Build a Better Brain

In a way, your mind is like a child, and as its parent, you are in charge of its development and well-being. As is the case with most parenting, some people do this well while others do it poorly. Because the brain is so powerful, it’s sometimes easy to step away from the wheel and cruise through life on auto-pilot, but to do so is to do yourself injustice. History shows that the human species has produced a host of incredible people, and that most of them were of their own making. Each of our minds has so much potential – probably more than you can imagine – and ultimately, you and only you have the ability to unlock yours. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it; with one life to live, why not make the most of it?

Below is a list of some general suggestions as to how to better your brain and work your way towards a richer existence. Now, there are many different things you can do to improve your mind, and each person needs to take different steps depending on where they are and what they are doing, so the following list therefore is just a rough guide. If you are already doing a lot of these things, you are probably on the right track, and know it. If not, give them a try and I can pretty much guarantee they will make you mentally tougher with a greater appreciation for life.

In no particular order:

  • Sleep – Sleep enough. Insufficient sleep affects mood and performance considerably. Having a well-rested and well-fed brain is the foundation for all these other steps; without that, you may not have the energy for much else.
  • Meditate – Talk to someone who practices this regularly and they will extol its benefits. Talk to a neuroscientist about meditation and they will explain that it has a profound effect on the mind and the power to transform the physical structure of the brain. Certainly, meditation is the most conclusive proof that you have the power to consciously control how your mind works. Unfortunately, it might also be the hardest and most time-consuming of the recommendations on this list, but well worth it.
  • Exercise & Diet – You already know that you should be doing this for good physical health, but it’s also very important for your mental health as well; do not underestimate the value of blood flowing to your brain. Get that heart pumping by jumping rope, taking a swim, or dancing around your apartment. Take breaks from your day for a brisk walk or some yoga. Avoid sugars and processed foods. Eat lots of fruit, veggies & nuts, although not too much; over-eating definitely takes a few bounces out of your step.
  • Music/Art – If you are not playing music, take a seat at the piano or the drumset. If you are not making any art, grab that paintbrush or clay. Even if you suck. Just do it. It’s good for you and fun. If you are hesitant to play an instrument, at least sing or dance. If you’re not inclined towards the traditional arts, at least take some artistic photos or play around in Photoshop.
  • Language -Yes, the sensitive period for learning a new language is well past you. You will most likely never be able to make or hear all the sounds necessary for fluency. But don’t worry about that. Learning a new language is great mental exercise and can be very useful for work, travel and making friends. And I’ll expand that to include programming languages as well, which are also useful, challenging and fun.
  • Hobbies – Picking up a new hobby or learning a new craft has myriad benefits. Quilting helps with fine motor synapse xt skills and creativity. Fly-fishing helps your motor skills as well and gets you outside, surrounded by nature. Birding expands your visual and auditory memory. Coaching a sport works your ability to plan, manage & communicate. Pretty much any new activity you pick up will provide you with meaningful challenge and stimulation.
  • Play Brain Games – Games have great potential to sharpen your mind, as they can be fine-tailored to a specific task and engaging enough to keep you working at it. With the advent of online brain fitness programs, you can now exercise your memory, verbal skill, attention, problem-solving, visuospatial ability and more all in one convenient place.
  • Exercise Coordination/Balance/Motor skill – Play with balls, whether it be juggling, ping pong or a game of catch. Learn to tie knots. Practice standing on one leg or walking along balance-beam like objects (better yet, do yoga or dance). Play a game of Jenga or Operation. Try to balance objects on your head, hands or feet, or on each other. These may sound like games for kids, but there is a reason kids do them: they are fun and very good for you!
  • Join A Club – This is sort of like taking up a new hobby, but with a social twist. Socialization and community make you happier and healthier, it’s a fact. So join a reading group, gardening club, softball team or PTA. Volunteering is great too, as it has all the benefits of a club with the added satisfaction of making a difference in others’ lives.
  • Memorize Something – Start small and work your way up towards larger, more complex things. Try a song, a poem, a dialogue from your favorite film, or a famous speech. Learn PI to 30 digits for no useful reason other than to challenge your mind. Learn all the countries in Africa – and then their capitols.
  • Jigsaw Puzzles & Model Building – Find a place in your home where you can slowly work on a jigsaw puzzle, or assemble a model. It’s a great way to exercise your spatial sense as well as a relaxing break from life. Just don’t get too frustrated if you can’t find that certain piece!
  • Write – If writing isn’t a regular part of your life, it should be. And I am not talking about business emails. Do something creative or expressive. Start a blog, keep a diary, compose a poem or find a penpal.
  • Breathe & Relax – Stress is a brain-killer. If you find yourself worrying too much, you need to find a way to relax. Start by taking deep, calming breaths and then move on from there, whether it be to porch with a book, to the pond with a kayak, to the garden with your plants or whatever/wherever else it is that puts you at ease.

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