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Mentalrobics™

You exercise your body to stay physically in shape, so why shouldn't you exercise your brain to stay mentally fit? With these daily exercises you will learn how to flex your mind, improve your creativity and boost your memory. As with any exercise, repetition is necessary for you to see improvement, so pick your favorite exercises from our daily suggestions and repeat them as desired. Try to do some mentalrobics every single day!

If you are ever stuck in a meeting or brainstorm session where people are out of ideas or unable to agree on an issue, ask this question to get people thinking differently:

What would your mother do in this situation?

Not only does this infuse some humor into the situation, but it usually makes people a little more agreeable and a little less judgmental. After all, it's not very polite to disparage someone's mother. By thinking about what your mother would do, you are also forcing yourself to think about alternate solutions which can help come up with interesting ideas.

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Synectics is a problem solving technique similar to brainstorming, but with more complexity and structure. A leader is chosen to facilitate the session. The leader is not allowed to contribute to the solution; they are there only to facilitate and record what the group produces.

Define
The leader asks the group for a goal or problem statement to define the session. The leader chooses a keyword from this phrase and writes it down so everyone can see it.

Analogies
The leader now selects a topic that is completely unrelated to the discussion topic. The group is now asked to come up with examples of the keyword that relate to the new topic.

For example, lets say that the goal is to build a better toaster and that the keyword is "food". The leader might choose the topic of "music" and ask the group to come up with analogies and examples of how "food" and "music" are like.

Associations
The leader instructs the group to ignore the goal for the moment and to focus on the examples produced by the "analogy" step. They are to work individually and write down any associations that they have with any of the examples that were produced about the unrelated topic.

Absurd Idea
The group is now asked to work in pairs and use these associations to come up with an idea that address the original problem from the "define" stage. This idea will likely be impossible, impractical or silly. Present these ideas to the group.

Refine
In this step, the group takes the absurd ideas from the previous step and combines and refines them to make them more practical and applicable to the goal. This step often produces some surprising and creative solutions to the original problem.

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Close your eyes and try to recreate the following smells. This exercise helps improve your ability to form concrete impressions from memory.

1. A rotten egg
2. Pumpkin pie
3. Wet dog
4. Freshly cut grass
5. A new car

How well did you do at recreating the smells?

For more of these exercises try Mental Smells I.

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Earlier, we talked about how thinking about alternate solutions to a problem can help find creative solutions. Here's an exercise to help you practice this technique.

Imagine that you are a detective. Try to come with at least 10 different possible causes of the following situations:

1. You return to your car to see the windshield broken and an apple sitting on the seat.
2. You pass a man on the street that is wearing two different shoes.
3. A perfectly healthy tree has fallen over.
4. A pile of precariously stacked stones is discovered in the park.

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According to Freud, the mind is made up of the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is concerned with satisfying our needs, the ego is aware of the self and the world, and the superego is concerned with morality.

Creative ideas originate in the unconscious id and must be filtered through the ego and superego before they can be expressed to the world. The ego may reject an idea because it is unrealistic or impractical and the superego may reject an idea because it is against our ethics.

For example, an idea to genetically engineer a purple cat might be rejected by the ego for being impossible. The idea to throw a cat into a vat of purple paint would be rejected by the superego for being cruel.

Very few creative ideas will get past an overly restrictive ego and superego. At the same time, an excessively passive ego or superego will result in the expression of many impractical or immoral ideas. Through exercises such as brainstorming, we can train our ego and superego to be more or less selective depending upon our needs.

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