Find some surprising answers to help you train for a fit brain and to cultivate a healthy mind. Choose a topic that interests you and click on the heading to open the tab, click it again to close it.
Twelve tips for getting the most out of brain training exercises
1. Motivation is essential to braining training. It’s best to have a purpose that matters to you and a goal that benefits yourself and others.
2. Committing time to practice the exercises is essential. Recommended training time is 90 minutes a week (e.g. three 30 minute sessions a week) over ten to twelve weeks.
3. A regular time and/or place to practice can help establish training as a new habit.
4. A buddy or a group to share training experiences makes training more fun and helps you to commit to your training plan.
5. Understanding the principles of neuroplasticity makes it easier to commit to doing the exercises, especially when they present a challenge. BrainHQ training exercises are designed with principles of neuroplasticity so ..
- They are challenging, require your intense focus and command your full attention.
- The exercises are designed to be calibrated to your performance so the challenge remains at just the right level.
- You also need to receive feedback on progress and be rewarded for your efforts.
- This combination of design features in the Brain HQ exercises produce new levels of dopamine and acetylcholine to help build brain fitness.
6. When we perform tasks automatically, without paying attention, desired changes in the brain do not last. We use automaticity to make it possible to multitask. We often praise the ability to multitask but when you divide your attention it never produces abiding changes in the brain.
7. Don’t compare your performance to anyone else or worry about results. Everyone is different and has their own unique set of strengths as well as weaknesses. Each one of us will benefit in their own way from doing the exercises. So we can each make progress in our own way and own timing.
8. Playfulness - Training exercises are designed to challenge you at the threshold of your capacity, where ‘hits’ may be mixed equally with ‘misses’. If this were not so, your capacity would remain the same. Also, at the upper limits, incremental improvements become smaller. If you worry too much about ‘making mistakes’ and making slow progress, the whole thing becomes too serious and de-motivating. It’s best if you don’t take the ‘training’ so seriously. Treat it as play. Play is when you just enjoy what you are doing regardless of the outcomes. At Mindnasium we use a number of program strategies to support an attitude of play. Are you ready for playing?
9. Our brains work best when there is variety. Within a training session it is good to change exercises regularly, to remain fresh and fully engaged.
10. To harness neuroplasticity our brains also need novelty and surprise. Doing something novel stimulates other areas of the brain and can help promote exploration and curiosity. Take some time out in your Mindnasium session to socialise, have fun, try a new creative activity or fine coordination task.
11. Leisure activities with a challenge are another way to introduce novelty. You are likely to find brain-training exercises more effortful compared to leisure activities but you may find the exercises also boost your performance with the leisure activities you enjoy.
12. Cross training your brain helps to maximize the benefits from the Internet brain training exercises. Firstly, cross-train between brain exercises available from BrainHQ rather than focusing exclusively on any one exercise. Secondly, value-added benefits can be gained from cross training with extra activities such as: physical exercise, stimulating leisure activity, spark –up your thinking and problem-solving muscles, relaxing and taking time-out to have fun and laugh, practicing thinking positively, trying something new each day, socializing, practicing a refined movement or by practicing mindfulness with curiosity and genuine interest.
Food charts for a healthy body emphasize that variety and complementary of foods are essential for a balanced diet. The same applies if you want a healthy mind that takes full advantage of its capacity to change itself (neuroplasticity). David Rock and Dan Seigel have created the healthy mind platter with a recipe list of varied and complementary ingredients needed for a healthy mind. The aim is to mix and match ingredients, to help preserve, protect and improve your brain. And it’s important to vary the relative mix of ingredients in your healthy mind platter, from time to time, so your brain systems are challenged to flex their ‘neuroplasticity muscles’, and they continue to be fit and responsive. If you get bored, and life starts to taste stale, your ‘neuroplasticity muscles’ have a tendency to be less responsive and to become inactive.
Those who seek happiness in pleasure, wealth, glory, power, and the heroic are as naïve as the child who tries to catch a rainbow and wear it as a coat.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Is it possible to learn how to become happier?
We all have different ideas of what happiness, joy and contentment means and how to achieve it. For some it’s in the company of loved ones, for others it’s following their passions. It turns out that there are lots of factors that can affect your mood and disposition. As Aristotle once said, Happiness depends upon ourselves. Perhaps one simple way we can find happiness and wellness is to accept that it’s up to us. While that is easy to say, nurturing happiness and a sense of wellness isn’t always that easy in real life.
Our brains tend to have a negativity bias — making it easy to focus on whats not right. Despite this negative bias it is possible to bring an alternative and compassionate perspective to our daily life with its ups and downs. Although we naturally dwell on the negative, there are ways to wire your brain to focus on happiness and joy. According to Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science Of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, all it takes is spending more time lingering on the positive in order to train your brain to naturally focus on happy moments over time. “[Lingering on the positive] improves the encoding of passing mental states into lasting neural traits,” Hanson told HuffPost Healthy Living. “That’s the key here: we’re trying to get the good stuff into us. And that means turning our passing positive experiences into lasting emotional memories.”
Around 10 to 15% of happiness depends on external life circumstances like owning a house or a car and 50% of happiness is determined by genetic factors. That leaves 40% that can be influenced by habits or patterns of behaviour. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life you Want, the composition of our happiness rarely depends on our bank accounts or our physical attractiveness, because we adapt quickly to our life circumstances. While genes may count for approximately half of our happiness levels, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to be more joyful. “You can teach yourself optimism and happiness just like you teach yourself a new language,” happiness researcher Shawn Achor told Women’s Health. “You’ll be just your genes unless you make positive habits in your life.”
It isn’t recommended to constantly try to pursue happiness either. Focusing too much on happiness may be doing you more harm than good in the long run. Researchers out of the University of California, Berkeley found that a constant pursuit of happiness can even start to feel lonely. In a blog post on Psychology Today, psychologist Douglas Kenrick explained why getting caught up in chasing happiness can ultimately lead to dissatisfaction:
The paradox is that you don’t want to directly seek happiness as an end in itself. Instead, happiness, contentment, and satisfaction are all natural consequences of other activities, such as productive work, and ironically, going out of your way to make other people happy … If you set up the expectation that your life will be like a series of episodes from a happy 1950s situation comedy, supplemented with a bigger modern house, a new car every year, all the latest technological gadgets, and exciting vacation adventures, you’re sure to be disappointed. If you expect it to be more like, well, real life, and you do what you can to make that real life easier on the other people around you, well, you might just find yourself better off.
So what can we do to cultivate the type of happiness that promotes a sense of wellness and flourishing ? Here are some tips you may like to choose from:
Look after the relationships in your life – The most important external factors affecting individual happiness are human relationships. In every society, family or other close relationships are the most important, followed by relationships at work and the community. Looking after our pets can help us feel happier too. When we pet our furry friends, oxytocin (also known as “the cuddle hormone”) releases in our brains, making us instantly happier. The chemical also helps to reduce stress levels and lowers our blood pressure.
Doing good for others is one of the best ways to feel good – People who care more about others are happier than those who care less about others. When people do good, their brain becomes active in the same reward centre as where they experience other rewards. Whether it’s through helping charity or just a small act of kindness, altruism makes us feel good. One study even found that the happiness gleaned from volunteering can increase your longevity.
Use variety, the spice of life – Doing the same set of happiness activities week after week, month after month, can become boring and stale. Bolster the effectiveness of your actions by varying them. In a 10 week study on kindness Sonia Lyubomirsky found that those participants who varied their acts of kindness (e.g. doing an extra household chore, helping a stranger change a tire, helping a niece with homework) became happier and stayed happier. For the group of participants who did the same style of kindness activity week after week, the kindness strategy backfired.
Meditate to increase happiness, health, compassion and brain fitness – People who take 8 sessions of mindfulness meditation training will on average be 20 percentage points happier one month later than a control group and have better responses in their immune system. Such training can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
Take time outside – A 2010 review of the mental-health benefits of being outdoors concluded that any exposure to natural space improves mood but that proximity to water significantly magnifies the effect. The more blue you incorporate into your life, the less blue you may feel.
Recognise your strengths – Rather than spending time trying to “fix” their “weaknesses” happy people spend more time identifying and using their strengths. Find out what you are good at, what gives you energy, and do it as much as possible. And don’t spend time comparing yourself to others, that’s a no win strategy.
Try keeping an optimistic view on things – Happy people tend to think about themselves, about others and about the world with a positive view. The good news is that it is something you can learn to do. It works even if you have to start by “acting” like a happy person or even “faking it” . There’s lots of little things you can do to act like a happy person and if you do it often enough and with variety, it grows on you:
- Smile regularly,
- Stop, take a few deep breaths, notice your surroundings and take note of the everyday things you can be grateful for. Expressing gratitude has been proven to generate a more optimistic outlook on life and can even help lower stress. “Life is a series of problems that have to be solved — and a lot of times those problems cause stress,” Dr. Robert Emmons, gratitude researcher and psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, told HuffPost Healthy Living. “Gratitude can be that stress buster.”
- Share a kind thought, word or laugh and spread some happiness
- In the moment lend a hand, a small random act of kindness
- Forgive yourself and others, because we are all human.
Benefits of having an optimistic attitude include being able to manage life’s challenges better, according to one study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Participants who were more open to looking at smaller moments in a positive light were more able to rebound from adversity and better manage stress. Having a positive mood also helps people become more resilient physically – the study also found that those who had happier outlooks were able to stabilise their heart rates more quickly than those who were influenced by negativity.
Exercise can help with improving mood. Research has shown that just 20 minutes of physical activity can have a subtle, positive benefits that can last for hours after your work out, as reported in SELF Magazine reported. Feel good neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrin all rise during exercise.
Sleep can help retain more positive thoughts. In an observation of sleep-deprived college students, one experiment found that the participants remembered fewer positive words from a list of words they had previously memorised. It works the other way too, as a 2013 Cornell study found that a happy outlook on life will help you get a better night’s sleep.
A quick boost of happiness may come in your diet. Foods like nuts, chicken and milk all contain higher levels of tryptophan, which can lead to the production of serotonin, a chemical that helps induce calm and happiness.
Happiness has preferred fragrances. If you’re looking to feel more cheerful, it may be helpful to stop and smell the roses — literally. Researchers at the University of Florida found that some flowers’ fragrances can have a positive influence on your emotions. Studies have also found that certain perfumes can have a prosocial effect and make people more altruistic.
Music can elevate your happiness. Can upbeat music lift your mood ? According to a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, those who listened to rousing music were better able to put themselves in a positive mood.
Enjoy each moment (live in and appreciate the present) – The past is history, tomorrows a mystery, and today is a gift – that’s why they call it “the present”. Live in the moment and enjoy life more. Turns out that feeling joyful is contagious too. Connecting yourself to happy people will make you happier too, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. The research uncovered that if a close friend is happy, it increases the likelihood that you’ll feel happier by 15 percent. Even being near people who you don’t know very well — or “third-degree friends” — will increase your chance for joy by 6 percent.
Having goals that give direction and purpose can help with happiness strategies if you want to make changes in your life:
- Authentic Goals, that are a match with your values, contribute to having a clear purpose;
- A DUM goal (Daring, Unbelievable and Magnificient) is when you have a dream that gives you an inspiring direction;
- SMART Goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic with a timeframe) break down the big vision into bite size steps with a statement of what you will do.
Take time to play and just have fun – ‘Play’ is not the opposite of ‘work’, it is the opposite of ‘depression’. Breathe, move, think, relax, and cultivate value with the attitude of play – and watch joy and creativity grow. An attitude of play does not deny or exclude negativity, it just means we don’t get stuck on it! Even as children there were times we just didn’t feel like playing – so what did we do? We’d usually find something that comforted us, and played with it. Play, especially imagination, is an excellent medium through which to process stress and negativity. Lucky kids get to do it all the time….