In theory, we probably all want to keep our minds as sharp as can be. Besides keeping yourself mentally fit in order to ward off brain diseases down the road, keeping your mind in tip-top shape can also produce positive benefits right now. Developing a sharp mind can help improve your career, your relationships and even your overall outlook on life. Here’s a look at some simple ways to help cultivate your thinking powers.
1. Learn something new
Participating in mindless activities can put your brain on autopilot and doesn’t require the presence of all of your cognitive faculties. Learning something new, on the other hand, makes use of various parts of your brain and can excite your intellect. As you continue to sharpen your mind by trying out new things, you can quickly add on to your current skillset and accomplish multiple goals at once.
When figuring out what new thing you want to be learning, you don’t have to feel pressured into picking up knowledge in a field that flat-out doesn’t interest you. If you hate the thought of playing the piano, then, by all means, don’t try to learn how to play that particular instrument. If speaking a second language is what appeals to you, that’s a great place to start. If reciting poetry is your idea of a good time, perhaps memorizing new pieces is what you want your go-to learning activity to be. Tackling any new kind of project like this can keep your brain in motion and help increase your mental fitness.
2. Put your skills to the test
After you’ve learned to play a new song or speak a new set of vocabulary words in your second language, don’t just push aside the newfound information without periodically testing yourself to reproduce what has been learned.
Brain games like Sudoku and Scrabble also require putting your already-gleaned knowledge of subjects like math and spelling to the test. Forcing your mind to recall facts and make computations helps keep your mental fitness where it needs to be.
Figure out what kinds of brain games interest you and proceed accordingly. I, for one, really dislike playing Scrabble. I’m not good at it and I don’t like playing with people who take the game seriously so the thought of forcing myself to play almost makes me want to cry. Instead of picking a mentally-challenging activity that you hate and will never end up playing, find something you do like. Try out some new brain games and apps, sticking to the ones that are pleasant and quickly removing from your life the ones you don’t like.
3. Set aside a small chunk of time everyday for mental fitness
Of course, you’re busy and stressed out, so when are you going to magically find time to master the clarinet, learn French or memorize Shakespeare? Well, you’re going to make time. Do you run on the treadmill while listening to music? Consider downloading some language-learning audio files instead. Do you generally have fifteen minutes of free time while dinner is in the oven? What a perfect time for practicing your new sheet music. Do you take the bus to work? That can be a great time for reading and re-reading text you want to commit to memory. Admittedly, if you get motion sick like me, time on public transportation is not necessarily a great fit for such multi-tasking, but you still get the idea: squeeze in some practice time when you can.
You don’t have to carve out a three-hour chunk everyday to perfect your new hobby; you just have to participate in regular mental activity in order for your brain to stay active and fit. Even when all you want to do today is veg out and not think about anything important, you can still find something fun to learn about for a few minutes by flipping through a magazine or scrolling through some do-it-yourself tutorials for a cool craft project. Making your brain regularly process new material can be instrumental in developing a sharp mind.
4. Write down mundane details to clear your mind for higher thinking
If you’re so mentally preoccupied by trying to remember to pick up your dress or suit from the dry cleaners tomorrow after work, you’re not going to be mentally plugged in when trying tonight to read a book or write a paper. Clear your mind by keeping your calendar, planner or to-do list updated appropriately. Stay organized and set alarms to remind you of day-to-day tasks that are important but needn’t occupy all of your thoughts.
Personally, I keep a digital calendar app filled with all of my essentials so I can quickly glance at my to-do list. I tend to color-categorize different events, making work-related entries green like dollar bills and social commitments the lively color of yellow. Church and service-related activities are pink since it’s a color reminiscent of love. I set an additional alarm for really important events and make sure to have a well-placed post-it note physically displayed here and there around the house. That’s what works for me, but you might be benefited by employing a different reminder system. Figure out what suits you in terms of freeing your mind and paving the way for sharper thinking while still tending to the day-to-day tasks that require some attention.
5. Eliminate the mental clutter of stress and distractions
Just like worrying about picking up the dry cleaning on time can bog down your brain, stressing out about relationships, how you’re going to accomplish a certain challenging task, how you’re going to pay your bills this month or any other anxiety-producing topic can prevent you from having a sharp mind because your brain and emotions are too cluttered.
Talk with a counselor, spiritual leader or a good friend about your worries and try to have perspective, seeing the good in life and not obsessing about the hard things in life that are out of your control.
When you’re working on a task, discipline yourself to focus on the project at hand until you’re finished for the day, not letting any distracting thoughts enter in and keep you from accomplishing what you need to get done. Get in the zone and just do what you need to do. Disciplining yourself like this will help condition your mind to be laser-sharp and completely abled.
How do you train your mind to be laser-sharp?