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10 Brain Fitness New Year’s Resolutions

Brain Fitness New Year's ResolutionsYou have sur­vived the 2007 shop­ping and eat­ing sea­son. Con­grat­u­la­tions! Now it’s time to shift gears and focus on 2008…whether you write down some New Year res­o­lu­tions or con­tem­plate some things that you want to let go of from last year and set inten­tions and goals for this year — as is a friend’s tra­di­tion on the win­ter sol­stice.

To sum­ma­rize the key find­ings of the last 20 years of neu­ro­science research on how to “exer­cise our brains”, there are three things that we can strive for: nov­el­ty, vari­ety and chal­lenge. If we do these three things, we will build new con­nec­tions in our brains, be mind­ful and pay atten­tion to our envi­ron­ment, improve cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties such as pat­tern-recog­ni­tion, and in gen­er­al con­tribute to our life­long brain health.

With these three prin­ci­ples of brain health in mind — nov­el­ty, vari­ety and chal­lenge — let me sug­gest a few poten­tial New Years res­o­lu­tions, per­haps some unex­pect­ed, that will help you make 2008 a year of Brain Fit­ness:

1. 2008 Pri­maries and Elec­tions: If you haven’t yet done so, reg­is­ter to vote — active par­tic­i­pa­tion is good for your brain health. But, before rush­ing out to vote, take some time to think through the cri­te­ria you want to set up to eval­u­ate who deserves your vote. Don’t let politi­cians and their spin doc­tors set your agen­da. Ask your­self, what mat­ters most to me? What type of Pres­i­dent do I think we need? Why? I per­son­al­ly find it quite intrigu­ing that no can­di­date so far is res­ur­rect­ing the “It is the econ­o­my, stu­pid” mantra, and propos­ing sol­id plans to get our econ­o­my back on track.

2. Next time out shop­ping: Don’t let adver­tis­ers treat you as if you were Pavlov’s Dog — remem­ber the dog that was trained to sali­vate auto­mat­i­cal­ly every time a bell rang. There is a whole indus­try out there try­ing to make you buy stuff on impulse. Notice your reac­tions to a movie trail­er or a TV ad Resist. Be the true “Decider”. For bonus points, once you learn to iden­ti­fy and man­age your own buy­ing impuls­es, try explain­ing this to your kids…

3. Read­ing habits: If you usu­al­ly read non-fic­tion, try some­thing new this sea­son. Pick up a good fic­tion book. Or vice ver­sa. For bonus points, sub­scribe to or sim­ply read a new mag­a­zine, per­haps one that your part­ner craves? It will help you under­stand anoth­er per­spec­tive.

4. Learn about the Brain: Pick up one of the books in our Books sec­tion. In the unlike­ly sce­nario that you read as many brain-relat­ed books as I do, pick up some Russ­ian poet­ry book and let’s dis­cuss this instead.

5. At work: Find, or cre­ate, an intel­lec­tu­al­ly and social­ly stim­u­lat­ing new job for your­self at your cur­rent work­place or a new one. Engag­ing work has been shown to con­tribute to life­long cog­ni­tive per­for­mance (see recent study). At the very least, go out of your way to make what­ev­er job you have more stim­u­lat­ing: try talk­ing to a new col­league or client every­day and learn a new thing about them. You will not remem­ber every­thing, but sure­ly more than if you don’t even try.

6. Grat­i­tude vs. the Sub­prime mess: With increas­ing cov­er­age of eco­nom­ic woes, the sub­prime mess, reces­sion risk, the falling dol­lar and a bal­loon­ing deficit, it is easy to lose per­spec­tive and become depressed. Which doesn’t help any­one, much less our brains. To put things in per­spec­tive, it pays off to devote some time to keep a Grat­i­tude Jour­nal and sim­ply scrib­ble a few notes a day. For bonus points: do this while you are watch­ing TV news and share your notes with your part­ner.

7. Cul­ti­vate your Crit­i­cal-think­ing abil­i­ties: Ask your­self, “Where is the evi­dence?” at least once a day — see points 1&2 above. Don’t just believe this arti­cle. Even if it had been endorsed by 20 Har­vard Med­ical School researchers and doc­tors, noth­ing sub­sti­tutes your own brain in action. And the more you prac­tice, the more you refine your judg­ment.

8. Par­tic­i­pate in cre­at­ing a bet­ter envi­ron­ment. Our plan­et, our fam­i­lies, our com­mu­ni­ties, our schools, all can ben­e­fit from our help. What project do you care enough to com­mit some of your time to in 2008? If you have school age kids, have you con­sid­ered join­ing the school board?.

9. Com­put­er-based pro­grams: With the grow­ing num­ber of “brain train­ing” prod­ucts, you may be think­ing of giv­ing one a try, either for you or for a loved one. As men­tioned in point num­ber 2 above, it makes sense to do some research before mak­ing a purchase…so check this eval­u­a­tion check­list.

10. Where to start? OK, now you have read many sug­ges­tions, resolve to keep at least one of them…which one will you choose?.

Enjoy a Hap­py and Fruit­ful 2008, for you and your loved ones!

(Cred­it for pic: Wikipedia)

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2 Responses

  1. Mike Greer says:

    Re: Item #7, Cul­ti­vate Your Crit­i­cal Think­ing Abil­i­ties… Would you believe you can (vir­tu­al­ly) attend a full semes­ter of class­es at Yale… for free? I have recent­ly learned about some real­ly well-designed cours­es on all sorts of top­ics that Yale Open Cours­es has made avail­able to any­one for free! Astro­physics, poet­ry, physics, polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, psy­chol­o­gy, etc.. with 30 more on the way. Each course has more than 20 hours of expert lec­tures, ebooks, and more. This is a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to stretch your brain. Go to:
    http://open.yale.edu/courses/index.html

  2. Alvaro says:

    Thanks for shar­ing, Mike! I was aware of MIT’s great cours­es online, hadn’t seen Yale’s.

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