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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.

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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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