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10 Ways to Keep Your Mental Powers in Top Form

10 Ways to Keep Your Mental Powers in Top Form

Would you like to stay mentally active? Let me tell you that it is all about connections. Our brains weigh about three pounds and have about 100 billion neurons which are all connected by about 10 trillion synapses. This is a vast computer network and nobody is quite sure how they all work together.

But all neurologists agree on one thing. The more active the brain cells, the more mentally alert and active we can remain. We can stave off Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other mental conditions. Use it or lose it. Interestingly enough, there is a higher rate of Alzheimers disease among those people who have never had much mental stimulation because they had a very poor education. In other words, their brains are not utilized to the full extent. Here are 10 simple ways, which are scientifically proven, to keep your brain active.

1. Physical exercise boosts your brain power

Hitting the gym is not just about those muscles or that trim waistline you crave. It is a lot more because the brain is also going to thrive. Look at the benefits for the brain when you exercise for about half an hour every day:

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  • More oxygen for all organs, including your brain
  • Release of hormones which help brain cells multiply
  • Improved memory
  • Brain processes information more efficiently.
  • Increases power of reasoning

2. Eat a healthy diet

Your brain needs the right foods to function properly. You can have a better memory, sharper focus and a longer attention span if you eat smart foods. Here are some examples to keep the brain in top condition:

  • Fish is the number one because it has lots of omega 3 fatty acids which really help the brain.
  • Ginseng
  • Caffeine
  • Dark chocolate
  • Berries
  • Whole grains
  • Fruit

3. You never stop learning

Let your brain slow down to a snail’s pace by not learning anything new. This is a recipe for disaster. Basically, you have to go on learning so you can start a new hobby, learn another language, get computer savvy, or start writing that novel. Those easy crosswords may not be enough as your brain needs a challenge. One expert has remarked that if you remain in your comfort zone, you may well be outside your enhancement zone.

4. Plan your brain fitness program

Anything which can get those brain cells making connections is what counts. You may want to vary the games and also the difficulty. If they are always too easy or you only choose Sudoku, then this may not be enough. Chess, scrabble, word games and more challenging quizzes need to be added into the mix. Researchers have found that brain fitness programs can add up to 10 years of optimal mental health.

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5. Try the spaced interval repetition technique

This program was developed by the University of Illinois and is basically software which tells you how you store information and remember it. It tailors your learning style so that you can learn and remember information much more efficiently. Great for students and retirees who are learning new skills.

6. Socialize more

Loneliness is a killer. There are now alarming statistics that show that loneliness drastically shortens life. If you can keep your social connections flourishing, it will help you live much longer. I am talking here about real social interaction and not just a virtual one like Facebook. One American study followed 2,000 older citizens. Those who were desperately lonely were twice as likely to die during the research period. Other studies show unequivocally that the more active you are socially, the more your brain functions better.

7. Think positive

I know. Every article you read says this. What should you think about when you are trying to survive in freezing water? The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration advises you to keep a positive attitude as this will significantly increase your chances of survival.  But can positive thinking really increase your mental alertness in more normal situations? Research shows that negativity interferes with alertness and mental clarity. Positive thinking puts you in the fast lane and your brain loves being happy!

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8. Avoid multitasking

People who multitask are wasting so much of their mental energy. It is like leaving all the lights on at home when you are using only one room. But try telling that to the people who drive and talk on their mobiles!

Studies done on over 1,000 office workers found that multitasking was worse than smoking marijuana or not getting enough sleep. Their IQ scores after the multitasking went down by 10 points. It makes sense because when you do this, you cannot prioritize and you cannot concentrate fully on one task. One reason is that this ‘infomania’ is taking over but it is also affecting mental clarity and alertness.

9. Get dressed in the dark

Have you tried getting dressed in a dark room?  If you have, you will know that you have to use different senses and you have to use quite a few of them, like touch, smell and hearing. Using all your senses (except sight) to get the task done is a great mental exercise.

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10. Get in the zone

Have you ever got so engrossed in a task that time no longer existed? It is a wonderful accomplishment and many experts have defined it as getting in the ‘zone’ or getting into the ‘flow’.

But the perfect alignment of mood, concentration and task achievement is very rare indeed. It really does illustrate that mental alertness can be maximized, if the conditions are right .

Daniel Goleman has written about this in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.  If you can perfect this technique, your mental ability will reach stellar levels.

How do you keep your mind alert and active? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: 1 in 5 – Really?/Mark Turnauckas via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems, why?

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

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The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

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The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

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It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

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For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

More About Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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