It happened again.
You walk into a room and forgot why you were even there. You scramble to look for your glasses. You look into the kitchen, the bedside table, the bathroom — everywhere you could think of. You’re starting to get irritated because you’re running late for your next appointment. Your hands grasp something hard on your head — the freaking glasses you’ve been looking all along.
Then, something suddenly hits you!
There’s a project due today, a favor you promised for a friend, and a bill that must be paid.
Anxiety starts to creep in as you murmur, “Gosh, how did I forget about these?”
And now you’re rushing out the door to try to save the day. As you’re about to get inside your car, the good old neighbor who jogs every morning stops in your driveway for a little chitchat. You clearly recall his face. You’ve been in some gatherings together. But for the life of you, you couldn’t recall his name.
Three. Four. Five minutes went by. Still nothing.
It’s in the tip of your tongue but you can’t remember his name at all.
You start to feel bad because this scenario is not just an isolated case. It did not only happen today. It happens almost every day.
Forgetting important things, important events, and even important people.
You know you can’t simply shrug it off. You can’t simply accept that you are becoming forgetful. You can’t simply deny how it affects the quality of your life.
Oh crap! Feels annoying, right?
It doesn’t have to be.
For many years, we were told that the brain is hardwired — which means that once it has reached its maturity, its connections are pretty much permanent and can no longer be altered.
Well, thanks to the on-going interests in neuroscience — experts now discovered that the brain is actually plastic.
The term neuroplasticity is now widely used which says that the brain is capable of changing and improving despite age. The brain can create new nerve connections and strengthen communication pathways.
Your brain can tremendously improve despite the many forgetful moments you’ve encountered.
You don’t have to tolerate the subpar performance of your brain. You don’t have to settle for its current abilities. You don’t have to beat yourself up for frustrations.
Instead, with patience and practice, your brain can become young and sharp again.
The best part of all?
It’s possible without taking a single pill, doing therapy visits or spending so much money.
Just like any part of our body, the brain adheres to the “use-it-or-lose-it” principle. You might say, “I’m thinking and using my brain every day. Why is it I still seem to lose it?”
When the brain gets used to a certain activity, it is no longer challenged. The routine activities that we do daily set us up on auto-pilot mode and the brain doesn’t get the workout it needs.
But when you train your brain to get challenged, it actually becomes more efficient.
In fact, several studies have proven how beneficial it is to give the brain its needed workout. As mentioned by Dr. Robert Goldman in his book Brain Fitness, the Seattle and Baltimore Longitudinal studies show that people who are sharpest mentally regularly do a variety of activities, open to and able to grasp new ideas, flexible and willing to change. Because of these qualities, many participants are satisfied with their personal or professional accomplishments. Those who suffered from mental deterioration strictly adhered to routines and experienced dissatisfaction in life.
The good news is:
Training your brain can actually be fun and rewarding at the same time.
Here are some tips how:
Your days are pretty much the same. You wake up, check the time, do your morning routine, do all the chores and work before you wrap up everything.
It’s pretty much predictable.
Your brain can tell what you’re likely to do next. It’s like a student who sits in a class blankly staring at the teacher and doesn’t get challenged with the lessons and activities.
Your brain is bored!
To awaken the brain’s inner quirkiness and wit, it will help to shake up your routine a bit. Make some changes in your habits. Changes that will challenge your current capabilities.
Instead of brushing with your dominant hand, try the other hand. Instead of driving the same route, find a new route without letting Siri dictate the directions. Instead of listening to the same genre of music, switch to pop, classical, jazz or whatever you want.
If you want to use chopsticks when eating salsa and chips, heck, why not?
This is the perfect time to go against the conventional you and see how your brain gets challenged with these small changes.
Even for the things that you’ve mastered, you can still find ways to improve your brain. Just like what James Clear has said:
“Mastery requires practice. But the more you practice something, the more boring and routine it becomes. Thus, an essential component of mastery is the ability to search for new details in old practices. Don’t abandon the fundamentals. Find something new to be in awe about.”
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss
Have you tried reading several books on the same topic or genre? Most likely, you’re able to predict the flow or what the author is about to say.
Reading is beneficial but can be BORING at times especially when the brain’s interest is not tickled. When you are exposed to only one kind of material, the brain doesn’t get excited at all.
As mentioned by Dr. Richard Davidson, the brain responds well on novelty.
To keep your brain highly engaged when reading, expand your reading universe. Explore different authors, genres and alternate them. Try alternative sources of learning. If you are more into books, try videos and audiobooks.
You don’t have to stick to one when it comes to reading. The reading world is so huge to explore. Allow your brain to travel on its own.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” — Nelson Mandela
You have that dream destination, right? You’re probably saving for it. You can’t wait for your feet to get there.
In fact, you can already imagine your outfit while posing on the famous landmarks of the place. You can already see yourself taking the breathtaking selfie. And you are starting to think of that hashtag.
Is it in Paris? Rome? Spain? Philippines?
While saving for that huge escapade, why not learn the language of that place? Sure, you may not be that fluent by the time you’ve saved enough, but imagine greeting that Uber driver or that AirBnB host in their native language.
One of the best ways to challenge your brain is to learn something new.
When you learn new skills, your neurons scramble to meet their new buddies. They’re jumping in excitement to spark the fire and rewire with other neurons.
Make your brain sharp by learning a new language. You don’t have to stick to Hello! It can be Bonjour! Ciao! Hola! Kumusta!
Wait, you’re not a travel freak?
Well, It’s time to undust that piano or guitar that’s been sitting in the living room. Learn new musical pieces.
And those recipes you’ve mastered to the dot? Time to add new varieties. After all, you’ve been secretly obsessing to be like Martha Stewart or Gordon Ramsay.
Okay, we get it!
We all have those couch potato moments. It’s tempting to just sit down, lie down or be stationary most of the time. But that habit is hurting your body and your brain.
You’ve heard this over and over again — EXERCISE.
While you know the many benefits of exercise, you still can’t motivate yourself enough to consistently do it. But if you love your brain, it’s helpful to lift your butt from that soft cushion.
The brain uses at least 25 percent of oxygen you breathe. When the arteries are clogged down by cholesterol, the oxygen and glucose cannot properly flow. The arteries cannot deliver the needed fuel for the brain.
Even walking around your block or jogging for 15 minutes every couple of days can create a wonderful impact to your brain.
As mentioned by Dr. Goldman, researchers from Scripp College in California found out that regular exercise has a stronger impact on sharp thinking than sensible eating. Now, that’s not to say that sensible eating is useless. The studies show that the couch potatoes who eat healthily cannot match the scores of those who regularly exercise when they took series of memory tests.
Even Japanese researchers from St. Marianna University School of Medicine in Kawasaki found out the same. He said:
“Researchers gave memory tests to forty-six elderly people who walked daily and found out that those who walked the farthest scored best, while those who barely walked showed signs of dementia.”
The next time you look for a memory pill, try a memory walk to lubricate your brain and refuel its parts.
It’s pretty common among us to take for granted the things that we have. When you lose something, you are forced to tap into your creativity to make things work using what you have. The brain gets challenged to find new ways to deal with deficiencies.
Imagine that you cannot have all of your five senses.
How would you tackle the usual things you do?
Watch a movie with the sound off and try to figure out the personalities of the characters through their actions.
Shower with your eyes closed and use your senses to determine the shampoo or body wash.
Go to a restaurant and close your eyes while chewing. Try to identify the vegetables, spices, condiments, and other ingredients present in the meal.
By taking a break from the usual senses you are using, you engage the rarely-used brain pathways.
Dr. Lawrence Katz said in his book Keep Your Brain Alive:
“Synapses between nerve cells were strengthened by unusual and challenging activities that can produce more brain growth molecules such as neurotrophins.”
By tapping the unusual, you are opening the door of improvement.
Remember when you were young?
You get lost in the moment when you draw, play your favorite musical instrument, or just do what your heart desires.
And now? You barely do it at all.
Those moments are only alive in your memory lane. After all, you’re too busy. Your life is brimming with things to do. You cannot squeeze in another activity.
That knitting, fishing, gardening, sewing — agh- screw it! It’s just a useless hobby that you should give up and forget.
Well, that’s probably what you’ll say. But that’s not what the brain will tell you.
Too much stress takes a toll on your brain. Creativity and productivity diminish when you squeeze in too much work.
Pursuing what others perceive as your “useless hobby” is a great way to reward your brain. A hobby is actually a good antidepressant because it gets you in the flow where you do things you actually enjoy.
When you get into your zone, the brain tends to relax and wander away toward something of value. Your creative juices flow and ideas start generating. Your mind wanders somewhere peaceful.
Author Daniel Goleman said:
“The brain systems involved in mind wandering have been found active just before people hit upon a creative insight.”
Even the successful people we know actively pursue their hobbies. In an article shared on Michael Hyatt’s blog, people like Bill Gates said that reuniting with tennis gave him a sense of balance in life.
If ever you feel guilty for pursuing that hobby, remember that you are giving the brain the break it needs while opening yourself for incubating creative discovery.
As we age, our social life becomes less active. If you find yourself isolated most of the time, it will help your brain if you open your doors for socialization.
Socialization or connecting with others give you the opportunity to learn from them. Experiences are great teachers. When you talk to different people, you see others’ point of view and your brain is able to discern among various ideas.
When you talk with others, it also forces your brain to think of the most effective way to convey your message. Even connecting with your old friends by the phone is helpful to keep your brain active.
Jack Hughes of TopCoder benefits from socialization. He is able to enrich his brain by broadening sources of information to get better ideas for his project. As he said:
“Almost everything I do is borrowed and repurposed from others in other fields.”
The brain may be an amazing organ but it has its own limitations too. It cannot take every input we give.
To efficiently use your cognitive reserves, use tools that can support your brain’s functions. Instead of memorizing your to-do list, write them on a piece of paper. Use planners and cues to organize your day.
Use your mental energy on daunting tasks instead of consuming it every day on trivial things that can be supported by other means.
At the same time, do consistent cognitive deposits to make sure your brain stay active.
Write down notes while reading and summarize points you’ve learned.
Dr. Goldman suggests keeping a dream diary where you think about the emotions and psychological underpinnings that each dream stirs up. You can also write down when you have a hunch about something. It forces you to think critically and creatively to test the power of your intuition.
The key is to force your brain to do higher order thinking skills.
Technology brings with it so many conveniences that most of us default to it right away.
To keep your brain sharp, try to do math the old way. Instead of relying on calculators or software, scribble numbers on notepads and reveal your inner genius. Instead of watching TV during your vacant time, challenge yourself on word games or crossword puzzles. Instead of doodling random objects, set the main idea and draw things that will support it.
To get a great mental workout, try memorizing verses, quotes or poems. The key is not doing rote memorization but finding associations and connections.
As you engage in these activities few minutes a day, you’ll find that your brain starts to improve.
You’re doing your work and you’re in the zone.
Everything around you blurs except what you’re doing at the moment. Ideas can’t stop pouring out. You feel very efficient and productive. The job that usually takes days is now about to finish in a few hours.
Then, the alarm rings.
It’s time for your fifteen-minute break.
You breathe a deep sigh while looking at the work you’ve produced. You’re satisfied. You feel accomplished.
And now it’s time for your needed reward.
You grab your phone, open your favorite social media app and scroll through the news feed for the latest gossip, I meant updates, on your friends.
You feel guiltless as you wander away in the social media land. After all, you’ve done two hours of concentrated work. A 15-minute indulgence won’t hurt your brain’s concentration.
Or that’s what you’ve thought.
When you switch to another task, it becomes more difficult for the brain to get back to your original task.
Even Microsoft coders suffer from this.
In a podcast interview of Jim Kwik and Steven Kotler, they discussed how random activities during transition can hurt brain’s focus. They suggest to train yourself to transition directly without a break. Steven Kotler writes for 4 hours and then fits other activities into the rest of his workday. This way, the brain benefits from the efficient use of energy and is able to think creatively and properly.
When you intentionally engage your brain, it gets the love it deserves. It’s not just there sitting in your skull. It actually performs the job it’s supposed to do.
By breaking your usual routine, you place your brain’s attentional circuits in high gear.
Imagine how efficient it is to always remember important things.
You don’t need to worry if you’ll miss an important deadline or event. You don’t have to scramble looking for your pair of glasses. You don’t feel guilty forgetting the name of that wonderful neighbor.
In fact, you’ll enjoy talking with anyone because you know your brain will always learn something new.
Your brain can become better than it has ever been. You no longer dread cognitive decline because you are now armed with tips you can apply right away.
Doesn’t that sound dreamy?
Well, it can be your reality.
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Originally published at medium.com