Losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution. After all, we have to take care of our body so it can take care of us. But here’s a bigger thought: what about taking care of your mental muscle?
Just like your physical muscles atrophy when you don’t exercise them, the brain loses strength, too. Whether it’s forgetting someone’s name seconds after you’re introduced, or being unable to come up with ideas during your meeting, losing your mind muscle is more common than you’d think.
How should you exercise your mental muscle? Personally, I like word search puzzles and lots of reading. But just like going to the gym isn’t for everyone, neither is solving puzzles, reading excessively, or the sudoku. That’s fine. You don’t have to cancel your Saturday night plans to make room for Scrabble or wake up to a word search. There are a lot of ways to exercise your mental muscle, and word games or number puzzles are only one of them.
Use your non-dominant hand
This sounds a little intimidating because even the best calligraphers can barely draw a straight line with their non-dominant hand – so how will you pull this off? But that’s the point. When a workout is easy, you up the ante. Do the same with day-to-day activities. Use your non-dominant hand to spoon your rice and brush your teeth, or (if you want to go the extra mile) buy one of those children’s handwriting books and write away!
Meditation can make you more attentive and focused, and is a proven technique to reducing stress and anxiety, but being mindful of your body, thoughts, and emotions during a meditation session can also engage new neural pathways in your brain.
Mix up your routine
Routines are an excellent way to keep you motivated and productive, but oftentimes, doing things the routine way can make you go on ‘autopilot’ mode. According to brain imaging studies, this has shown to reduce activity in certain areas of the brain. Instead of scrapping the routine altogether, mix it up! Take a different route to work. Work out to a different playlist. Eat a different kind of cereal, or read the newspaper back-to-front instead of front-to-back.
Write down 10 ideas
This mental exercise comes from James Altucher, who says writing down 10 ideas every day can make you an ‘idea machine’ as, over time, your brain learns not only to generate ideas at the drop of a hat, but to filter out bad ideas and produce better ideas than before. Writing down 10 ideas for something – even if they’re silly or stupid – can pave the way for better ideas. After all, even the strongest guy at your gym could barely lift a barbell at one point. Whether it’s 10 ideas to get that promotion, 10 ideas for a best man speech, or even 10 ideas for Thanksgiving dinner, make sure to get the full list done in one sitting.
Do things with your eyes closed
Sight is one of your most important senses, and it’s often the sense you use to process information before any other. So when this sense is compromised, the rest of your senses are enhanced significantly. Even when done in short bursts, it helps improve brain activity to use your secondary senses instead of your primary. Watch your favorite movie with your eyes closed, or try a new cuisine while blindfolded. Chances are, you’ll experience something completely different.
Make time for your mental muscle just as you do for your physical muscles. When you wake up, brush with your non-dominant hand. Swap your soap for a different-flavored one and shower with your eyes closed. Meditate while you’re stuck in traffic, being mindful of all the sounds, scents, and sensations around you. And write down 10 random ideas on your phone when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store.
Trust me, your brain will thank you.
President & Lead Coach at ADVANCE