“The education of a man is never completed until he dies.” -Robert E. Lee
You exercise and manage your diet to keep your body healthy, but the information you put into your brain is much more powerful. Ideas, beliefs, and intelligence outlast brute strength. Your brain is tough to exhaust and is capable of learning at all ages in life. In addition to improving your physical health, boosting your brain power will enhance your overall quality of life.
While you’re killing time during your commute, or experiencing down time at work, enhance your cognitive skills by adding these nine easy habits to your daily routine. You’ll become smarter, enhance both sides of your brain, and reduce the chances of losing your marbles as you age.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Reading is going to put you in the minds of some of the most unique and brilliant people ever to live. Non-fiction is the obvious way to boost your brain power but there is great value in reading fiction as well. Reading fiction will engage your left temporal cortex, the part of the brain typically associated with understanding language.
If your reading consists of tweets, and political preachy Facebook statuses then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Instead, boost your brain power by reading an actual book. That’s right, a book. Not just random articles on the web, even though these are still valuable. You will not get the depth and breadth in an article as you will in a book.
Key benefits: focus, concentration, memory, vocabulary, and creativity
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music.”
It’s never too late to become a savant, or at the very least, participate in daily jam sessions.
There is an overwhelming amount of data supporting the relationship between music and enhanced cognitive skills. Not only does playing music help you become smarter, but listening to music will also help increase your brain power. Of course, I expect you to take it to the next level by mastering an instrument, specifically the guitar. What woman doesn’t like a guy that can play the guitar?
Your brain on music:
3. Solve problems
There’s no better way to boost your cognitive skills than to actually solve problems. Solving problems are the best form of brain exercises in my extremely humble opinion. I’m not saying you should do math problems—unless that’s your jam. Otherwise, try crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or something from Lumosity, who’s model is based entirely around improving your brain functions.
Key benefits: critical thinking, problem solving, logic, creativity, and decision making.
4. Watch documentaries
Netflix and YouTube are crawling with great documentaries. If Game of Thrones is your thing then perhaps you’ll enjoy watching a history documentary. If you’re glued to House of Cards then you might enjoy a documentary on politics. Mix in some fact with your binge on fiction.
5. Listen to podcasts
The average commute time in the U.S. is 25.4 minutes. Make use of your time and listen to bright individuals speak about what they know best.
This is my go-to list:
TED Radio Hour
Hardcore History – I’ve been binging on this recently. Dan Carlin’s delivery is informative and entertaining. There’s a lot of history in this podcast that you didn’t learn in school.
6. Take a course
Online courses are a major craze. A variety of platforms are in existence to teach you things like PR, data analysis, self-defense, and photography. In addition to the abundance of online learning platforms, Harvard and MIT have joined the club of providing free online courses.
7. Have diverse friends
Surrounding yourself with people smarter than you is a surefire way to up your game. It should instill a small level of fear to the point where you work to improve yourself. It was always a goal of mine to be in a work setting where I am surrounded by extremely bright people.
I don’t want to stress the fact that your friends must be smarter than you. What I am stressing is that these people should look at the world through a different lens. These people have different opinions, and will approach problems in a varying manner.
Although you tend to be attracted to people that are similar, I urge you to broaden your inner circle.
8. Learn a new language
Scientists discovered that bilingual adults have denser grey matter, especially in the brain’s left hemisphere, where most language and communication skills are controlled.
If you have kids younger than age five then now is the time to expose them to a new language. The effect is strongest in people who learned a second language before the age of five. This finding suggests that being bilingual from an early age significantly alters the brain’s structure. A study conducted in a school district in Florida showed that bilingual students scored higher on tests than monolingual students, especially in the areas of vocabulary, reading and math.
Resources to get you started:
• Duolingo – This is one of the most popular tools on the market to learn a language.
• Chrome Language Immersion – This is a Chrome extension that translates short passages of text in the websites you visit. As you read you’re asked to translate, you can hover over the text for a spoken version, or click it for the original text. This extension is experimental therefore you may not become an expert.
• Memrise – This is a learning tool that uses Flashcards, it was developed by the former Grand Master of Memory, Ed Cook.
There’s one more step when you’ve learned a new language. Travel! Put your newly acquired language to use.
Key benefits: attention span, decision-making, and memory. Bilingual individuals have also been shown to be more logical and rational, and more perceptive of their surroundings.
9. Question everything
“The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.” -Albert Einstein
Don’t accept everything you read or hear. Challenge all ideas and beliefs. Just because an “expert” makes a statement, doesn’t mean it is true. Just because you read something, doesn’t mean it is the only way. Question everything with the attitude of hearing out someone’s point of view. Engage in dialogue with people of different backgrounds. Reddit and Quora are good platforms to start a dialogue. Remember, everyone has an opinion to share. Especially on the internet.
These brain enhancing habits don’t take up much time and are easy to add to your daily routine. Beginning with one of these habits will yield results. But I challenge you to start with two.
“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” -B. B. King