Brain training sells.
Brain training claims to help you be more productive. Think faster. Improve your memory.
But is it worth the money to join one of those brain training websites that claim to promote intellectual fitness?
Some recent studies say no – these sites just make you better at playing the games on the sites and do little to promote your ability to solve problems or adapt to new challenges.
In my 2013 TEDx talk, I identified qualities that I believe make people smart. A 2011 brain injury forced me to create compensatory strategies to use my brain in ways I had previously taken for granted. It wasn’t until I began preparing my TEDx talks that I realized much of what I was learning was backed up by neuroscientific studies.
I have identified five habits of smart lifelong thinkers – the folks who stay sharp and productive until the day they die. I know these qualities won’t cure or slow down the ravages of many neurological diseases, but for the otherwise healthy, they re solid brain training habits that won’t cost you a dime.
- Smart thinkers frequently try new things.
I’m not saying you have to learn Chinese or travel the world (though these things will improve your neuroplasticity). Try brushing your teeth using your non-dominant hand for a month. Learn techniques for memorizing lists. Try a dish you’ve never eaten before. Learn to play a new musical instrument. Walk around your house blindfolded for a day. Walk backwards. Teach someone else a skill you know well. All these suggestions exercise your brain by forcing your neurons to connect in ways they’re not used to.
- Smart thinkers think about thinking. This is known as metacognition. It means we become aware of our habits of perception and learning. Smart thinkers use this awareness to assess their effectiveness and approach and adapt their learning strategies according to the demands of new challenges.
- Smart thinkers try to figure it out. I’m not saying asking questions is a bad thing, but smart thinkers look for patterns, work on cracking the code, and read the manual before giving up on a task or asking for help. There is a happy medium between figuring it out for oneself and asking for help. When we figure it out using strategies we already know, we build confidence and seal it into memory more effectively.
- Smart thinkers laugh and play. Recently, I became a certified laughter yoga leader. Laughter yoga isn’t yoga the way we usually think about it. It’s deep breathing and stretching combined with laughter. Think it sounds a little “woo-woo” and nutty? Think again. Science shows us that our brains do not know the difference between manufactured and spontaneous laughter. Both release endorphins and activate the limbic system. Laughter and play positively affect empathy, creativity, and physical health.
- Smart thinkers eat omega-3 fatty acids. There’s a supplement out there for everything. It’s hard to know what to eat and what not to eat. Omega-3 fatty acids, however, are backed by science as affecting brain health. Your brain comprises about 3% of your body weight and yet it requires about 25-30% of the fuel you put into your body. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fishes like salmon and sardines. They can also be found in flaxseed oil and some nuts and seeds. You can also take a good omega-3 fatty acid supplement to improve brain and heart health. Anything that’s good for your heart is also good for your brain.
There are many other habits of highly effective thinkers and there are many ways to work out your brain without breaking the bank.
Smarter thinkers are more productive, focused, and creative. They know how to take care of their brains so their brains take care of them for many years.
ABOUT ANN ZUCCARDY
A fall in a German bathtub in 2011 dramatically changed Ann Zuccardy’s life.
Using the ingenuity she discovered after the brain injury she sustained in that fall, along with three decades as a corporate communicator, social media marketing expert, and teacher, Ann challenges conventional ideas about intelligence, self-care, and innovation.
After her first TEDx talk in 2013, How a Brain Injury Made Me Smarter, Ann discovered a new passion and now speaks professionally on the impact of humor on our brains and resilience in the face of change.
Additionally, Ann is a certified laughter yoga leader and works with businesses, non-profits, and schools to introduce the scientifically-proven benefits of laughter on productivity, innovation, and physical health.
Ann splits her time between her home in Vermont and New York City. She is working on her graduate degree in English and expects to graduate in 2018. When she’s not speaking, or studying, she enjoys photography, gardening, writing, traveling to little-known places, and spending time with her rescue dog, Jackson.
CONNECT WITH ANN
For brain tips, follow Ann on Twitter @annzuccardy
For stress reducing laughter yoga training at your organization, contact Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org.