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Five Tips for a Better Brain

Just about every adult I meet wants to know how to strengthen their perception, thinking, and acuity. I believe in practicing what I preach, so here five things I practice on a daily basis.

  1. Our brains become what brains do, so do wonderful, interesting and beautiful things. When my youngest son went to college, the dean welcomed parents and shared with us some of the advice he was giving to our children in other meetings… That the mind is like your living room and that your job is to decorate it. One thing we know is that what decorates our minds best is doing things that are challenging for us – not the just the same old comfortable things. Sometime this summer, try something you’ve never done before. BrainWare SAFARI is one great way to redecorate your mind. If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for?
  2. Practice integrative thinking. You’ve probably heard of deductive thinking (think Sherlock Holmes) – the kind of thinking police detectives are supposed to do – that is drawing conclusions from multiple facts that point in the same direction. It’s pretty much what happens when you conclude that there can’t be any other cause or reason for what you’re seeing. You’ve probably heard of inductive thinking – predictive thinking based on a set of facts. You have also probably engaged in both inductive and deductive reasoning. But there are modes of thinking that we need when things are not as clear or when the choices we are presented with are not palatable. This the time for integrative thinking. Integrative thinking lets you take seemingly inconsistent facts and does not insist on choosing among then – but comes up with a brand new truth. This is the kind of thinking that you need when you hear about the same incident from two different friends whose stories are very different. What kind of overarching truth can you find that accounts for all of it? Or consider how to compare things that you initially think have nothing in common… what do you think a triple-decker ice cream cone has in common with a political campaign?
  3. While this may sound hard to do, get enough sleep. Adults with mild sleep deprivation (being awake for 19 hours) perform on cognitive tests like they were legally intoxicated. Moreover, your brain actually solves problems and consolidates memory during sleep (during the REM cycle) – so an extra hour or two of sleep may make that problem you’ve been wrestling with easier to solve. Physical exercise is also very important to brain health and stronger cognitive functioning, so get out and enjoy our beautiful summer weather. Besides, it’ll tire you out so you’ll sleep better.
  4. Challenge your assumptions. We all make assumptions all the time and we take information for granted. When you listen to the news or a speaker at a conference, play devil’s advocate. Think about what would have to be true for that point of view to be accurate? Is it complete? Does it jump too far from basic truths to a conclusion? Ask yourself what evidence you have that it is true and what evidence you have that might tend to disprove it. Think about the difference between evidence, opinions, and judgments.
  5. Whatever it is that seems like a puzzle, put it down on paper. If you are a writer, write. If you are most comfortable with visual images, draw a mind map. Writing is nature’s way of showing us how sloppy our thinking is (paraphrased from someone brilliant… but I haven’t been able to track down the source). Putting things down on paper forces us to be much more specific about the relationships among things, particularly cause and effect relationships, and a mind map can help us keep a large amount of complex information in an order. Draw a circle on a piece of paper with the main idea or question in the center. Draw more circles and connect them to the first and so on. Don’t forget the connections between the second- and third-order circles. There is likely to be a new insight somewhere in that map.

There’s plenty of time between now and September to make one or more of these a new habit and have a great summer!

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