The brain is especially malleable before age 25, but not enough young people realize it, says Jesse Payne, and they wind up doing things that can limit their potential for success.

What led you to write this book?

I lived it. I saw the stigma associated with mental illness as well as its destructive effects on the lives of everyone around it. As a teenager and young adult, I lived in a chaotic environment that was filled with brain struggles. My mother has schizophrenia and suffered her first mental breakdown when I was 4, and my dad suffered with ADHD, anxiety, and depression until he took his own life when I was 23. So I experienced firsthand what it’s like to live with brain struggles. My hope is that I can empower young people to understand the brain and realize the power they have to change it for the better (or worse).

What’s distinct about the brain before 25?

It’s still undergoing critical development. We used to assume that adults had fully developed brains. This simply is not the case. We now know that the human brain is developing until the mid-twenties, and that the last part of the brain to fully develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is involved with judgment, forethought, impulse control, learning from mistakes, focus, attention, and much more. Car insurance companies figured this out long ago. Think of what age your car insurance rates drop: 25!

What is the most surprising thing you discovered about the developing brain?

It develops from the back to the front. In infancy, the back of the brain—the cerebellum—is the most active and in development. The cerebellum is involved with cognition, hand-eye coordination, and balance. As you progress through adolescence, the middle of the brain is highly active. This is the part of the brain involved with relationships, bonding, friendships, wanting to fit in, self-esteem, and much more. This is why teenagers are sometimes more consumed with friends than anything else. The last part of the brain to fully develop is the prefrontal cortex at the front of your head.

How can we apply those lessons?

From a brain-science perspective, you can see that “peer pressure” is much more internal than external. This is why anti-drug campaigns are largely ineffective. Most place accountability on external forces like peer pressure. In reality, however, the pressure comes from within. Many teenagers actually volunteer to do foolish things because their need for acceptance is this strong.

How do people under 25 hurt their brains?

First and foremost, by not understanding the brain very much. When you understand it, you begin to realize just how ridiculously complex it is, and also how fragile it really is. Drugs (including marijuana), alcohol, tobacco, excessive caffeine, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and even negative thinking have a negative impact on brain function. Many people under 25 think, “Hey, I’m young. I can do stupid things now and then I will take care of it since it can get better later.” This is just the wrong way to look at it.

What should people under 25 be doing to take care of their brains?

They need to learn about the brain and how it applies to every part of their lives. I explain it this way: If you do not take care of your brain now, sure, you might have the chance to recover as you age. But imagine if you actually started protecting and caring for your brain now instead of damaging it and then trying to recover later? You would reach a new level of potential and success. Once you have developed an understanding and appreciation for the brain, it becomes easier to take care of it with nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, adequate sleep, new learning, goal setting, and battling negative thoughts.

If you could share one piece of advice, what would it be?

Never lose hope. I watched firsthand as my dad struggled with ADHD, depression, and anxiety. I tried to help him, but he refused. He did not see the potential for change, and he was unwilling to admit he needed help. It cost him his life, and his suicide impacted me deeply. I wholeheartedly believe that it could have been avoided if he had been able to to accept that he needed help. I have seen too many people try to go at it alone. This is unnecessary. The days of stigmatizing mental illness need to be over.

What is the most important point you want to get across?

You have much more power over your brain than you ever thought possible. What you do each and every day has the potential to change your brain and change your life. I lived this message myself, and I have seen how this knowledge can literally save lives. It is an exciting time in brain science, and I am dedicated to getting this information in the hands of as many people as possible.

About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses.


To purchase this book, visit:

 Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Before 25)

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