33 New Ways to Overclock Your Brain
“I just found out that the brain is like a computer. If that’s true, then there really aren’t any stupid people. Just people running DOS.”
You have, contained between your ears, an extraordinary potential that contemporary neuroscientists believe is “virtually limitless”. The brain is medicine’s final frontier and no one knows all there is to know, but you’re better off believing that, like muscles, motors and mainframes, your brain needs to keep moving to stay in top form.
I’m sure you committed to tweaking your lifestyle after reading my 22 Ways To Overclock Your Brain article. It got a positive reception, and I decided to bring forth 33 new ways.
So! If you’d like to upgrade, try out these tips for maximizing your brain potential:
1. Believe in your brain.
Do you find yourself worrying about amnesia? Give it up! Any concern you feel about your occasionally wayward memory later in life may actually make it worse. In a recent North Carolina State University research published in Psychology and Aging, healthy older folks scored poorly on memory tests after being informed that aging causes forgetfulness. Believing in negative stereotypes can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that’s a shame because your memory probably isn’t nearly as bad as you fear it is.
2. Organize your space for mental work.
Cluttered rooms and offices can contribute to cluttered thinking. If you find yourself too often feeling stressed, overwhelmed, bored, unmotivated, frustrated at work, perhaps your environment is reinforcing these negative states. Take those feelings as a signal to make some changes and create a more balanced and comfortable work area for yourself.
3. Learn the right things first.
Always start by learning the basics. Case in point: a frustrating way to learn a new language is to learn grammar, spelling and sentence constructs first. This is not the way a baby learns a language, and there’s no reason why an adult has to start differently, despite “expert” opinion. Try for yourself and see the difference.
4. Make a boring subject fun.
Try to cultivate interest, the more you become interested in it the easier it will be to pay attention to it. We tend to remember the things that we enjoy. So find ways to make a boring subject fun by associating it to something you already know. If you have to remember a list, try to make a fun sentence out of the first letters of each item or try categorizing things into a group. You can also use your imagination and create a fun story behind a subject to help make it easier to remember.
5. Think and learn holistically.
Holistic thinking might be the single most “advanced” learning technique. It means relating everything you learn to things you already know. This creates an interrelated web of information. Trying to memorize everything and if your memory fails you, that information is unreachable. But by interlinking your web of knowledge, if one route becomes blocked another is accessible.
6. Constrain yourself.
You need structure in your life. And by constraining yourself – say giving yourself deadlines, limiting your time on an idea in some manner, or limiting the tools you are working with – you can often accomplish more in less time.
7. Learn more efficiently.
When you decide to learn something, take notes from the start. Leave each “learning session” with some questions in mind, to create anticipation and eagerness. Take short breaks, so there will be more beginnings and endings to your studies (things learned at the beginning or ending of a session are remembered better).
8. Refresh your mind with meditation.
When most people think of meditation, they think of deep relaxation. But this ancient practice can do more than just soothe your soul, it may also sharpen your memory. According to a University of Kentucky study, subjects who took a late-afternoon test after meditating for 30 minutes had significantly better scores than those who napped for the same period.
Even more surprising, when the subjects were retested after being deprived of a full night’s sleep, those who meditated still scored better than their study counterparts. How could that be? Meditation, like sleep, reduces sensory input, and this quiet state may provide a time for neurons to process and solidify new information and memories.
9. Deep breaths for clearer thinking.
Breathing well and deeply has many positive effects on the body and its systems. More air in means more oxygen in the blood and therefore in the brain. Breath through your nose and you’ll notice that you use your diaphragm more, drawing air deeper into your lungs. Several deep breaths can also help to relax you, which is conducive to clearer thinking.
10. Turn off background noise.
We all multitask, a necessary survival skill of the digital age. But did you know that just listening to the news while browsing the Web can limit how well you’re able to recall both? Normally, when you take in new information, you process it with a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex. But multitasking greatly reduces learning because people can’t attend to the relevant information. That’s because the brain is forced to switch processing to an area called the striatum, and the information stored here tends to contain fewer important details.
Luckily, this kind of memory problem has an easy fix: Simply pay undivided attention to whatever you really want to recall later.
11. Kill those negative thoughts that invade your brain.
The thoughts that go through your mind, moment by moment, have a significant impact on how your brain works. Research by Mark George, MD and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health demonstrated that happy, hopeful thoughts had an overall calming effect on the brain, while negative thoughts inflamed brain areas often involved with depression and anxiety. Your thoughts matter.
12. Take a break.
Change physical or mental perspective to lighten the invisible stress that can sometimes occur when you sit in one place too long, focused on something. Taking a 10-15 minute break every hour is more beneficial than working non-stop. It gives your mind time to relax and sort things out.
13. Change your focus.
Sometimes there simply isn’t enough time to take a long break. If so, change subject focus. Alternate between technical and non-technical subjects.
14. Sit up straight.
Your posture affects your thinking process. Wanna prove it to yourself? Try solving some math in your head while slouching, looking at the floor and letting your mouth hang open. Then do the mental math while sitting up straight, keeping your mouth closed and looking forward or slightly upwards. You’ll notice that it’s easier to think with the latter posture.
15. Make the most out of your web surfing.
Go to a site like Wikipedia and enter a topic that interests you. As you read, follow the related links and see where you end up. You could theoretically start reading about the movie Rocky, but 20 minutes later you’ve moved from an entry on the boxer Muhammad Ali through an episode of The Simpsons, and now you’re reading about the Great Depression.
16. Take up a creative hobby.
Take up a creative hobby that requires specific or original thinking. Painting and photography arouse your mind while developing your own personal vision of the world. Meanwhile, games like chess may not get you laid right away, but they build strategic, radical thought processes and are a brilliant way to pass the time.
17. Write, don’t type.
While typing your notes into the computer is great for posterity, writing by hand stimulates ideas. It is a way to exercise your creativity and analytical ability. The simple act of holding and using a pen or pencil massages acupuncture points in the hand, which in turn stimulates ideas. Diaries, idea-journals, poetry, note-taking and story-writing are all ways to use writing to boost your brain power.
18. Use your dead time.
This is time that is otherwise wasted or just under-utilized. Driving time, time spent in waiting rooms, or even time spent raking your yard can be included in this. With a tape player and a trip to a public library, you can start to use this time to listen to books-on-tape. You may spend 200 hours a year in your car. What could you learn in that time?
19. High-tech brain power.
What’s an eight-letter word for brain booster? The answer could be Nintendo. Experts say playing one of the new games specially designed to improve your focus could have the indirect effect of getting your memory in shape. A host of new studies suggest that video games build rather than diminish cognitive skills. Even a relatively simple tiling puzzle like Tetris has been shown to boost brainpower. Whenever you solve puzzles or do brainteasers, you’re making the connections between your neurons work more efficiently, which is like putting money in the bank.
20. Shake your leg and get your blood flowing.
Lack of blood flow is a common reason for lack of concentration. If you’ve been sitting in one place for awhile, bounce one of your legs for a minute or two. It gets your blood flowing and sharpens both concentration and recall.
21. Reinvent the To-Do.
Go visual. Make a list of things to do each day and memorize it. As a help, try to mentally attach each “to do” to the corner of a geometrical figure. Three things to a triangle, four to a square and so on. Applying information design helps convey that information more clearly.
22. Learn a new language.
Learning a new language has been shown to halt the age-related decline in brain function. This also forces your mind to think in new and original routes and demands an active memory. Languages that are similar to English, such as a Romance (Spanish, Italian) or a Germanic language (German, Swedish), offer syntactical challenges, while languages with unfamiliar alphabets, like Russian or Yiddish, extend a host of fantastic double dares to you and your brain.
23. Share it with others.
Don’t keep your knowledge stored up. Teaching others will dramatically increase your own understanding. You should also become your own teacher. Don’t be afraid of taking on new challenges. You might not be in school anymore but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t test yourself. After you learn something, it’s important to put the new information to use.
24. Catch some of those Zzzz’s.
Sleep plays a critical role in your physiological function and is vital for your intellectual development. A sleepy person’s brain works harder – and accomplishes less. A study using real-time, state-of-the-art imaging shows that sleep deprivation has dramatic effects on the brain and how well it performs. Memory failure is also a common occurrence for many sleep-deprived individuals. Another study conducted at the University of Luebeck found that creativity and problem solving appear to be directly linked to adequate sleep.
25. Carry a quality notebook at all times.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge dreamed the words of the poem “In Xanadu (did Kubla Khan)…”. Upon awakening, he wrote down what he could recall, but was distracted by a visitor and promptly forgot the rest of the poem. Forever. If you’ve been doing “walking meditation” or any kind of meditation or productive napping, ideas may suddenly come to you. Record them immediately.
26. Use imaginary friends.
Talking to and getting advice from personages in your mind can be a great way to access the information in your subconscious mind. Imagine a conversation with a person who has a lot of knowledge in the area you want advice in.
27. Control your cholesterol.
One of the many important roles cholesterol plays in the body is in our nervous system, enabling learning and memory to take place. A healthful cholesterol level is as essential for mental sharpness as it is for cardiovascular efficiency. When plaque, caused by “bad” LDL cholesterol, builds up in blood vessels, it can hinder circulation to the brain, depriving it of essential nutrients. One possible consequence: memory problems.
28. Check your iron.
Iron helps the neurotransmitters essential to memory function properly and your brain can be sensitive to low amounts. Iron deficiency – the most common nutrient deficiency in the United States – is linked to many adverse effects, including difficulty concentrating, diminished intelligence, and a shortened attention span. Iron helps carry oxygen to the brain, and the lack of oxygen associated with iron deficiency can cause brain cell activity to slow down significantly.
29. Glass of red for your head.
Flex your noodle by doing crossword puzzles and brain teasers for an hour or so, then cool down with a glass of wine – it, too, may help preserve your memory. According to research done by Philippe Maranbaud, PhD, a compound in red wine, resveratrol, may help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Alcohol’s benefits to the heart it can help lower cholesterol levels may also protect against memory loss by improving circulation to the brain. But remember, everything in moderation: Drinking more than a glass won’t help, and it just might hurt.
30. Take a sip down memory lane.
Coffee is good for more than just getting you out of bed in the morning. Researchers from the University of Innsbruck in Austria used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of people working on a memory task. The volunteers were tested twice, once after receiving the caffeine equivalent of about two cups of coffee, and once without any caffeine. Caffeine improved the memory skills and reactions times of the volunteers. In addition, caffeine increased brain activity in two locations-the memory-rich frontal lobe and the attention-controlling anterior cingulum. Studies have also found that key enzymes found in green and black teas help improve memory functions.
31. Munch some apples.
A couple of apples a day may keep the neurologist away. Apples and apple juice may be among the best foods that baby boomers and senior citizens could add to their diet. They have just the right dose of antioxidants to raise levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that’s essential to memory and tends to decline with age. In addition, antioxidants in apples help preserve memory by protecting brain cells against damage from free radicals created by everyday metabolic action, such as the processing of glucose by the body’s cells.
32. Double-check your meds.
You have to protect yourself and double-check everything. One side effect of taking many prescription and over-the-counter medication can be a worrisome increase in memory lapses. And as you get older, drugs tend to stay in your system for a longer period of time, increasing the likelihood of troublesome interactions. Fortunately, any drug-related impairment will likely improve as soon as the drug is discontinued. Speaking with your doctor about adjusting your dose or switching medications is often a simple solution.
Never give up in the face of intimidating tasks. Wasn’t it Einstein that said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”? Thomas Edison said it, too.
An adage claims that wisdom is a primary benefit of getting older. While experience may provide some wisdom, without fine-tuning your brain now and again through exercise and nutrition, it’ll become incrementally more difficult for you to sort out that wisdom.
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