You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more. We spend so much time focusing on improving our body; shouldn’t you also focus on learning how to train your brain?
When you train your brain, you will:
Keep reading to learn how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills, as well as your short and long term memory.
Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer, has come up with the following memory workout:
When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.
If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book, The Creative Habit, she says that most people cannot remember more than three.
The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies. Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.
Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.
What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.
For example, say you just met someone new:
“Hi, my name is George”
Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you.” Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.” Then, try to sneak his name into other parts of the conversation: “I also really loved that movie, George!”
By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster by improving specific cognitive functions.
Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.
It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does. And with enough repetition, you made that happen!
How does this apply to your life right now?
Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait until the last minute to make things happen.
Now, you might be thinking, “Of course, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”
However, by doing something really small that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.
If you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?
You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what to do with it in order to train your brain.
That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action-taker.
It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better it’s going to perform for you.
For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music), to something you actually do (playing the instrument).
Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking and a different way of expressing yourself.
You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Research has shown that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s.
If you want to learn new stuff more effectively, identify your learning style first. By understanding your own learning style, you can maximize your strengths in learning and learn quicker. Don’t know your learning style? Take this assessment for free and find out.
The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. For example, the free Fast-Track Class – Spark Your Learning Genius can help you improve your memory, think faster and train your brain to learn anything faster.
Indeed, exercise does not just work your body, but it also improves the fitness of your brain.
Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that—exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.
Remember, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.
If you want to train your brain and develop optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life. Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.
If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.
I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.
Many of us, when we think of how to exercise your brain, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true—crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies have offered conflicting views and show they are not enough by themselves if you’re looking to train your brain and prevent disease like Alzheimer’s.
While they may be fun, they don’t do much to sharpen your brain.
Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain health and fitness, then you might want to choose another activity that involves higher-level problem solving skills
Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally in the long term. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.
When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine, and dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavanols, which have antioxidant functions that can improve the way your brain functions.
Next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!