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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

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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 July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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