Brain Training: Top Tips for Critical Thinking
The brain may not be a muscle — well, maybe it is for some people — but it can nevertheless be strengthened in the same way as a bicep or tricep. (Philosophically speaking, of course.) By incorporating mental exercises, your brain training can be not unlike physical training, gradually making you stronger and adding to your stamina over time. To help you get there, however, you’re going to need to know what specific tips there are.
That question brought us to the book Brain Training: 32 Underused Techniques to Improve Memory and Critical Thinking by Andrew Williams. While the whole thing is well worth your time, we’ve picked out a few of our favorites.
Listening to music.
Students often get this better than adults although they have a tendency to misuse it. In the book, Williams cites examples of how music helps with memory retention and cognitive development, but it’s only as effective as the type of music you’re listening to. Many times, students make the mistake of thinking “I got this” whenever a good tune is on the radio. They think that by listening to music they like — rap, Top 40, etc. — they’re setting the stage to study correctly. This could not be further from the truth. While you don’t want to listen to annoying music that you hate, you do want to make sure that — like it or not — the music you’re listening to isn’t what takes center stage. It needs to be background — ambient — so that your mind can hone in on the task at hand, and that would be studying the material.
Rather than try to argue the point on our own, let’s turn to what Williams has to say about this. “Recent studies have discovered that for you to learn anything, you have to do more than just read and cram the facts into your brain. … Let’s say you’re studying for a test. You have your book in front of you as well as all the notes you painstakingly took from lectures and presentations. You have two choices at the end of your self-imposed study period. First, you could decide you don’t know the material well enough, make yet another pot of coffee and stay up all night studying. Or second, you can call it a night and get a good night’s sleep.” Williams contends that sleep and daydreaming serve the same function, backing it up with scientific results. Essentially, the act of daydreaming gives your brain time to make sense of material that it’s just gone over.
Meditation is not unlike drinking water. You may not want to do it. It may not seem like a lot of fun, and it could even taste terrible — or rather, have no taste at all when you’re in the mood for something flavorful. However, the more that you force yourself to drink water, the better your body is going to function and the better you’ll feel as a result. If only you would make the time! Meditation is different from daydreaming in the sense that daydreaming is more reflective while meditation is more preparative. You use daydreaming after you’re done for the day or after intense periods of study. You use meditation to prepare your mind for the things that it needs to do. There are different ways to meditate, but a good start is to sit in a quiet room alone with no sensory distractions. Close your eyes. Listen to your breathing. Start counting how many breaths you take. Don’t be discouraged if you’re still hearing and feeling the world around you. Just continue focusing on your breaths until your mind slips in to a deeper state of focus. Think about the tasks at hand — what you HAVE to get done or what you HAVE to learn. Start out by meditating for a simple 20 minute chunk of time, then try to expand it as you can. If you do this before each study session, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Eggs, apples, spinach
Okay, so this isn’t directly brain-focused, but your brain benefits from it. By incorporating super memory foods into your daily diet — and again, drink plenty of water — it will have a positive mental effect. Eggs, apples, and spinach, are three of the best kinds of foods that you can eat, not just for your physical health but your mental as well. The less empty calories that you consume, the more energy that you’re going to have, and the more energy you have, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle the books and, more importantly, retain the things that you learn.
While these suggestions are helpful, they are merely the tip of the iceberg for how to make brain training work. What are some things that have helped you along? Sound off in the comments section below!