We’ve all heard the sayings that we only use 10-20% of our brains. Fortunately that’s just urban legend. Most of the time we’re using almost all the parts of our brain, it just may not be performing the way we’d like it to. What our three pound brains do use is about 20% of our body’s energy! I recently got to attend a fun and insightful lecture called “50 Minutes to a Better Brain” by comedian and brain health advocate Kevin Hughes. And I enjoyed his lecture so much I want to share some of his insights and easy tips with you. The great news is it’s not complicated to learn how to improve your brain for a better life!
Do Something Different And Difficult Every Year
As you may already know, most of the time our brains are running on autopilot. We don’t have to think about breathing, how to get to work, how to use a computer, or perform our daily business tasks. Repetition becomes routine and we do hundreds of things every day without having to even think about what we’re actually doing. Our brain already knows how to get from point A to point B, so it does it’s thing without much effort.
But the downside is that too much routine sucks the potential and growth right out of our brains, which we need to proactively combat. One of the best things you can do to prevent deterioration of your brain is to set and achieve at least one goal a year that’s completely different and difficult from what you’re used to. Pick something entirely unrelated to your primary line of work or any of your existing hobbies. The less you know about it before diving in, the better.
So why are different and difficult actions and subject matters beneficial to improving our brains? Simply put, the brain is stimulated when faced with challenges that it doesn’t know how to process from prior experience. And that stimulation is what keeps the brain developing and enables us to get smarter. My “better brain” achievement for this year was learning how to scuba dive. I’d never done anything like that before and had to prepare both mentally and physically to get scuba certified.
Let’s Get Physical, Physical
If you want to learn how to improve your brain for a better life, you have to be willing to get active. As we age, our brains have a natural tendency to slow down and process things slower. At least there’s one brain advantage of aging which is we become better at recognizing patterns. But if we want to fight the slowness that comes with aging, we have to regularly keep our brains active and healthy. Staying on auto pilot for the rest of your life will get you nowhere fast.
I know I sure want to do everything I can to keep my brain healthy and alert. I watched my grandmother drift away from dementia in her last years and I’m determined to do everything I can to avoid that happening to me!
“Mind” Your G’s And Q’s
There are lots of small physical things we can do to improve our brains. One tip that Kevin suggests is keeping a handwritten journal in cursive. Did you know that if you write in cursive, it helps improve your memory? The reason is that you have to think ahead as you’re writing with cursive lettering. Plus most of us can’t even remember what most of the letters are supposed to look like, (lol how many of you know how to write a cursive capital G or Q?!) so it’s a good brain exercise.
Personally, I try to avoid writing by hand whenever possible because I have horrible penmanship and I don’t like paper clutter. So what I’m doing instead of a journal is just writing my meeting notes at work in cursive now. I always have a small notebook with me whenever I go to meetings and writing in cursive helps keep me more attentive and challenged. You can try something similar or start writing your to do list in cursive.
Then take it up a notch and write with your non-dominant hand. This is beneficial because it activates and builds the opposite side of your brain from your dominant hand. Try it a few times a week. It may sound boring or cumbersome but it helps improve your brain!
Next, really try to get your heart rate up several times a week to help keep your brain sharp and healthy. Did you know that anything that’s good for your heart is also good for your brain? That’s another great reason to stay fit, hydrated, and eat right.
Fuel Your Brain For An IQ Boost
Our brains need oxygen, water, and glucose in order to function. Sleep is also an important factor in optimal brain performance, which is why we feel stuck in a fog when we’re low on sleep. Did you know that it’s possible to boost your IQ by about 8-10 points if you get up, walk around for about five minutes, take sips of water, and much on a handful of nuts and grapes? This type of boost will only be effective for about 20 minutes, but that can come in quite handy if you need a pick me up to get through a batch of bookkeeping, figuring out your estimated taxes, or some other complex task.
Another easy tip on how to improve your brain is speed walking! Walk as fast as you can while still being able to talk to someone at the same time. You should be moving at a fast enough pace that you’d be too winded to sing, but are able to speak. Super easy exercises like this get your heart rate up and are believed to help reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack by 50%.
Remember what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. Try and do a total of 25 minutes speed walking a day, whether all in one go, or in short increments.
The BareFoot To Brain Connection
I’ve been a big advocate of Vibram Five Fingers shoes for several years now. There’s something special and refreshing about feeling grounded to the Earth when walking or hiking outside practically or literally barefoot. I didn’t realize until recently that there is actually a beneficial connection between the soles of our feet and our brains. We loose a lot of this natural benefit because we tend to wear thick soled and uncomfortable shoes all day long.
On the other hand, walking barefoot on natural surfaces is known as “earthing” and has a surprising number of health and brain benefits. It’s been shown to change the electrical activity in the brain and has wonderful benefits such as improving sleep, reducing inflammation, decreasing stress, better circulation, lower blood viscocity, and increases in antioxidants and immunity. Now you can understand and appreciate the foot to brain connections of reflexology too.
So kick your shoes off more often and walk around barefoot. If you want a barefoot experience with the protection of a shoe, consider getting a pair of Vibram FiveFingers for yourself. They are incredible to hike in, and are a good way to experience earthing when going completely barefoot isn’t practical. The prices have come down a fair amount too and you can typically get a pair between $60-80 now.
Another barefoot to brain connection exercise is balancing on one foot. Find your balance on one foot at a time, then close your eyes for as long as you can. Believe it or not, this helps improve your brain!
Music And Dance Better The Brain
Another way to get happy feet and work on how to improve your brain for a better life is to dance with a partner. Did you know that if you touch someone for 60 seconds or longer, your oxytocin levels will rise? That increase helps you bond, feel happier, be more generous, read each other better, and have a great time.
Did you know that when you’re relaxed, your brain is able to process and absorb more information? This is the real reason why you often hear people saying listening to classical music makes you smarter. It’s not the music itself, but the effects of the music on your brain.
Learning a foreign language is also good for the brain, but it works a bit differently. Trying to learn another language from a CD or book doesn’t work very well with memory. The best exercise you can do for your brain is practicing with a native speaker. The adrenaline that your body produces when you’re feeling nervous trying to speak in front of someone actually does great things for your memory.
“Interruptions suck, distractions are wonderful.”
We all get interrupted way too many times each day. It can be such a challenge to focus! But there’s actually an important difference between interruptions and distractions. Examples of interruptions are when someone comes up and asks you a question while you’re working, or a phone call comes in the middle of a meeting conversation.We need to take steps to minimize interruptions or they can really start to hurt our brains and productivity.
Distractions on the other hand are ok because sometimes our brains just need a break! When you’re trying to do something really complex, your brain can get overloaded and need a few minutes to de-stress and recoup. You may find yourself looking out the window, staring at your fingernails, or closing your eyes. It doesn’t mean you’re suffering from ADHD, your brain just needs to “catch it’s breath” and pause for a minute.
As I’ve written about before, multitasking is bad for your brain too. Don’t mix 2 complex tasks together or you’ll get nowhere. Combine something repetitive or “brainless” with something else that takes a small amount of concentration. You’ll get more done faster.
Untemplaters, have you ever tried any of the above tips and exercises before? Do you feel like you’re constantly on auto pilot? What advice and thoughts do you have on how to improve your brain for a better life?
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I’m not sure if multi-tasking has helped or hurt my brain, but I do it a lot. I guess the keyword is ‘complex’ in terms of the type of task. I’ve been known to write an article on my computer with one hand, read a magazine holding it in my other hand, while watching TV. It seems to work and it saves me time.
Buck Inspire says
Great post Sydney! You’ve turned yourself into a brain expert! Writing with my non dominant hand is an interesting tip. It looks like chicken scratch to me. Who knows maybe my brain is being exercised because it has to interpret said chicken scratch? I do need more sleep and I love your tip of doing something to better your brain like your scuba diving. Need to get to work as my brain depends on it!
Thanks! My brain has to work extra hard to decipher my non dominant hand chicken scratch too lol! I bet trying to read a stack of prescriptions could have a similar effect. 😉
Kevin Watts says
I like your bit on distractions. How very true that no matter what you are doing sometimes your brain just needs a break. Even when your working or out playing, you really do need to distance yourself from what you are doing, even if it is just a few minutes.
Bryce @ Save and Conquer says
Interesting that cursive writing stimulates the brain more than typing.
I often have to design something for work that has never been done before. The need for research and to have to invent new designs keeps me on my toes. I totally agree that a healthy heart and body have a direct affect on the brain. I spend 30 minutes a day on a stationary exercise bike. My wife and I also like to walk around the neighborhood after dinner.
Yeah, the connected flow of cursive writing is what makes it good for the brain. That’s good your work is challenging and keeps you actively learning and creating. That’s quite lucky. Daily exercise and walking is a great achievement. Not many people can say they exercise every day including me!
Financial Samurai says
That bear pic is adorable!
I totally believe in the power of the brain after reading Dr. Sarno’s Healing Back PAin. I believe baby!
I’m going to take some salsa classes. What a fun way to grow the brain and meet new people and exercise too.
Thanks, I love that bear pic too! I saw her poking her head in the doorway window at the SF Zoo.
The brain is an incredible instrument and tool. I’m a believer of Healing Back Pain myself – totally changed my life!