Thinking quickly and on your feet is more than just quick wit. It can quite literally save your life. Just ask MacGyver, ambulance drivers, law enforcement, and anyone who has been called on for their opinion during an important business meeting.
Fast thinking can also be translated into a gut reaction. Trusting your gut has benefits beyond the wisdom of your instincts. Science says making instant decisions can even make you happier.
Saving lives and happiness aside, maybe you just want your synapses to fire quick enough to call your child the right name on the first try. “Get over here Michael, Cody, Fluffy… ugh Megan.”
While your brain is technically an organ, it can be thought of as your thinking muscle. And like all your other muscles, exercise and training can help it to work optimally. There are specific things you can do for that brain training, and it doesn’t require spandex or an expensive gym membership.
So what can you do to train your brain to think faster and remember more?
Learn a New Skill
When you break out of your comfort zone and pick up a challenging new hobby, you strengthen connections between parts of your brain and even create new neural connections. When researchers at McGill University, in Montreal, enrolled a group of 30 men and women in tango lessons and tested their cognitive functions regularly, they found that after 10 weeks of classes, just learning a new dance had also helped the dancers score better on memory tests and get better at multitasking.
Move Your Body
We’re not saying you have to take up Crossfit for your brain to think faster. Studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. Just a walk of moderate intensity to get your heart pumping is all it should take to see benefits.
Try Speed-of-Processing Training
Recently a study, called the ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly) trial, showed that one particular type of brain exercise, called speed-of-processing training, cut the long-term risk of dementia nearly in half. The New Yorker explains speed-of-processing training as…
“Imagine that you are looking at a computer screen. For the briefest instant, two images appear—one in the middle, one on the periphery. Then the computer prompts you to identify them. Was the central image a tiny car or a little truck? Where along the edge did the second image appear? The more accurate you get, the more fleetingly the pictures appear, the more similar the car and truck get, and the more distracting the background becomes. That is speed-of-processing training. It is always one step ahead of you, yet virtually everyone gets faster and more accurate with practice.”
This particular brain exercise can be found at BrainHQ.
Practice Memorizing Things
A phone number, a random license plate, an inspiring quote, your checking account number, pick something new every day, and memorize it. Practice repeating it in your head, quizzing yourself throughout the day. Just by playing this game with yourself each day you’re exercising your brain in ways we just don’t do anymore. We commit most of these things to digital memory and not our actual memories. Make sure you use it so you don’t lose it.
Believe in Yourself
Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it has been found that middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, and better when surrounded by positive input about getting older. People who are negative about their memory function, making self-deprecating jokes about their forgetfulness, are not as likely to seek out ways to optimize their cognitive functions and may see memory decline as just part of life. If you believe you can exercise your brain, and stay active cognitively, maybe by solving daily riddles in the RiddleVerse, perhaps you have a better chance at staying sharp. You, at least, will be having more fun. Think of the RiddleVerse as your daily visit to your brain’s gym. Spandex optional.