Imagine being able to memorise a deck of cards in less than a minute, read a book a day, or perform complex mathematical calculations in your head without the use of a calculator. When we hear stories of people being able to do these sorts of things, we can’t help but be amazed at their mental abilities.
All people have a desire to be mentally sharp; to be able to be supremely focused all day, remember everything without effort and have the ability to perform well at all intellectual pursuits. When we hear of people with profound mental abilities we naturally look up to them and wish to perform as well as they do. However, it’s easy to think that perhaps there is something unique about them that somehow makes them better. People use the term ‘naturally gifted’ to separate themselves from others they believe are mentally better than them. In thinking this people never live to their full mental potential. However, through simple enhancement techniques it is possible to prime your brain so that you are more mentally prepared to achieve the sort of performance your brain is capable of. Although these techniques won’t make you the next memory grandmaster, they will provide the foundations required to become one.
Enhancing your brain allows itself to adapt with more ease to new situations, allowing you to learn new skills and knowledge a lot faster. Every time you experience something, your brain physically alters itself in response to that experience. The more you experience something, the more your brain changes itself to accommodate for that particular reoccurring experience. That is why when you practice something, you get good at it; your brain is constantly creating new connections and increasing its network to adapt to whatever your goal is. Through training your brain with certain techniques you can increase this ability for the brain to adapt to its environment. By increasing the ability of your brain to physically adapt, you will find that you will learn skills faster, obtain knowledge easier and have more mental drive and focus.
Here I’ve compiled a few simple techniques that can be used to improve general mental performance, and provide the foundations for further development.
Maintain healthy exercise, diet and sleep habits.
This may come as a shock to some of you but before you try any other method, you have to have healthy diet, exercise and sleep habits. Although most people believe that they have an understanding of this and implement it on a daily basis, in reality many people don’t follow this and as a result suffer from cognitive impairment. Maintaining the right habits and living a healthy lifestyle is one of the easiest ways to boost brain power. If these habits aren’t maintained, not only will there be cognitive impairment but attempting to try and improve cognitive performance using an alternative method will result in next to no improvement, if any improvement at all. For this reason this technique must be implemented first and foremost.
Here are a few simple steps that can be taken to achieve the right habits:
Exercise. It’s not necessary to push yourself to exhaustion everyday, all that is required is that you set a few hours aside each week that you dedicate to physical exertion. Join a sports club, walk to work each day or start going to the gym a few times each week. Just make sure you get your heart pumping frequently and you will begin to notice the improved mental effects.
Diet. There are so many different diets out there it can be difficult to determine which one would benefit you the most. The important thing is to make sure you are consuming the right nutrient s such as vitamins and minerals which are necessary for brain function. In particular, it’s important to consume omega-3 oils either from grass fed red meat, fish or through capsules. These oils are used in the brain for neuronal membrane formation, which is vital for developing connections between neurons. Because of this, omega-3 oils can improve learning and memory formation.
Sleep. Sleep is hugely important for brain function, particularly REM stage sleep. REM sleep has been found to be important for memory consolidation and refreshing your brain for the next day so that you can function optimally. If you aren’t getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, chances are you aren’t getting enough REM sleep, meaning your brain won’t be performing at its peak during the day. Make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep a night to ensure your brain can function at optimum performance
When you think of meditation you think of Buddhist monks or new age practitioners, however regular meditation has been found to be beneficial to brain function. Meditation is sometimes considered exercise for the mind; you usually hear people say that the brain is like a muscle and that meditation is a way of strengthening that muscle. This is actually not too far from the truth. The brain is really malleable and capable of strengthening itself to perform certain processes better, as I mentioned before about brain changes caused by practice of a particular skill. Meditation has been found to improve productivity (as people remain more focused on the present), concentration, working memory, and stress management.
Of the various types of meditation that can be practiced, I suggest mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation. This form of meditation involves being mentally focussed on one thing, such as breathing or a particular sound. As you do this thoughts will begin to enter your mind, and your task is to acknowledge those thoughts and then let them go, all the while retaining focus. Try and keep your head as empty as possible and deal with any intrusive thoughts that may enter. The goal of this is to allow you to become more aware of your own thoughts and develop greater conscious control over them. Perform this for about 10 minutes a day for two days a week. Once you believe you have the hang of it, introduce more days and longer times. Over time of practicing this you will begin to experience the mental benefits.
Start reading again.
And yeah, I’m not talking about dusting off your old Harry Potter books. I mean start reading books that are going to challenge you and stimulate intellectual thought. Like with meditation, reading is a form of training for your brain, and the more complicated the book is, the better the training you get. In fact, it’s been found that people who read regularly have better concentration, better creativity, better working memory and even greater empathy than people who don’t.
When deciding what type of book to read, you can choose to read both fiction and non-fiction as each has their own benefits. Reading fiction will improve your imagination and therefore your creativity as well as your ability to visualise. And due to the fact you are immersing yourself into the lives of characters, it can allow you to develop greater empathy, which can be greatly beneficial to your personal relationships. The great thing about reading non-fiction on the other hand is that you are actually learning about real life concepts; not only are you developing yourself cognitively but you are increasing your knowledge base as well. With non-fiction you can choose a subject that really interests you, or you think may interest you, and learn about it in great detail, allowing you to be able to apply that knowledge in the future.
Start off by reading at least one book a month and you will find that the ease and enjoyment of reading will quickly increase allowing you to read more and develop your brain further.
Begin Dual N-Back training
Wouldn’t it be great to be amazing at multi tasking? You would be able to simultaneously achieve multiple tasks at the same time, or even perform just one task with greater efficiency. Multi tasking is a skill controlled by working memory. Working memory is essentially your ability to hold multiple thoughts in your head at once. The greater your working memory, the more you can think about at any given time. It’s also been found that working memory ability directly correlates with intelligence. Fortunately, working memory is a skill that can be improved with practise.
Dual N-Back training is a game that was developed to train working memory. It involves trying to hold the location of a square in a 3×3 grid and a letter at the same time across a number of rounds. All the while you have to try to remember all subsequent locations and letters of the following rounds until the number of rounds has passed. You begin by having to hold the memory for two rounds and if you perform that well, it moves to three rounds and so on. If this sounds complicated that’s because it is. But with time you find you gradually get better at it and your working memory becomes greatly improved.
To begin Dual N-Back training, fortunately there is a free website that you can visit here.
People all want to have great mental abilities. However most people don’t realise that with a few simple exercises, the brain can be greatly improved and prepared to achieve the mental pursuits that they have always dreamed of achieving. By living a healthy lifestyle with the correct diet, amount of exercise, and sleep hygiene your brain will be ready to be improved with some simple exercises. These include meditation, reading intellectually stimulating books and improving mental performance through nootropic drugs. By developing a regular routine implementing these exercises, you will come to realise the cognitive potential you are capable of achieving , and be in a better position to strive for greater cognitive improvement.