We never stop learning. At least we shouldn’t.
Just because we eventually leave a classroom setting as adults doesn’t mean we should stop exercising our brains.
There are plenty of reasons to exercise our brains, one of them being to postpone cognitive decline as we get older. Another benefit of ‘working out’ our brains is to, over time, increase brain power and continue adapting the way we remember, think and behave in different situations.
The same way regular physical activity improves the performance of our bodies and overall makes us physically healthier, doing regular “exercises” for our brains help keep our minds sharp. They also increase the power of our memory and creativity and make us better problem-solvers.
A healthier mind will always, in some way, lead to a healthier life.
Here are three examples of exercises you can do to improve these three areas of thought and incorporate them into your daily routine.
1. Mentally retrace your steps
Our memories dull as we age, as does our ability to remember new things as time goes on. Mental exercises done regularly might be able to help maintain our ability to remember over time.
Robert Glatter, MD suggests a mental exercise you can do before you go to sleep at night to gradually increase your ability to remember details.
When you get into bed before falling asleep, mentally retrace your day from the moment you woke up that morning.
Don’t just categorize your memories into large chunks—breakfast; commute; lunch—take your time and try to remember as many details as you possibly can.
Recall not only the bagel with cream cheese you ate on the way to work, but also taking the bagel out of the freezer; sliding it into the toaster and back out again; picking up the knife and spreading the cream cheese evenly on each half.
Do this for every portion of your day until you reach the point at which you climbed back into bed again. If you make it that far before falling asleep, of course.
Over a four-week period, Dr. Glatter adds, you should begin to notice improvement in both your short- and long-term memory from continuing the exercise regularly before you go to sleep.
2. Go back to preschool
Without realizing it, we are constantly generating new ideas and trying to figure out how to bring them to life. It’s harder to actively engage in creative processes on a regular basis once we enter the real world because we are conditioned to operate by using instructions and following someone else’s directions to complete a task.
To increase our ability to think creatively, we need to think like a kid.
In his 2008 TED Talk, Tim Brown discussed the concept of creativity and how to boost our creative thinking skills as adults. Young children are more able to tap into their creative impulses because, unlike adults, they have no fear of being wrong or reason to be embarrassed about their ideas.
During the talk, Brown had the audience attempt something called the 30 Circle Test, in which they were asked to, on a sheet of paper with 30 circles drawn on it, turn each circle into something new with a pen.
Start by printing out this image and set a timer for 30 seconds. In those 30 seconds, see how many circles you can turn into new objects, such as a basketball or a smiley face. Continue doing this regularly and try to increase the number of circles you can transform into something different each time.
This exercise works because it forces us to think of things we might not come into contact every day while at work or at home, and also requires us to think quickly, shifting our focus to quantity instead of quality. It isn’t the quality of the idea, but the number of ideas we can generate in half a minute, that counts.
3. Role play
Problems arise everywhere we turn, especially when it comes to work and relationships, things academics don’t necessarily prepare us for no matter how many years we spend in school.
When we have to make quick decisions under stress, our ability to problem solve suffers. The final component of improving our brain power is to refine our problem solving skills, alone or in groups, by role playing.
How this works in groups is more self-explanatory, but alone it simply involves imagining a situation and then piecing together the best way to resolve it.
When you do this, try to pick scenarios you have never been in before or don’t think you will ever find yourself in at any point in the future. The more you force yourself to use your imagination and logic skills, the more your brain will benefit from the exercise.
This isn’t just an exercise for team building in your business. You can do it at home alone on your own time, too. If you’ve used all your creative energy on creating basketballs out of circles, try solving this TED-Ed logic puzzle.
Giving our brains consistent workouts to improve different areas of brain function increases our brain power and makes us more mentally reliable, creative and innovative when it comes to solving everyday issues.
The key to making these exercises work and get the most you can out of them is to make them part of your daily routine, the same way you might start walking during your lunch break if you wanted to slowly add physical exercise into your life.
If you usually spend two hours at night watching shows on Netflix, cut out a half hour of Netflix time and replace it with brain exercise time. If after a few weeks you really think that’s helping you, split those two hours evenly between the two different kinds of activities.
The more critically we are able to think about things and the more we allow ourselves to use detail and creativity to create solutions for problems we may or may not have faced yet, the better our lives in turn will be.