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Why We Think What We Think and Can We Think Smarter?

Why We Think What We Think and Can We Think Smarter?

When you’re asked to give your opinion, what do you think?

No, I mean what do you think? And how and why do you think it?

If you can answer these questions you will gain access to your cognition, which is the range of mental processes relating to the acquisition, storage, manipulation, and retrieval of information. With a deeper understanding of your cognition you can strengthen it to make yourself smarter.

What we think: something to do with our unconscious mind

What we think is easy enough to describe. If I tell you to think of a candy bar, you use your cognitive abilities to retrieve the information related to the term “candy bar.” You may remember how earlier in your life someone taught you what a candy bar was, you eventually tried a candy bar, and the pleasureful experience ingrained this memory in your mind for later retrieval. This is an example of acquisition and the storage of information.

Now, as you think about that candy bar, your memory may seem completely lucid, but you are manipulating the information in your mind based on many unconscious and conscious factors. You think about what it tastes like and looks like, but you are likely to forget about how much it costs, what is written on the package, and the promise you made to yourself about eating “healthy.” This is a perfect example of your cognitive ability to retrieve information and manipulate that information.

    In the split second after you read the word “candy bar,” you experienced every facet of cognition unconsciously, but as I took you through the process you were able to consciously experience cognition. By making our cognitive processes conscious and understanding what affects cognition we can create a life that makes us smarter.

    Let’s develop a deeper understanding of how and why we think.

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    How we think: the interaction between our brains’ neurons

    The answer to how we think is found in the neuronal connections of your brain. In your brain, you will find about 100 billion nerve cells called neurons.[1] Each neuron consists of a cell body and branch-like projections (one axon and multiple dendrites) that send and receive messages from other neurons. Neurons send messages by transmitting electrical impulses across tiny gaps called synapses. These messages and the pathways that are formed between neurons are the physical component of your cognition.

    In our first three years of life, our brain has up to twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood.[2] These synapses help accelerate our learning process so that we can adapt to our environment as quickly as possible. Some of our synaptic connections are dictated by our genes, which provide the blueprint for our brains. However, our environment and how we adapt to it ultimately determine the neural connections in the brain.

    For example, when I mentioned the word “candy bar,” your neural connections that are related to the term “candy bar” fired together and produced a memory of a past experience of a candy bar. If you have never heard of a candy bar before, your mind may fire up neural connections that have to do with a bar of gold or a liquor bar. But there would be no relevant experience of a candy bar stored in your brain. However, once you have a candy bar, that experience is stored and a new neural pathway in the brain is formed. That new neural pathway may be triggered to fire the next time someone mentions a candy bar, providing you with a little taste of the pleasure or pain you experienced the last time you had one.

    This example explains the “what” behind the formation of our cognitive abilities.[3] Neurons wire together and form intricate connections, and fire together to convey a thought, feeling, memory, or other type of experience, but why does this happen?

    Why we think: our ability to survive

    Although we can break cognition down into complex topics that are hotly debated, let’s keep it simple. Cognition is necessary for our survival. The ability to acquire, store, manipulate, and retrieve information allows us to adapt to the environment we live in. This ability is shared by most, if not all, animals that have brains.

    We can consciously change the way we react to our unconscious mind.

    Consciousness, on the other hand, allows us to manipulate cognition with our intention. Some neuroscientists, like Sam Harris, argue that this freewill we think we have over our cognition is just an illusion. But a group of researchers conducted four experiments that may provide evidence against Sam Harris’s contention.[4] These researchers found that we can consciously control the way unconscious stimuli affects our behavior. This means that you can completely change your reaction to unconscious stimuli like what happens in your mind when you read the word “candy bar.”

    We can easily rewire our neural connections to create the feeling of disgust rather than excitement when we think of a candy bar. We can also use the power of intention, along with nutrition and environmental changes, to strengthen our cognition.

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    How to enhance our cognition to become smarter

    If you think cognition can’t be trained, think again! There’re plenty of things you can do to enhance your cognition to become smarter.

    1. Change your external environment to facilitate how you think.

    Your environment has much more power over your cognitive function than you think. Your brain is using your senses to pick up information from your environment. This information triggers specific thoughts, feelings, and reactions; you don’t notice it until you experience the thought, feeling, or reaction. This suggests that one of the most powerful ways to strengthen your cognition is by changing the stimuli of your environment.

    When it comes to hacking your environment, a simple principle you can follow is to make the things that you should do easier than the things you shouldn’t do.

    For example, to make sure that I read for an hour every day, I put the books that I want to read on my bedside table, within arms reach. When I wake up, all I have to do is move my arm to the side, grab a book, open it, and start reading. This is much easier than reaching for my phone, which I put in the room where I do most of my work in.

    Other ways to hack your environment to increase your cognition are to use rosemary essential oil, listen to music, and experience nature. The smell of rosemary essential oil has been found to increase alertness and quality of memory, so diffusing it in your workplace may help boost your cognitive performance.

    Music has potent effects on our brain as well. The effect of music is so potent that it is being used in the treatment of cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.[5] Researchers suggest that the positive effects of music include a calming affect due to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.[6]

    Another potent cognitive enhancer is nature. Studies have shown that simply looking at a picture of nature stimulates the vagus nerve, which improves mood and self-esteem and reduces blood pressure.[7]

    But what happens when we can’t change our environment? You’re not at home, you’ve run out of rosemary oil, the only sound you hear is a jackhammer from the construction workers on the street, and the closest tree is miles away. What can you do?

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    2. Develop self-awareness and be conscious of your thoughts.

    You can use self-awareness to thrive in any environment. Self-awareness is your conscious knowledge of your own character, feelings, motives, and desires. By developing self-awareness, you can become conscious of the feelings, motives, and desires that are stealing your cognition away from things that are more important.

      To develop self-awareness, direct your focus with specific questions. Dr. Relly Nadler suggests asking yourself five simple questions:[8]

      • What am I thinking?
      • What am I feeling?
      • What do I want now?
      • How am I getting in my way?
      • What do I need to do differently now?

      These questions will help you shift your focus and find a better way to act now and in the future. You can also use these questions to assess past experiences so that you can plan a new action for the future.

      Using the questions in this way can help you use your present cognition to enhance your future cognition.

      3. Change your internal environment by keeping your body and mind healthy.

      You cannot outthink poor nutrition; no matter how peaceful your environment is, you will always have poor cognitive function if your body and mind aren’t healthy.

      For example, if you eat candy bars and other refined foods every day, your body will be in a chronic state of inflammation as it tries to save your cells from oxidative damage due to free radicals and other oxidants found in the refined foods.

      Eating more fruits and vegetables can increase cognitive function, especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale. When we chew cruciferious vegetables, a compound called sulforaphane is created. This compound is designed to protect the plant from small predators. In humans, it sets off a cascade of processes in the body that detoxify and protect the cells from oxidative damage.

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      Supplementing with vitamin B1 and coconut oil also help boost cognitive function by ensuring that your neurons have sufficient energy.[9] Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, which provide an alternative fuel source for brain cells and may prevent neural cell death. Vitamin B1 helps your neurons use energy sources, like sugar, more efficiently.

      To prevent cognitive loss, especially if you have Alzheimer’s disease, it may be best to supplement with vitamin B3 and curcumin from turmeric. All of the other B vitamins also play an essential role in preventing the loss of cognitive function and enhancing cognitive function as well.[10]

      Physical activity and learning improve your cognition for free.

      But before you start adding these supplements to your shopping cart, it is important to note that the most effective methods of improving cognition are free. These methods are physical activity and learning. Increasing your physical activity can improve brain volume and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50%[11] and learning a new skill prevents the loss of synaptic connections and brain volume as we age by forming new ones.

      Go to a movement class, practice a sport, or learn a new sport, and you will increase your activity levels and learn something new at the same time. Your brain will thank you by being sharper and more efficient than it ever was before.

      If you experience a rapid change in your behavior and/or notice no effect from making the changes suggested in this article, you may have something else going on. So it is important to consult your doctor and get the proper referral.

      Practice the 3 simple ways and you’ll get smarter.

      By changing the stimuli in your environment, developing self-awareness, and nourishing your inner environment with cognitive boosting foods, you can strengthen your cognition and live a life that consistently makes you happier, healthier, and smarter.

      Reference

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      Tyler Ardizzone

      Pain Relief Specialist, Personal Trainer, & Bodywork Therapist

      Why We Think What We Think and Can We Think Smarter?

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      Last Updated on August 8, 2019

      How to Improve Your Brain Memory Naturally: Foods to Eat And Skip

      How to Improve Your Brain Memory Naturally: Foods to Eat And Skip

      Staying focused and maintaining high performance in a hectic work rhythm leads to stress and mental exhaustion. So how to improve brain memory naturally?

      The good news is that the negative effects of increased cognitive efforts can be prevented: brain foods, combined with healthy sleep regime and exercise, improve memory, concentration, and intellect.

      What’s more, cutting many foods that we consider “generally harmful” out of the diet improves brain function and reduces brain health risks.

      How does food improve brain health? Research proves that specific elements contained in the food positively influence molecular systems and support cognitive function.[1] Here’s how:

      • Amino acids support neurotransmitters, endogenous chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells. This helps keep the brain sharp.
      • Glucose is the main source of energy for human brain. Almost all energy that the brain consumes is derived from glucose.
      • Fatty acids strengthen nerve cells. They bring essential nutrients into brain cells and keep harmful toxins out.
      • Antioxidants protect brain cells by inhibiting oxidization, reducing its negative effects, and removing oxidizing agents from the body.

      Knowing what substances are good for brain health, it’s easier to choose a diet that improves memory, maintains brain health and protects it from damage factors. Many foods are known to have positive effects on cognitive health, so anyone can choose their favorite ones to include in their daily diet.

      10 Foods That Improve Your Brain

      1. Nuts and Seeds

      Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, contain fatty Omega-3 acids that the brain needs for its healthy function, and antioxidant vitamin E that protects nerve cells and reduces brain health risks.

      Whole grain, beans, and seeds – sunflower, pumpkin and others – are also a great source of amino acids and zinc that improve memory and contribute mental clarity.

      Nutritionists recommend consuming nuts and seeds as a healthy snack – a handful of them is enough to satisfy midday hunger and to cover your daily requirement of brain-supporting substances.

      2. Salmon and Other Fatty Fish

      Salmon is another source of omega-3 fatty acids that maintain brain health. Essential fatty acids contained in fatty fish, such as tuna, herring and sardines, have a protective effect on brain in the aging process by reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

      In a shorter-term perspective, they show positive effects on cognitive-behavioral health: they significantly reduce the risk and the symptoms of depression, ADHD, and anxiety.

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      3. Dark Green Vegetables

      Rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, green leafy vegetables are known for their positive effects on general well-being and sharpness of mind.

      Additionally, such veggies as broccoli, avocado, or kale are powerful cancer fighters. They contain vitamin K that fights lack of concentration, prevents Alzheimer’s disease, and works as an anti-aging substance.

      Spinach, kale, and chard also contain brain-boosting vitamins B and iron that helps transfer oxygen to the brain.

      4. Dark Chocolate

      We often assume that healthy food is not tasty and our favorite sweets are unhealthy, but that’s not quite true.

      Combining the useful with the pleasant is possible when it comes to chocolate – and the darker the better: the best choice is 70% cocoa and more. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids that stimulate blood flow to the brain, and such elements as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium that boost energy and support many body functions.

      Consuming cocoa improves cognitive function , reduces stress, and protects mental health.

      5. Tomatoes

      Tomatoes are packed with carotenoids that safeguard fat in the body. As brain is mainly made of fat, this function is especially important for it.

      Tomatoes are a great source of two carotenoid types: lycopene and beta-carotene. They are powerful antioxidants that protect brain cells from free-radical damage, regulate cell growth, have anti-aging effects, and improve memory.

      6. Eggs

      Many of us mostly consume eggs as a source of proteins, but they have much more value for our health. They contain choline that regulates enzymes essential for mental health.

      Eggs are a safe way to consume cholesterol that strengthens brain cells and structures. Apart from that, eggs are packed with antioxidants and healthy fats that nurture and protect the brain.

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      7. Berries

      Berries are a great source of vitamins that help our body function properly. They contain vitamins C and K, antioxidants, fiber, and many other important nutrients.

      Dark berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and cherries, are a source of flavonoids that improve brain health and boost memory.

      And while fresh berries are usually a seasonal treat, dried and frozen ones are also rich in healthy nutrients and can be consumed throughout the entire year.

      8.Green tea

      Green tea has been being used as a medicine throughout the centuries.[2] The list of its benefits for health and well-being is very long – but we’ll focus here on its positive effects on brain. It is extremely rich in antioxidants that protect brain from harmful free radicals and reduce the risk of cancer.

      In 1494, Japanese scientists identified in green tea an amino acid called L-theanine. It promotes relaxation and facilitates sleep, helping maintain concentration, regulating emotions, and boosting cognitive abilities.

      9. Sage and rosemary

      Adding these herbs to your favorite dishes not only improves the taste, but also sharpen the mind, alleviate fatigue, and increase mental clarity.

      These herbs contain over 40 active compounds that benefit brain health and enhance cognitive activity. They promote focus, concentration, and calmness, which is essential for alertness and long-term memory.[3]

      10. Red wine

      While high levels of alcohol are destructive for overall well-being and for brain health in particular, small amounts of red wine are refreshing and vivifying for brain.

      Studies have shown that red wine, alongside with it relaxing effect, also improves the brain’s ability to remove harmful toxins by regulating the glymphatic system, reduces the risk of inflammation, and improves cognitive abilities and motor skills.[4]

      5 Foods That Harm the Brain

      We’ve figured out what food is healthy – but knowing what is to avoid is also essential for maintaining brain health, good memory and sharp focus. Here’s a list of the most harmful foods that impair memory, impact mood, and increase health risks:

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      1. Sugary Foods and Beverages

      Studies prove that higher sugar levels in the blood not only result in excessive body weight and increase the risk of diabetes – they also expose you to the risk of dementia.[5] That’s why rep lacing sugary drinks and foods with healthier products is essential.

      Consider consuming unsweetened tea, water, vegetable juice, and unsweetened dairy products instead.

      2. Trans Fats

      Trans fats, or unsaturated fatty acids, in small amounts occur in natural and healthy products, such as dairy and meat, where they’re are not a major concern. Much more harmful are industrially produced ones, which are used in snacks, packaged baked goods, and fast food.

      As there’s a relation between the intake of trans fats and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, World Health Organization introduced a guide to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply.

      3. Refined Carbohydrates

      Refined carbs include sugar and highly-processed grains – for example, white flour. Due to their high glycemic index (GI), they are considered harmful to brain: foods high in GI impair memory in both children and adults, increase inflammation risks and can cause degenerative diseases.

      A healthy alternative is whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruits.

      4. Aspartame

      A thing that is considered “better than sugar”, but in fact is not better at all. It is efficient for losing weight because it has zero calories, but its components – phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid – have negative effects on cognitive abilities, mood, and alertness.

      A healthy choice recommended by experts is reducing the amount of sugar and artificial sweeteners in your diet, or cutting them out altogether.

      5. Alcohol

      While experts mention positive effects of moderate amounts of red wine on brain health, the excessive consumption of alcohol can cause severe problems that everyone needs to be aware of.

      Reduction in brain volume, metabolic problems, disruption of neurotransmitters are the most frequent negative effects. They cause memory loss, behavior disorders, and long-term brain damage.

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      Keep alcohol consumption moderate, or avoid it at all, especially if you already have any health risks.

      Bonus Advice…

      Just eating healthy food sometimes is obviously not enough for improving cognitive performance in the long-term perspective. The key to achieving the best result is getting healthy nutrients consistently. That’s why carefully balancing your daily meal is essential for staying focused and productive.

      Here’s some advice on what foods you can choose for your daily diet to boost your memory, concentration, and brain health:

      Breakfast

      A full and healthy breakfast is an efficient way to start your day productively – so never skip it!

      Oatmeal, berry smoothies, and eggs are traditional breakfast meals, and they are a great source of memory-boosting nutrients.

      Lunch

      It’s sometimes tempting to opt for fast food or packaged baked goods, but stay away from them if you want to stay healthy and energized.

      Sandwiches and salads with fish, green leafy vegetables, whole grain and chicken are a great choice for a light and healthy lunch.

      Dinner

      Again, don’t turn fast food into a habit – such options as seafood and fish, salads with tomatoes and green vegetables, kale, and whole-grain products energize your body and are a better choice for brain health and overall well-being.

      Snacks and Desserts

      Cookies and candies are a popular (and not really healthy) option for a snack or a dessert. Instead, try choosing healthier meals for your snack. Walnuts or almonds, fresh fruit or berries (depending on the season), or fruit and nut mix give a powerful energy boost.

      And don’t forget that dark chocolate is also a healthy choice for a dessert!

      The Bottom Line

      Improving and maintaining memory, focus and cognitive abilities is crucial for a full and active life. Choosing healthy foods and avoiding unhealthy ones helps support brain health in both short-term and long-term perspective. Keep your diet consistent, and combine good food habits with exercise, healthy sleep regime and reasonable work-life balance to achieve best results.

      Featured photo credit: Thomas Evans via unsplash.com

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