You go to a gym to train your muscles, you run or hike to build your endurance, but what can you do to train your brain? Training your brain could not only speed up your memory recall, but it could also help you learn faster. There are, after all, only a limited number of hours in the day.
While you can't work your brain like a muscle (as it isn't one), there are various ways you can sharpen and hone it to its full potential. So, if you want to give one of your most valuable physical assets a real boost, try following some of these basic methods to work your mental powers.
But. before we get into the nitty-gritty stuff, we need to talk about something called fluid and crystallized intelligence.
What is fluid and crystallized intelligence?
Many experts classify our general intelligence into two main types -- fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Both of these are critically important for our ability to learn and recall things readily.
The first, fluid intelligence, is the part involved in comprehension, reasoning, and problem-solving aspects of our intellect. Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, is the realm of memory recall of knowledge and past experiences.
Both fluid and crystallized intelligence rely on different parts of the brain but are, obviously, interrelated to some degree.
It has long been thought that fluid intelligence peaks around the age of 30 and then gradually decreases over time. We are not entirely sure why, but it may be related to the deterioration of neurological functioning (especially in the right cerebellum) as it is not used as much as when you were younger.
However, newer research seems to point to the fact that certain aspects of fluid intelligence actually peak at around the age of 40. It may also be possible to improve fluid intelligence and delay its decline through working your brain.
Experiments conducted in 2008 by psychologist Susanne M. Jaeggi involved 70 participants who were subjected to daily tasks and regular training to improve their fluid intelligence. At the end of the experiment, a noticeable rise in fluid intelligence was observed. This has been supported by some other similar studies.
However, it is important to note that later studies have been unable to either support or disprove these findings.
Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, seems to gradually increase over time, and then begin to decline at around the age of 60. For this reason, most experts in the field agree that crystallized intelligence is best improved through education and experience.
Very interesting, but what is the takeaway here?
Basically, the problem-solving part of the brain is at its best when you are young but your memory recall (crystallized) is less effective then. This reverses over time as you age and gain more education and experience.
While both types of intelligence were once thought to be static and fixed from birth, new research seems to show that by working your brain in different ways, you can actually improve its function to some extent. Unless, of course, you are unlucky enough to develop a debilitating disease, such as Alzheimer's.
So if you want to buck the trend, here are some simple mental exercises to keep your brain sharp.
1. You are the company you keep
"Your network is your net worth," as the saying goes. This is not just a throwaway comment -- there really is something to say for the company you keep.
According to the famous motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” We are social creatures, and the people we surround ourselves with voluntarily can have a huge impact on the way we think, and on our opinions, and our behaviors.
According to various theories, like the works of social psychologist Dr. David McClelland of Harvard, your closest friends and peers may actually determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life. That really is significant.
It is no coincidence that high achieving people tend to associate with one another. The reason, when you think about it, is likely that peer groups tend to have similar interests and like to discuss these topics freely with those of a similar mindset.
By associating yourself with intelligent people, or "doers", you could indirectly develop your own thinking skill and attitudes to life, success, and personal development. So, as cold as it might sound, you might want to think again about the friends you spend most of your time with.
2. Get enough shut-eye
Sleep, it turns out, is a very important factor when keeping your mind (and body) in tip-top shape. While we still don't really understand why animals, like humans, sleep, it is clear that it has some sort of a critical function in our lives.
Any lack of rest, relaxation, and/or excessive stress can seriously reduce the efficiency of your brain function. The human brain requires a large amount of energy to function. If you are constantly exhausted, your mind won't be able to retain knowledge and learn.
Some studies also show that a persistent lack of sleep can reduce your IQ. So, make sure you get enough shut-eye!
3. Read, read, read!
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but don't underestimate the power of reading. Reading exposes you to new ideas and can influence and improve your mind. Being well-read not only improves your vocabulary but will also make you more articulate.
It is one of the best brain exercises going.
Reading also improves your general knowledge, making you more capable of holding interesting conversations and relating different concepts. Reading expands your communication skills and develops your analytical skills and also exposes you to new ideas, and allows you to learn new skills.
It is rumored that highly successful people, like CEOs, read, on average, one book a week. While this might not be possible for you, you really should carve out time to read for at least an hour a day.
The best bit is you don't need to stick to dry scientific tomes. Works of fiction, like Lord of the Rings or Moby Dick, will also do the trick. Of course, you can dive into some heavy philosophy texts if you really want to turbocharge your brain.
4. Food, glorious food!
"You are what you eat", as they say. Food is the fuel for your body, and more importantly, for your brain. What you stuff down your throat can influence your brain function.
Getting a highly nutritious diet has also been shown to have an effect on keeping your mind sharp. Some foods high in nutrition have also been touted as working to enhance brain function. Walnuts, for example, are thought by some to be a fantastic source of brain food.
Fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon that are rich in fatty acids have been proven to help neurons function. And some researchers argue that food and nutrition can also play a role in our mood. Multiple studies have also found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function and mood disorders, such as depression.
You should also make sure you get a regular intake of Omega-3 too.
5. Play games!
Believe it or not, playing games is another powerful way to train your brain -- to a certain extent. Constantly facing challenges could help your brain go from strength to strength.
The brain can be lazy sometimes. Once it realizes it has mastered something, it stops trying.
The trick here is to use your full potential and push your limits. Brain games like Sudoku, brainteasers, and other problem-solving games really help here. These kinds of games are a great form of cognitive exercise.
This is not just hearsay, either. Various studies have shown that playing games can boost brain connectivity and memory.
The right kinds of computer games could also boost your IQ!
6. Keep a diary or journal
If it's good enough for the likes of Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Jefferson, keeping a diary might be a good idea for all of us. Getting into the habit of constantly taking notes or writing down things or ideas effectively creates an extension of your mind.
Thoughts are fickle, ethereal things at times and unless jotted down they can be lost for good. By routinely recording your thoughts, you will enable yourself to think more clearly and thoroughly.
Good behaviors like this will boost your ability to think with clarity. Who knows one of those random. normally discarded, thoughts, could be your path to freedom and fortune?
7. Exercise your body as well as mind
Another great way to keep your brain on top form is to get plenty of exercise. Any efforts you make to train your brain will be thwarted if you don't keep your body healthy too!
Many studies have shown an apparent link between regular exercise and improved memory function, cognitive performance, and, if you care about that sort of thing, academic achievement. Other studies have also shown that exercise is a great way to reduce depression and anxiety.
A little physical activity will make it much easier for you to keep your brain in top shape. And it doesn't need to be a daily slog at the gym. Here is a 15-minute daily workout from 1904.
Just make sure you also eat well!
8. Write with your hand
The modern world is addicted to keyboards and touchscreens. They are an efficient method of putting down information onto a page, rather than your hand, a pencil, and some paper.
But apparently, we are missing a trick here. You can learn a lot more efficiently by writing longhand. So, when it comes to training your brain, it might be a good idea to put the laptop to one side.
This happens because your brain's filtering system (the reticular activating system, or RAS) processes what you're actively focusing on at the moment. Writing triggers the RAS and lets your brain know it's time to pay attention.
If you want to kick your brain into action to achieve a goal, or solve a problem, physically getting it down on paper can prove to be a powerful tool too.
9. Dare to suck at something new
"A change is as good as a rest", or so the saying goes. This is also true when it comes to working that gray matter.
When learning something new, try to do it over and over again every day. New experiences force your brain to grow new pathways that will help you perform the new task faster and faster.
Think about when you were a small child. Your days were a constant trial and error exercise. Each and every experience strengthens the neural pathways and makes a task that much easier until it becomes second nature. Just like learning to walk.
And that brain-boosting wannabes is your lot for today. If you want to give yourself a little edge over the competition, why not practice some of these suggestions right now?
After all, "knowledge is not power, it is only potential".