Get Smarter: Challenge Your Brain

tetris light

(how cool is this Tetris table lamp???!!!)

We can absolutely get smarter, each and every one of us.  Becoming smarter requires training and exercise for your mind, and it doesn’t have to be tedious and lame.  Even video games can boost intelligence!  In the field of learning, it has been proven that constantly challenging yourself in various ways is key to continued growth.  If you don’t keep challenging your mind, it will become lazy, just like your body. Coasting through life ultimately means you are not staying at the same level… you are declining.  Even if you are active and if you do the same set of exercises over and again, ultimately you will not benefit as much from them over time.  When you are in any kind of rut, you will go through the motions and yet not feel the intense feeling of having to push, to dig or shatter resistance to get to the next level.  You’ll sort of dwindle, and we can’t have dwindling!  Lets all get smarter, instead!!!

tetris

I have been a big fan of the number game Sudoku in the past, and I noticed how my mental clarity went up on a steep trajectory when I got really into the puzzles.  Funny thing though, it really didn’t sustain itself.  I got pretty great at Sudoku and yet, I didn’t feel that my “brain smarts” were improving any more.  I wasn’t challenged.  There are actually studies like this one documented in Scientific American that helped me to understand why I felt so underwhelmed by Sudoku after a while…and why you may feel that way about any learning situation if it isn’t varied and continually more challenging.  The article explains:

“A few years ago, scientist Richard Haier wanted to see if you could increase your cognitive ability by intensely training on novel mental activities for a period of several weeks. They used the video game Tetris as the novel activity, and used people who had never played the game before as subjects (I know—can you believe they exist?!). What they found, was that after training for several weeks on the game Tetris, the subjects experienced an increase in cortical thickness, as well as an increase in cortical activity, as evidenced by the increase in how much glucose was used in that area of the brain. Basically, the brain used more energy during those training times, and bulked up in thickness—which means more neural connections, or new learned expertise—after this intense training. And they became experts at Tetris. Cool, right?

Here’s the thing: After that initial explosion of cognitive growth, they noticed a declinein both cortical thickness, as well as the amount of glucose used during that task. However, they remained just as good at Tetris; their skill did not decrease. The brain scans showed less brain activity during the game-playing, instead of more, as in the previous days. Why the drop? Their brains got more efficient. Once their brain figured out how to play Tetris, and got really good at it, it got lazy. It didn’t need to work as hard in order to play the game well, so the cognitive energy and the glucose went somewhere else instead.”

When your brain is “fit” your perception is more sharp, your ideas more incisive, your reactions more adept.  creative minds are “fit” minds.  Creativity challenges the status quo on a daily basis if you are tapped in and pushing past barriers. Minds that are exercised are less apt to ebb and flow in wild mood swings. Risk taking becomes easier.  You have more “space” to take in information & make assumptions. Your brain is the switch-box and conductor for your whole nervous system, so it stands to reason that a fit brain and well-exercised mind would be important, right? YES!!!

To keep challenging your mind & expanding your life,  cross-train your brain!  Puzzles of all kinds are really helpful for brain trailing, so long as they challenge you and you keep pushing the levels higher of their difficulty. Sudoku, crosswords, Brain Teasers, or some online training at Lumosity.  Lumosity is a really incredible site filled with targeted games to develop the areas of your awareness you feel are weakest.  Its genius! 😉

In addition to cross-training your brain, challenge yourself in your daily life.  Make harder decisions, decide to figure things out yourself before asking questions, really submerge yourself in learning more about the world around you in a more detailed manner.

Physically challenge yourself, too!   Circulation improves the actual brain as an organ. Physical activity stimulates endorphins that are the feel-good chemicals in our minds.  They don’t only help us to bliss-out, they help us to find motivation and overcome challenges.

You can eat to stimulate your brain as well. One quick tip is to eat more protein.  Some also suggest that you integrate more Omega 3-6 & 9 oils in your life. No matter what you do, avoid sugar, processed food and chemicals.

OK, there’s so much to explore where the mind is concerned, we are just scratching the surface, and I’ll keep bring you moire and more of this intensely useful science! Now,  I am off to get working on my own mental luminosity at  Lumosity! xoxo Dana

Laura May 2, 2013 at 9:49 pm

The timing of this post is just perfect. I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people on this topic lately. It makes sense that the mind has the same type of adaptability as the body and that both require variety in their workouts in order to keep getting results. Thanks for sharing this information!

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danaclaudat May 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Laura, thank you! Its so true- we spend all this ytime getting educated and then… it dwindles! Motivation to exercise our minds 🙂

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Katie May 3, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I really like this post. I am feeling really lazy right now because I am not working full time but that doesn’t mean I just have to sit around and do nothing. You have inspired me to challenge myself. I remember from the book “The Happiness Project” Challenges make you happy!

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