? How do you take that knowledge and store it in an organized way so that you can access it when you need it? As I shared kind of at the beginning, this is something I've been thinking a lot about, especially now that I'm six years into my small business journey, I've crossed the five year mark, and I think one of the most important lessons I've learned as a small business owner, and as an online creator is that you have to optimize your environment and schedule for learning.

I came across this YouTube video in late 2020, from Ali Abdol, who when it was all about something called the second brain. Ali is actually a physician based in Cambridge, England, and he has over a million subscribers and the channel is a great one to check out, especially if you're interested in tech and productivity and learning and all of these different things. And I've been fortunate to actually meet Ali and we actually got on a zoom call fairly recently and it was just really nice just to be able to connect with him and just learn about some of the things that he's doing in the world.

And the second brain that Ali mentioned is simply this idea that instead of feeling all of this pressure to store accumulated knowledge in our brains, why not store this online in our digital brain in an organized way, so that we can maximize our output with it. And this way we maximize productivity, we maximize creativity, all of these different things.

The second brain concept is actually based on the work of Tiago Forte. His website is over at fortelabs.com, which is another blog that I highly recommend checking out. Tiago actually has this crazy expensive online course that goes into the second brain concept. I've heard really good things about it. Honestly just haven't had the financial resources to take it yet, I'm hoping to one day, because I tried to be really discretionary in terms of just taking online courses. But this is one of these things that it's absolutely changed the way that I look at my business and more specifically, it's absolutely changed the way that I look at learning.

Tiago also has a free 10 part podcast, like a mini podcasts. And I'll link to in the show notes for this episode that's well worth listening to. I've listened to those series; they're just basically 10 minute episodes. And I've listened to that about four or five times just to really wrap my mind around this. Today, I actually want to share the 10 principles, of how you can build a second brain and just briefly share how I'm actually employing this in my own business so that it can help you as well.

The first principle is something called borrowed creativity. Borrowed creativity is basically this idea that creativity is less about original ideas, but more about blending existing ideas to create novel connections. Basically, you take things that you see here and watch. You see them through your experience and perspectives and connect them in new and unique ways. For example, I didn't realize I was doing this at the time. But my first online course was, as I mentioned was a course on how to plan launch and generate income from podcasting. So I took notes that I had learned from going to a bunch of podcasting conferences, from mentors that I had done consult with, from people that I consider experts in the podcasting space. And then I used all my own experiences in creating and growing the Selling the Couch podcast.

But by having these notes digitally, I could then visually see things and form patterns and create. Then when I was ready to create the course I could create the course based on my unit bent and my own unique experiences.

Principle two is called the capture habit. And one of the most honoring things that I think we can all do as business owners is to write down every idea that pops up in our brain without judgment, just the act of saying, “Hey, this is a great idea brain, I'm going to write this down,” is so powerful. So the capture habit is basically this idea that every time you have an idea that comes in your mind, no matter how silly or any of those things that it seems, at the time, trying to just find a good and simple system to be able to write these things down. This does not come naturally for me, because I have a very strong critical voice that often says, “Oh, Melvin, that's a really dumb idea, or, oh, no one's going to pay for that. Or someone's already thought of that. So why are you trying to do that again?”

Or sometimes I convince myself, “Oh, Mel, this is a good idea. You can remember it later.” But the reality is, I hardly ever remember it later and so it usually then ends up getting lost. Now I'm still trying to figure out a great way to have a good capture habit, but I wanted to at least share a little bit about how I'm capturing ideas depending on where I am.

So I get a lot of ideas in the shower, and I keep shower markers to write things down that come to mind, because I noticed that my mind goes into creativity hyper drive when I'm in the shower; I'm calm, I'm relaxed and all of those different things. And shower markers are basically these markers that you can use to write on glass, or on tile. And the cool thing is they wash off when you're done. Usually what I do is I'll jot down ideas and on the tile, and then after I'm done taking a shower or whatever, I will take my phone and take a picture of it, and then I'll wash it or whatever. The shower is actually how I came up with the name Selling the Couch, and so I really do try to think about how I can alter that shower type.

The second thing is I usually do masterminds with various folks during the week talking a walk. Specifically I try to do many of these when taking a walk. I'll do a future episode on this. But there are a lot of benefits of hiking, and creativity. And so what I've been trying to do, actually pretty much most days of the week is I do a 1pm hike and that's usually my mastermind time as well. And what I do is we usually meet on zoom, and I use otter.ai to do live transcription of what we're talking about during the mastermind. After the mastermind, I have a fairly flawless script; otter.ai uses artificial intelligence. So it's not like a real person transcribing. But it's pretty accurate and I can then use this transcript to pull things from. I can then go back later or do this even in real time and highlight things and pull things into my central repository.

So usually during masterminds, what I'm doing is I'm asking a question that I'm struggling with in my business, and I'm getting feedback from my mastermind friends. Then I take that piece of advice and then I put that into my central repository. I use an app called Readwise to pull highlights from Kindle books that I'm reading. I use an app called Airr, A-I-R-R to capture snippets of podcasts that I hear. I capture blog posts using Instapaper, which is a really cool app that lets you clip blog posts and videos that you want to check out later, perhaps during your own learning time. I believe Instapaper is still something I've just recently downloaded. But I also believe you can actually copy or you can actually like clip tweets, things that you might find on Pinterest, all of these into like a central repository.

So basically what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to use these different pieces of software to capture ideas in environments that I'm usually in, and then I'm taking those ideas into a central repository. And that central repository that I use is called Notion, N-O-T-I-O-N. There are a bunch of different ones. Evernote is a really common one as well. There's one called Roam Research that is well worth checking out. I like Notion because I feel like for me, I like having structure and I also like having a little bit of unstructured or chaos in structure and so I feel like Notion is kind of a good balance of those kind of things.

So principle three is this idea of idea of recycling. So in other words, you can reuse or repurpose ideas in multiple ways. So for example, I've spent quite a bit of time researching and scripting for this podcast episode. I'm doing this because I'm planning on using second brain concepts into future videos that I might create, or as part of an online course. So for example, as part of my Healthcasters course, one of the pieces of content I'll likely create is how do you come up with new podcast episode ideas without starting with a blank canvas?

The best way to think about idea recycling is I was trying to figure out a good image. And when I was a kid I used to love Connex. I don't know if you remember Connex, but they're like Legos, but they have blocks, rods, and these various different shapes and you can use them to create things like a simple car, or a Ferris wheel.

The only reason I remember this is my AP physics teacher passed away really recently, and I saw social media posts and it reminded me of this project I did in AP Physics, when I had Mr. Renshaw. And it was, I created a mousetrap car out of connects and connects comes with these gear sets and so I basically use like CDs, to create this mousetrap car, and got this mousetrap car to go down this hallway using gears and stuff. But so think of your ideas like pieces of Connex or Legos, and you can then swap out those ideas in and out of like different situations.

Principle four is projects over categories. One of the roadblocks that I was having with my previous way of taking notes was how I organize things. So for example, let's say I wanted to learn more about Instagram, what I used to do was I have a folder called Instagram, and then I put a bunch of stuff in there and that's where it set me never looking at it again. Instead, what second brain says is thinking projects. So what I should do is if I have my Healthcasters online course folder. I should have a folder called Healthcasters online course, and then put the content that I find into those, because it will further enrich that course.

And going back to principle one of borrowed creativity, I can more easily form connections between ideas. So another example of this would be let's say that you are creating a productivity course for entrepreneurs who are held back by their trauma. Instead of separate folders for productivity and trauma, you actually create a folder for your online course, and put related ideas in there. And that way, you are accumulating all of this store's knowledge over time, and when you are ready to create that course, you actually have a nice repository to work from. And it's literally like then, like pieces of Legos or Connex, where you're just connecting these pieces in order to form your online course.

Principle five is called slow burn. So think of your business products and services as slow burns versus heavy lifts. This is what the language that

Show artwork for Selling the Couch

About the Podcast

Selling the Couch
Impact + Income Beyond The Therapy Room
With over 1.5 million downloads, Selling the Couch is a top podcast for mental health private practitioners who think differently.

Psychologist Melvin Varghese interviews successful therapists, top entrepreneurs, business/marketing, productivity, and social media experts.

You'll learn how therapists get referrals, make money, work through fears, and how they've stopped "trading time for income."

Melvin also shares the lessons as he grows his impact + income beyond the therapy room (podcasting, video, online courses, masterminds, investing, etc) and the tips, tools, and tech he uses to grow STC from a single-person business to the CEO of a 5-person 100% remote team.

You get bite-sized and highly actionable tips to guide your private practice and entrepreneurial journey.

About your host

Profile picture for Melvin Varghese, PhD

Melvin Varghese, PhD

Hi. I'm Melvin. I'm a psychologist, girl dad, and online creator living in Philadelphia, PA.

In 2014, I began to think about how to use our therapist skillset in different realms besides clinical work (e.g., podcasting, consulting, online course creation, writing, etc).

This allows us to serve others on larger scales while diversifying our income beyond 1 to 1 work.

I make podcasts and videos about business, tech, productivity, and lessons I'm learning from becoming the CEO of a lean, mean 5 person 100% remote team (we're not really mean..it just rhymed =P).