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We all forget things from time to time − our keys, our glasses, and sometimes even our children’s names (ha!). We don’t necessarily think much of it because, heck, life’s busy and mistakes happen.
Generally speaking, the occasional brain glitch isn’t anything to worry about and doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re all losing our minds: it’s just a normal part of the human experience. And yet, as we grow older, our senses gradually decline and our brains no longer seem to work like they once did. An inevitable consequence of the aging process, right?
While it’s definitely true that age-related brain decline is a common occurrence for many people, it’s not true that it can’t be avoided. They say the human brain is a muscle, and while this is more a saying than it is scientific fact, it’s true in the sense that the brain works a lot like a muscle in what it requires for strength and longevity. After all, what are the two things that muscles need in order to function and grow stronger? Nutrition and exercise − and plenty of it!
When muscles aren’t flexed, stretched, and worked out regularly, they go into a state of what’s known as atrophy, which literally means to waste away. And this atrophy is worsened when these same muscles aren’t fed the amino acids they need to rebuild tissue. This is a one-two punch below the belt, so to speak, and a proverbial death sentence for these muscles if the problem isn’t addressed. The human brain works much the same way in that it needs to be constantly challenged, conditioned, and fed in order to thrive. Otherwise, it too will fall into a state of atrophy.
Sharpening a Dull Mind and Keeping It Honed
There are a million and one reasons to keep your brain fit, not the least of which include to maintain your senses, awareness, memory, and mental acuity. The very essence of who you are as an individual is a factor of how well your brain functions. Hence why it’s absolutely essential to adopt dietary and lifestyle habits that foster its preservation and growth. Not only for your sake, but for your family, your children, and your grandchildren.
On the lifestyle side of things, engaging in memory-promoting activities that push your brain to its limits will help sharpen your mind. This facilitates the forging of new neural pathways whose job it is to protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s − not to mention improve your overall sense of health and happiness. Such activities include activities as simple as a crossword puzzle, or as ambitious as learning a new language.
The field of neuropsychology deals extensively with this concept, focusing on ways to improve brain management techniques in order to awaken the brain and keep it functioning at its most optimal. Much of this involves teaching the brain how to experience the world via the senses, and process and retrieve information. One element of this is to minimize distractions and focus on one subject or activity at a time to avoid confusion, or what we might call “information overload.”
7 Ways to Get (and Keep) a Sharp Mind
Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat magazine outlines a number of other scientifically-backed ways to help sharpen a dull mind, including:
- Continuing to Learn and Expanding Your Mind
Experts say keeping mentally active, whether through engaging in a new hobby, continuing education, or learning a new skill, helps keep brain cells stimulated and communicative.
- Using All Your Senses
The more senses you use in learning something new, the more involved your brain will be in retaining it in your long-term memory.
- Don’t Get Down on Yourself
Remember earlier when I said that age-related cognitive failure doesn’t have to become everyone’s reality? It’s true, and you shouldn’t assume that just because you’re getting older your memory is going to fail. Think positively, work hard, and believe in yourself. You’ll achieve so much more that way!
- Automate the Mundane and Simplify Your Life
Economizing your mental energy and expending it only on tasks that require critical thinking − not on trying to find your keys for the umpteenth time − will help conserve brain function. So will removing clutter and other distractions from your daily life.
- Repeat What You Want to Remember
If you find yourself forgetting things all the time, repeat the things you don’t want to slip your mind until they’re stuck in your head.
- Space Out Your Repetitions
For more complex study involving repetitions, space your study times out at increasingly longer increments. For example, start at once an hour, then every few hours, then every day, and so on. Adopting this spaced rehearsal technique helps improve memory as it relates to assimilating new information
- Ever Heard of a Mnemonic?
Remember when you were taking piano lessons and your teacher told you to remember the phrase “Every Good Boy Does Fine” for the musical notes E, G, B, D, and F? That’s an example of a mnemonic device that can aid in the remembrance of lists. Another example of a mnemonic device is an acronym, in which each of the letters spelling out a particular word stand for another word or phrase that starts with that letter.
Neurochoice: Changing Your Brain By Choice
You also have the power to sharpen your own brain through neurochoice, which is basically just a conscious decision you make or thought you have that leads you in a particular direction. Every choice you make either works in your favor to foster positive personal growth, or to your detriment. An example is in the case of addictions or other destructive behaviors that, over time, can become bad habits that feel like they just come naturally.
The human brain really is an interesting device in that the decisions we make literally rewire our neuronal pathways, facilitating a constant change of flux either in one direction or another. This characteristic is known as neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s way of adapting and changing based on the decisions we make, or the conscious thoughts we choose to have.
Focusing on the good in life and choosing to be grateful for the things you have, for instance, will help forge a greater overall sense of contentment and peace. Habitually harping on the negative, on the other hand, will push you in the direction of bitterness and resentment. In both scenarios, your neural pathways are being rewired − either for better or for worse.
And since practice makes perfect, even in the brain, what you think about and do with repetition and consistency will become who you are. This means you have the power, at least to some degree, to change who you are.
Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb puts it like this: “The neurons that fire together, wire together.”
In other words, where you lead your own mind, how you choose to think, and what you choose to do − your “power of influence,” so to speak − will steer not only the course of your life but the destiny of your mind, either to health or to ruin.
My advice: in everything you do, think and choose wisely.