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Published on October 28, 2019

How to Train Your Brain to Think Fast and Think Smart

How to Train Your Brain to Think Fast and Think Smart

In a TEDx Talk in 2015, Matt Abrahams got up in front of a crowd and said:[1]

“People hate me. People fear me… I have a tool and that tool is what makes people fear me and despise me. As a professor, I have an ability that’s called cold calling. That’s where I look at a student and ask ‘what do you think?’ ‘what do you feel about what we just discussed?’ ‘how does this impact you?'”

In that paragraph alone, there is a lot to unpack, but what’s important to note for now is this ability of his: Cold calling.

Why do people fear it so much?

Likely because it’s estimated that 75% of people have a fear of public speaking.[2] But digging further, it might also be due to people being unable to think fast in those situations.

Looking further than that, there are likely all kinds of other social situations where you wish you could think fast. From coming up with witty remarks to finishing a task faster, thinking fast has various perks and requires training to achieve it.

The Importance of Thinking Fast

Before we learn how it’s important, we need to learn why it’s important. If there is no reason to practice, then we will ultimately stop after a while.

Being able to think fast provides a wide variety of benefits. Outside of the few social situations I mentioned above, some other ones include:

  • People will think you are smarter.
  • When people are asked to think fast, they are happier, more creative, energetic, and self-confident.
[3]
  • Faster thinking also ties into planning, problem-solving, goal setting, and being able to focus.[4]
  • Faster thinking will also keep your brain mentally sharp.
  • You also will experience faster reaction times.

The list is extensive but the idea is: the stronger your brain is, the more you can leverage it in many aspects of life.

How Do You Think Faster?

The next question is how does one increase speed? That answer is through a variety of ways that I’ve listed below.

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1. Make Faster Minor Decisions

We are faced with many decisions over the course of the day but, some of them aren’t as important as others. Eating is important, but the decision between a salad, chicken, or beef is inconsequential. Being able to quickly decide what to eat can help you with thinking faster.

After all, even if your decision wasn’t the best, the consequences are small. This training works since this is literally the act of thinking fast.

But one thing I’ll stress is the keyword with this advice — minor decisions. Do not use this tactic in more pressing life-altering decisions which will have larger consequences.

2. Practice Speed

There are things that we do all the time and we’ve gotten really good at — playing music, learning songs, writing, or doing specific stretches. Whatever the case, I encourage you to add another layer of challenge to those skills by speeding up. Similar to the tactic above, this also demands you think fast to perform a task.

What will help you in practicing speed would be a timer. Time yourself on completing puzzles or running a lap. You can give yourself an allotted time to complete a task.

That second strategy is surprisingly effective as most people will instinctively prioritize the most important aspects of that task. It’s called Parkinsons Law.

3. Stop Trying To Multitask

As much as we like to think we can do tasks at once, we really can’t. Our brain – as powerful as it is – is unable to focus on two tasks at once.

But why can people rub their tummy and pat their head?

Well, that’s because our brain rapidly toggles between tasks. In those situations, people’s brains are jumping between those tasks faster. Outside of those situations though, the research found that multitasking reduces attention span, our ability to learn and our mental performance.[5]

Therefore, it’s smarter for us to prioritize a single task and give it our undivided attention until completion.

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4. Get Sufficient Sleep

Adequate sleep is necessary not only for body function but for brain function as well. One study found that not sleeping well will impact our thinking speed and accuracy.[6] By that logic, it makes sense that sleep will help in keeping our brain healthier and functional.

5. Meditate

Regular meditation is another way for us to stimulate our brain. There have been all kinds of studies showing how meditation helps with the creation of new brain cells and neural connections. That’s because meditation strengthens the communication between cells in the first place.[7]

6. Do Aerobic Exercises

All exercise is great for us and our brain to some degree. That being said, aerobic exercises specifically have shown to improve the processing speed of our brain.[8] Aerobic exercises are exercises like jogging, walking, biking, and swimming.

All of these strategies can help you with thinking fast. However, there’s one other strategy worth looking over. It’s the research that was conducted by Daniel Kahneman on thinking slow and fast.

Thinking Slow And Fast

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman uncovers various concepts revolving around decision-making and behavioural psychology. It’s well worth a read as the book explains various concepts and makes you think a lot about how we go about decisions.

For example, one big takeaway from the book revolves around two systems. These two systems are how we think. System 1 is about thinking fast, while System 2 is about thinking slow. This forms the premise of the book.

But there is a twist to this.

While a lot of us believe we are analytical thinkers who think slow, we actually spend most of the time in the System 1 – fast thinking. So we’re technically already able to think fast. But maybe not in the way you’d think.

You see, System 1 is all about intuition. It’s what our gut tells us and we use that to make decisions. It’s the very same system we use to judge people and put together the first impressions of people.

It’s until we make a conscious effort do we actually move to System 2 and think slow. Kahneman expands on this:

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“Systems 1 and 2 are both active whenever we are awake. System 1 runs automatically and System 2 is normally in comfortable low-effort mode, in which only a fraction of its capacity is engaged. System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires, and that is fine — usually.

When System 1 runs into difficulty, it calls on System 2 to support more detailed and specific processing that may solve the problem of the moment. System 2 is mobilized when a question arises for which System 1 does not offer an answer… System 2 is activated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains.”

Because of this, System 1 is constantly making judgements, intuitions and impressions based on what is being sensed. In most situations, we instinctively gravitate towards that idea presented.

This often leads us to jump to conclusions despite us thinking fast. We even create a story to further solidify that conclusion even if it’s unfounded. Kahneman explains:

“The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. When information is scarce, which is a common occurrence, System 1 operates as a machine for jumping to conclusions.”

While training ourselves to think fast is helpful, it’s important to be wary of that power. As Kahneman outlined, people can jump to conclusions too quickly and that can cause issues.

Learning to think slow and fast stems from an understanding of when it’s appropriate to think slow or fast. Indeed, improve your thinking speed, but keep the information presented in mind as we delve into what thinking slow really means.

Understand Type 2 Thinking

Type 2 thinking is another way to say System 2 thinking. And the best way to fully represent this form of thinking is to solve the following problem:

18 x 26

In this example, you can immediately identify that this is a multiplication problem. A math problem you are confident you can solve with the help of a pen and paper or a calculator. All of this information alone represents System 1 thinking.

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System 2 thinking is the act of you going through the steps to solve the problem. If you were to solve the problem by hand or mentally, you’d retrieve the math skills you were taught in school and implement them in your solution.

Overall the mental work was deliberate, orderly, and took effort and some strain. Most likely had a shift in facial expression as you worked to solve the answer -which is 468 – or when you gave up.

What this exercise reveals is that both forms of thinking feed off of one another. In order for us to go slow, we must learn to go fast.

System 1 presents the overall ideas and goals and views (i.e. this is a math problem and your goal is to solve it). System 2, on the other hand, breaks those down into steps and constructs thoughts in an orderly fashion (i.e. here are the steps to take so solve the math problem).

By understanding this relationship, we not only understand our thinking process but we can learn to be okay with it. We can accept that some things will take more time to process. The point of that is to not get frustrated or jump the gun.

When to use type 2 thinking is to understand when a situation requires our attention. Examples of this are not only that math problem but also:

  • When looking for someone.
  • Remembering a particular quote from a book.
  • Filling out a tax form or other government documents.
  • Even maintaining a faster walking or running speed than what we are used to.

System 2 thinking demands that we process those things and that we think slow in those situations.

Final Thoughts

While there are all kinds of tactics to exercise our brain to think fast, speed isn’t always everything. Sometimes situations call for us to carefully consider and gather our thoughts. It’s important to find balance in thinking fast and slow.

By understanding the connection between both systems, we can better determine when to be thinking fast or slow. No matter what though, there is nothing wrong with either of the thinking processes. After all, each situation we have in our lives demands different forms of thinking from all of us.

More to Enhance Your Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Allef Vinicius via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

These days, there are so many food choices. Every marketing trick is used to make you buy brain foods, all-natural, fat-free or gluten-free products.

Could you blame them? They need to make a profit to keep existing and delivering their goods to the consumers.

But does this mean that foods with these labels are just regular products or do brain foods really exist?

That’s when research came in and proved that brain foods (meaning: foods that have a positive effect on the brain) really do exist.

In this article, you will find 15 brain foods you should be eating to keep your mind sharp.

1. Blueberries

One of the greatest gifts of Mother Nature — blueberries. Blueberries are known as the king of antioxidants[1] and are used to detox the body.

There are not a lot of studies that tried to prove the relationship between blueberries and the improvement of brain function. But there’s one study that consisted of 9 elderly people. They found that consuming blueberry juice on a daily basis for 12 weeks improved memory function.[2]

If this is not reasonable enough to include blueberries into your diet, you should read the following article on other benefits of blueberries: 10 Benefits of Blueberries That Will Impress You

As with every single one of the brain foods listed here: Consuming more than necessary can also lead to side effects, this is the same with blueberries.[3]

When including blueberries in your diet along with other brain foods; make sure to eat no more than 0.5 cups (4 oz./113 grams) a day.

2. Broccoli

The first vegetable on the list, broccoli. Whatever you do with it; roast, steam, blanch or saute.[4] It will still improve the sharpness of your brain.

There are two main nutrients in broccoli that makes it one of the brain foods on this list. Vitamin K, which is also found in lower amounts in blueberries, helps strengthen cognitive abilities.[5] The nutrient Choline improves your memory.[6]

There’s six times more vitamin K in broccoli than in blueberries. The downside is that blueberries are a bit tastier.

Include some broccoli with every warm plate you eat in a day, and your brain will turn into a SUPER brain.

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3. Walnuts

Walnuts are the best choice of all the nuts when it comes to improving cognitive function. They have the same benefits as every other nut, but walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids.[7]

Beside the improvement of heart health,[8] walnuts also provide a sharper memory (at least to women).[9]

Consuming walnuts also help slow mental decline[10] because of the Vitamin E that is found in walnuts.[11]

Next time you crave a snack, buy a bag of unroasted and unsalted walnuts. In the future, this will be the replacement of all unhealthy snacks like Twix.

Brain foods are not brain foods because they contain a lot of sugar. Brain foods usually consist of a high amount of vitamins and antioxidants. That’s how you can recognize them.

4. Green Tea

Some of us are coffee drinkers while others prefer tea. You don’t have to choose one or the other because both of them made it to the list (you’ll read later about coffee in number 11 of brain foods).

Green tea contains more than just caffeine; it contains L-theanine which essentially lowers the anxiety levels.[12] It also increases the levels of dopamine and alpha wave production (relaxation).

The lower levels of caffeine in green tea compared to coffee makes this a perfect brain function drink. Caffeine and L-theanine show synergistic effects that work best with the amount of caffeine found in green tea.[13]

People who drink green tea have proven that they have a more stable energy level and increased productivity compared to when they drink coffee. So, if you’re looking for brain foods that will enhance your productivity; green tea is the way to go.

5. Oranges

Orange has a high amount of Vitamin C in it. One large orange is enough to fulfill 100% of your daily Vitamin C intake. Vitamin C has a lot of benefits:

  • Vitamin C reduces the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease[14]
  • It may help fight against high blood pressure[15]
  • Vitamin C boosts immunity by increasing the production of white blood cells[16]
  • The most important of all: high levels of Vitamin C are found to be related to the improvement of memory and thinking. People suffering from dementia has been shown to have low levels of Vitamin C.[17] This may mean that by consuming enough Vitamin C, you will be able to prevent dementia.[18]

To learn more about everything related to Vitamin C, read the following article: All You Need To Know About Vitamin C Benefits (and Recipes To Boost Your Daily Intake)

6. Avocados

Avocados fit very nicely in your salad, or you may even like it on toast.

Avocado is a source of healthy fats; monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fat is believed to contribute to healthy blood flow which in turn means a healthy brain.[19]

Besides that, avocados also lower blood pressure which will prevent a decrease in cognitive abilities.[20]

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Adding 1/4 or 1/2 avocado daily should do the trick and help your brain function as a superhero.

If you need practical ways to include avocado in your daily diet, check this out: 50+ Super Easy Avocado Recipes At Home Now

7. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a multi-functional oil; some bathe in it, some put it all over their skin, and it’s also used for cooking. To get the following benefits out of it; you should consume it orally (but that’s up to you of course).

When it comes down to improved brain function; coconut oil has proven to boost brain function in Alzheimer’s patients.[21] Although it isn’t shown to work on people without Alzheimer’s; it can never hurt.

Besides that, there are many more benefits to coconut oil.

8. Spinach

One research found that when elderly consumed one (or two) daily serving of spinach (or other leafy greens for that matter) for an average of 5 years had the same cognitive abilities as someone 11 years younger who never consumed leafy greens.[22]

This all is thanks to Vitamin K that is found in leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards and mustard greens.

Popeye looks impressive from the outside, and you will look impressive from the inside once you consume your daily spinach: 6 Mouth-Watering Spinach Recipes You Should Not Miss

9. Oatmeal

Known for its use as breakfast, oatmeal is one of many kinds of cereal that contains more than just sugar.

There’s a reason why oatmeal is often used as breakfast. It is because of the many carbohydrates that are in it which act like a shot of glucose that spikes your blood sugar levels.

Glucose is sent immediately to the brain to help it function. In essence, this means that the higher the concentration of glucose in your blood, the better you can focus and remember things.[23]

If you suffer from low blood sugar levels in the morning and can’t function without having a big breakfast immediately upon waking, oatmeal is going to be your best friend.

10. Raisins

Children often consume them as healthy snacks because it’s sweet. But did you know raisins promote brain function?

Raisins are the number one source of boron of all brain foods. The research found that the level of boron is related to hand-eye coordination and short-term memory.[24] Increased levels of boron improves both.

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Besides that, raisins also heal wounds faster and prevent deficiency in Vitamin D.

11. Coffee

We touched on the benefits of green tea earlier, but that doesn’t mean coffee can’t serve its purpose to brain function as well. If you prefer coffee over tea; listen (actually read) closely.

There’s something about coffee that most people don’t even know. The point is that most of us consume more antioxidants through coffee than any other of the mentioned brain foods.

This is not because there are more antioxidants in coffee; it’s because coffee is consumed the most of all brain foods.

These antioxidants protect your brain from cell death which in turn protects you from dementia and related diseases.[25]

Not to mention that caffeine may also prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.[26][27]

You don’t have to give up your coffee; except for all the sugar and milk you put in it. Drink your coffee black and keep it to a maximum of 3 per day and you should be okay.

12. Almonds

Earlier we touched upon walnuts, but most nuts are generally good for your health (as long as you don’t overdo it).

Almonds are most known for their potential of enhancing memory and delaying Alzheimer’s progression.[28][29] Of course, they share the same benefits with the walnuts, but almonds are lower in omega 3 fats.

If you forget things on a daily basis, maybe a handful of almonds per day can help you.

Five to six almonds a day should do the trick. If you’re not watching your weight, you can just grab a handful. But don’t overdo it because there’s a lot of fats in nuts.

Here’re more benefits of almonds you should know: 10 Benefits of Almonds That Will Surprise You (+Healthy Recipes)

13. Lentils

Lentils for the vegans among you is one of the best sources of protein among legumes. Besides that, it is a rich source of various essential nutrients like iron, Vitamin B6, and folate (Vitamin B9).

Besides the fact that they make a terrific combination with rice; lentils also serves its purpose in the brain. All the essential nutrients improve brain function in their own way:

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  • Folate (Vitamin B9) keeps your mind sharp while you get older.[30]
  • Iron plays an essential role in cognitive functioning with pregnant women.[31]
  • Zinc is well known for boosting memory.[32]
  • Vitamin B6 and thiamine give you more energy and focus.[33][34]

As you can see; lentils make up one of the best brain foods on this list. But this also depends on your preference as some of you might’ve never even eaten lentils.

14. Strawberries

Most berries and other related fruits like strawberries (which are technically seen not berries) are all known to have beneficial effects on the brain.[35] They help prevent age-related memory loss and may even slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.[36]

Another thing that is more strawberry related is the amount of potassium in it. Potassium is related to increased blood flow thus improved cognitive function.[37]

Eight strawberries per day should do the trick and give you many benefits besides these brain-enhancing benefits: 10 Amazing Benefits of Strawberries that You Probably Never Knew

15. Red Wine

Last but not least, red wine. Although alcohol itself is not related to any improvement in brain functioning; some studies show that there are benefits to drinking lightly or moderately.

Out of all the alcoholic beverages, red wine is the one with the most favorable results. Research shows that red wine may even slow aging[38] and it can also decrease the risk of dementia.[39]

Although these results are based on research, the researchers don’t recommend that any non-drinkers start drinking. Especially younger people shouldn’t aim to drink red wine as the most benefits (or no increased risks) are found in the elderly.

If you think about drinking red wine, you should drink maximum 1 glass of red wine per day as a woman and maximum of 2 glasses of red wine per day for men. One glass of red wine should contain 175ml, don’t overdo it.

Keep in mind that there are also potential risks to drinking alcohol. Such risks include addition, depression and weight gain when you’re not drinking carefully.

Conclusion

“You are what you eat.”

One of the oldest sayings ever expresses all you need to know.

Every food on this brain foods list is put on this list because it enhances brain functioning in some way. So, whichever food on this list you choose to eat after reading this article doesn’t matter.

What matters most is that you read everything closely and choose one of the brain foods that fit your goal the most.

Enjoy eating your next brain food!

More About Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Melissa Belanger via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wild Blueberries: Wild Blueberries Antioxidants
[2] NCBI: Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults
[3] Good Health All: 8 Major Side Effects OF Eating Too Many Blueberries
[4] Skinny Ms: How to Make Broccoli Taste Good, Each and Every Time
[5] Wellness Resources: Vitamin K Enhances Cognitive Function During Aging
[6] The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort
[7] The Journal Of Nutrition: Role of Walnuts in Maintaining Brain Health with Age
[8] NCBI: Cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive function.
[9] NCBI: LONG-TERM INTAKE OF NUTS IN RELATION TO COGNITIVE FUNCTION IN OLDER WOMEN
[10] NCBI: Vitamin E and cognitive decline in older persons.
[11] NCBI: Vitamin E-gene interactions in aging and inflammatory age-related diseases: implications for treatment. A systematic review.
[12] NCBI: The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent.
[13] NCBI: L-theanine and caffeine in combination affect human cognition as evidenced by oscillatory alpha-band activity and attention task performance.
[14] NCBI: Effect of five-year supplementation of vitamin C on serum vitamin C concentration and consumption of vegetables and fruits in middle-aged Japanese: a randomized controlled trial.
[15] NCBI: Effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
[16] NCBI: Association between nutritional status and cognitive functioning in a healthy elderly population.
[17] NCBI: Dietary antioxidants and dementia in a population-based case-control study among older people in South Germany.
[18] National Institute of Health: Vitamin C
[19] JOURNAL OF NEUROCHEMISTRY: Dietary intake of unsaturated fatty acids modulates physiological properties of entorhinal cortex neurons in mice
[20] National Institute on Aging: High blood pressure is linked to cognitive decline
[21] NCBI: Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults.
[22] News Wise: Eating Green Leafy Vegetables Keeps Mental Abilities Sharp
[23] PNAS: Stoichiometric coupling of brain glucose metabolism and glutamatergic neuronal activity
[24] NCBI: Nothing Boring About Boron
[25] NCBI: Neuroprotection and antioxidants
[26] NCBI: High Blood caffeine levels in MCI linked to lack of progression to dementia.
[27] NCBI: Hypoxia/reoxygenation impairs memory formation via adenosine-dependent activation of caspase 1.
[28] Science Direct: Repeated administration of almonds increases brain acetylcholine levels and enhances memory function in healthy rats while attenuates memory deficits in animal model of amnesia
[29] Science Direct: Almond, hazelnut and walnut, three nuts for neuroprotection in Alzheimer’s disease: A neuropharmacological review of their bioactive constituents
[30] NCBI: Folic acid, ageing, depression, and dementia
[31] The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Iron treatment normalizes cognitive functioning in young women
[32] ResearchGate: A potential medicinal importance of zinc in human health and chronic disease
[33] ORA: Vitamin B6 for cognition
[34] Springer Link: Thiamine supplementation mood and cognitive functioning
[35] J. Agric. Food Chem: Berry Fruit Enhances Beneficial Signaling in the Brain
[36] NCBI: Dietary intake of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline
[37] Science Direct: Potassium 2-(1-hydroxypentyl)-benzoate improves learning and memory deficits in chronic cerebral hypoperfused rats
[38] NY Times: New Hints Seen That Red Wine May Slow Aging
[39] NCBI: Moderate alcohol consumption and cognitive risk.

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