Cognitive performance is a top request from my clients. They want quick thinking and focus now, and they don’t want to lose this edge as they age. Genetics play a huge part in both, but there are two great “exercises” that anyone can do to improve performance and age-related degradation.

We’ve all heard that learning a language is great for the brain, and it is, but it’s limited to involvement of one or two parts of the brain. Ideally, you want to involve as many lobes as possible. I have a few quick exercises I recommend, and they’re noted at the end… but my two favorites are the most impactful, and the most fun!

Gaming!

Not all gaming is alike,  but all gaming will have a positive effect. The trick is to find a game you’re not comfortable with at first, with some level of difficulty. You’re looking for games that require you to

  • learn to rules
  • new hand/eye coordination
  • new strategies, creativity, and concentration
  • new terms/words/languages
  • increases in difficulty
  • and most importantly cannot be rushed through by buying things!

Frustration and distress teach the brain how to handle emotional barriers. New rules stretch our view of logic and order. New terms require our brain to decipher (as does learning a new language). These aspects, coupled with increased difficulty, keep our brains working, thinking, and developing.

The type or content of the game doesn’t matter, much. Don’t play games that give you anxiety or nightmares… duh. Find ones that you consider fun and entertaining. I’ve enjoyed mobile games but have found them too focused on acquiring content to be good and successful in the game. Light and easy fun that’s more geared to the Pay To Win people. No judgment, but this isn’t the type of game that stretches your mental capabilities. A deep and rich story-based game with increasing challenge is what you’re looking for.

I’ve started two myself… Spiderman (PS4) and Destiny 2 Forsaken (PS4). Totally frustrated already, as I SUCK with controllers. But think, in a few weeks my brain will have developed new hand/eye coordination paths, new terms, and new strategies. This game only gets harder for a newb like me, so I’ll get months of frustration and learning! Opportunities to practice some coherence training is in my future…

Debating!

What? Debating, arguing, isn’t good for you! But… it is, when you do it with purpose!

The trick here is to debate both sides with equal passion and detail. Both with an equal desire to “win”. I cannot stress this enough, it’s much harder to do than you think, but it’s an amazing and powerful exercise for the brain.

This exercise works out multiple lobes and practices language, cohesive thought, logic, and emotional maturity. Not all debates are as helpful, look for topics that:

  • you have a strong position on, it’s harder to debate the other side equally
  • choose ones that don’t have an emotional connection (like flat earth) and ones that do (religion)
  • consider elements of debate, persuasion, and the art of learning
  • use logic, science (empirical evidence), and values/ethics (anecdotal evidence)
  • everyone needs to commit to practicing great communication, exercising their brains, and not being offended

Debate with someone who holds a completely opposite point of view than you do, and start with the opposite point in your discussion. You want to argue what you don’t believe first and ask your partner what you missed.  Your goal is to cover the subject as clearly, and with as much sincere passion, as your opponent would. If you’re not sincere, it works out the wrong parts of your brain (like you’re acting, lying), which enforces bad behaviors. You need to see this as an exercise in ideas, thought, and articulation.

Another great benefit from this exercise is the ability to practice and develop greater emotional resilience and maturity. If you feel emotionally reactive about your subject, be sure to step back and reflect before you speak up. Insist on using both types of evidence, and keeping responses about the subject and not about the presenter.

Both of these exercises are great for kids… and everyone of every age.

So buck up buttercups and start using those brains in challenging and fun ways. I recommend doing this daily for a minimum of 30 minutes. Enjoy and good luck gaming!

 

Some quick brain-developing tricks:

  • learn a new word each day and practice using it
  • learn a new, simple, game (like a mobile game) every week
  • choose a phrase you like and translate it into another language; use it for one week
  • read from a book daily
  • for 30 minutes spell everything you come across and notice its color (purposefully)
  • learn a magic trick
  • learn a new joke
  • take a walk and find something new you’ve never noticed
  • teach your dog a new trick, teach your child something they didn’t know, teach a co-worker a helpful life-hack
  • start and tend a small garden