Training your mind: 12 exercises you can do every day

Who I am
Robert Maurer
@robertmaurer
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wikipedia.org

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A couple of months ago the owners of a famous App for train the mind they were fined a few million dollars for telling their customers they would be become smarter.

The reason? Misleading Advertising: There is no scientific study in the world that shows you can get smarter. Neither with their App, nor with other systems.

So what's the point of doing brain exercises?


Training the mind, is it any use?

Well, from abrain aging the first scientific evidence begins to emerge that training the mind is able to delay it. And this is already very good news, even if unfortunately it is not that the results are exceptional.


From a point of view instead of the brain enhancement, little or nothing is known, and that is why the founders of the App took their multona.

However, I believe that, in evaluating the effectiveness of brain training, an interesting analogy can be made with memory techniques: in fact, by applying them you don't increase your memory at all, but your ability to memorize. Which are two different things.

If before studying memory techniques you were perhaps able, with your "natural" abilities, to read and remember for a few seconds a number of at most 8-10 digits (and already there are many!), after having studied them your "natural" memory continues to be able to remember 8-10 digits maximum. So your memory has not increased.

But if you use the phonetic conversion memory technique, yours ability to memorize numbers easily reaches 20 or 30 digits, and even more.



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Now, in my opinion, it applies to the other brain faculties more or less the same thing. I don't think they can be increased in an absolute sense, at least not with current scientific resources that we own.

Because intelligence in an absolute sense is a complex stuff, difficult both to define and to measure. You can understand "improve it"!

Certainly though we can make much better use of the skills we already have. 

That is, "maybe we can't get smarter, but we can certainly use our brains better."

But how do you train your mind?

From a logistical point of view, it's much easier than going to the gym.

In fact, you can train your mind at any time and in any place, with a practically infinite variety of tools: yourself and the world around you.

To demonstrate some of these methods, I've put together a series of my favorite and most popular mental training exercises on the internet. And at the end of the post we will find out what they have in common.

1. Write with your non-dominant hand

That is, with the left if you are right and with the right if you are left handed.

At times try to write (by hand, not on a computer) with the "poor" hand, stimulates synaptic activity in your brain (synapses are structures that allow communication between nerve cells) normally little used.


And it does it massively: writing is in fact an extremely complex activity, which involves many brain areas, from those of language to those of fine control of the movement of the fingers.

In addition, to write with the "poor" hand you will also need a surplus of mental focus, which is not normally needed when using the "good" hand.


2. Take a shower with your eyes closed

Sight is a very powerful sense, in fact the most powerful when it comes to using memory; however, we use it so much that in the end "turns off" a bit of all the other senses.

And since each of our senses refers to specific brain areas, if a sense is used little, its area of ​​the brain is not activated too much.

By taking a shower with your eyes closed you can focus better on the tactile sensations given by the water, and by the sponge; as you will be more sensitive to smells coming from soap and the sound of water near your ears.

Furthermore, you will relax frightening!

3. Recognize objects by touch

Kindergarten children often play a game where they have to recognize objects, with closed eyes, touching them only with your hands. Thus they find themselves evaluating with touch things that they normally recognize with their eyes, in particular the texture and shape of objects.

To recognize an object in this way the brain has to do a lot comparisons and analogies with previous experiences, very different from what he does using sight.


Furthermore, uncertainty with respect to what you are touching and the playful character of the task give this exercise a emotional content which positively affects brain activation

4. Play with numbers

It is a classic but always valid way to train the mind. For example, you can count backwards, so as to stimulate the brain by making it do something normal (counting), but in unusual way.

Or make multiplications in the mind between two-digit numbers, so that in carrying out the operation you are forced to create "carryovers" that the brain has to remember, and then add them at the end.


5. Look at objects in reverse

Visual memory is powerful and very useful, even for studying; but it takes little to deceive her, and by tricking her you stimulate her a little.

Take everyday objects and observe them after putting them upside down; your brain will certainly recognize the object in question, which is the usual one pattern of shapes and colors that identify it, but will also notice a number of different relationships of the object with the surrounding environment, as well as new and interesting details that he has already seen, but on which he has never paused before,

You know the expression "look at things from another point of view?". By doing this exercise you will find that it really means something.

6. Taste, and above all, smell

Marcel Proust begins his 2-page masterpiece “In Search of Lost Time” starting from the memories that suddenly emerge when he tastes a madeleine (it is a French biscuit).

Cabbages, two thousand pages of a book triggered by the taste of a biscuit!

The brain structures connected to our olfactory and gustatory receptors are part of the oldest and "primitive" area of ​​our nervous system, and are largely adjacent to theippocampo, which is considered the true brain center of memory (and partly of emotions)

The anatomical proximity between these structures is also reflected in some functional correlations much studied in neurology: everyone knows by now that the memory capacity of taste and smell, even if it is not as detailed as the visual one, is not only very powerful, but also associated strongly with the emozioni.

Also, particularly as regards the sense of smell, we have one huge, innate ability to distinguish different sensory stimuli. But we don't use.

Then take the habit of closing your eyes and smelling nature, things and people (in the latter case be careful not to go crazy!), and you will be able to provoke in your brain some real "synaptic explosions" of mental activation.  

7. Fai brainstorming

Take any business, simple and obvious, such as opening a bottle. And then try to describe at least 20 different ways of doing it.

Once the simpler ones are exhausted, such as taking a corkscrew and opening it, you will quickly move on to the more "creative" ones: for example build a time machine and send the bottle into the future, where they will open it with telekinesis.

Or send a ladybug to the gym to train, and then insert it into the cap through a small hole and make him remove it by pushing from inside (real examples taken from some workshops).

Does it seem stupid to you?

Maybe that's the benefit. By doing the exercise, the brain will start resisting; little by little, he will go to an area little used for him, the one in which the "suspension of disbelief".

This way your mind can work without the constraints that normally derive from coherence and logic.

In short, he loses his inhibitions, and in addition to giving birth to a lot of bullshit he will be able to increase his ability to churn out creative and effective solutions.

To train the mind with this exercise, it is imperative that the brain understands the task assigned to it. Otherwise it will not be able to go beyond fifteen theoretical solutions.

Remember, it's not about actually opening the bottle, but to temporarily suppress the critical sense to produce as many brain images as possible around a given theme.

8. Do mental speed exercises

It is full of apps to train the mind to “go fast”.

Try these exercises to train your mind and with which you can test:

  • visual memory
  • memory for words
  • memory for numbers
  • reaction time to the stimulus.

See, the great thing about forcing your brain to do things fast is that naturally you focus more. And concentration makes you use your mental abilities better.

It is for this reason, for example, that in fast reading, within certain limits, the understanding of the text increases instead of decreasing. (Go to the quick reading guide)

9. Exercise

When I graduated from medical school, it was thought that could not grow new neurons.

Instead, it seems that this is not the case, and that neurogenesis is indeed possible even at a relatively old age. In particular, there are a number of studies that prove the neuronal growth within the hippocampus (again him!), a deep brain structure involved in memorization processes.

For those who practice medicine, or for those interested in the subject in general, here is a long video that talks about the activities that can stimulate the growth of memory neurons: among them the running and some foods stand out.

(A warning: from a medical point of view, we are a long way from curing degenerative brain disorders, and this video is about things that have begun to be discovered, but that will yield results who knows when and who knows how).

10. Do the Di Caprio in Inception

In the movie (so cool!) Inception, the protagonists build whole imaginary worlds, in which they move after immersing themselves in a deep sleep.

The concept is interesting, and it reminds me of the construction of memory palaces: mental structures that I build in long-term memory thanks to the loci technique, and to which I then link short-term information to remember them.

The effort to construct precise and detailed mental images in our mind, both of things we have seen and of imaginary things, is a very powerful stimulus for the brain, and a skill that is refined and perfected over time. Also, if you use and know memory techniques, you can train yourself by building mental buildings that you will need to memorize information later.

11. Remember things from your past

It is a very complete exercise that stimulates concentration, memory areas and creativity at the same time.

Memorizing is different from remembering: the first is in fact the process through which fixed in your memory of information; the second is the process through which the fish out after storing them.

Remembering is itself a form of thinking, but different from logical thinking or reasoning. In fact, when you think about something, for many reasons your brain has become accustomed to using processes connected above all with the verbalization.

But when you remember, your brain carries out processes connected above all with the display.

Broadly speaking, that is, we reason with words and remember with images.

Being able to bring visualization into reasoning can give your mind a lot of extra fuel, and we'll see why in the next exercise.

12. Solve "visual" riddles

Have you ever wondered why in many war films there are meetings of generals in front of a model of the terrain, complete with lead soldiers and tanks lined up?

The fact is that strategic reasoning it needs, to be more effective, of "See" things. For example, try to solve this riddle:

“A farmer wants to carry a fox, a goose and a sack of seeds from one side of a river to the other. But with his boat he can only carry one thing at a time. But if he leaves the fox alone with the goose, the fox eats it. And if he leaves the goose alone with the seeds, the goose eats the seeds. How then does he carry the three from one top to the other? "

Solution:

Like most problems that require the planning in the correct order of a series of actions (exactly as in the strategic sciences), this riddle is solved more easily only if you are able to accurately visualize the various alternative scenarios.

Reflections on exercises to train the mind

The exercises that I have proposed to you are, in the description, quite different from each other. But there are some rules which are repeated often and make them similar:

  • La mental visualization it is a powerful stimulus for memory, creativity and problem solving
  • I senses other than sight they must be stimulated more than you usually do, because you use them little and badly
  • Sight must be stimulated, but in a different way than usual, that is, changing the perspective
  • I positive emotional content (play, relax, good memories) are, for the mind, like a nice regenerating massage.

In short, the brain, to increase its activation level, seems to need to break the monotony with which he interprets and interacts with reality, using new points of view and giving things new and pleasant emotional content.

So he does not get bored and finds interest in things and self-confidence. As well as its owner.

The biggest benefit of doing these exercises in my opinion is that they remind us that we have a brain and they give us the awareness of his different abilities and possibilities. And training the mind often means, after all, only using parts of it that we have forgotten we have. A greeting. Armando.

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