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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!

We have discussed how children tend to be more creative than adults for various reasons. Thinking like a child is a good way to rewind your mental clock and potentially invent some creative solutions to your current problem or project. A good way to start thinking like a child is to abandon your judgment and knowledge of what is practical and start asking playful questions.

1. What if your project were an animal? What would it look like? Draw it.
2. If your project had parents, what would they be like?
3. What does your project like to eat?
4. If you were a hundred years in the future, how would you solve your problem?
5. What if you were a caveman? Would the problem still exist? If it didn't, what would be a related problem?

These are just examples of playful questions. Think up your own that make sense to your project.

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We mentioned yesterday that it is very easy to become attached to your first idea and have trouble moving on to find alternative ideas or solutions to problems. One way to move past your first idea is to "break it." Break your idea by fabricating in your mind an obstacle that will prevent this idea from working. Now, try to find other ideas that work around the obstacle.

Let's say that you have an unwanted pile of dirt in your yard. Your first idea might be to haul it to the dump and be done with it. To break this solution, pretend that the dump is closed. How will you deal with the dirt now? Perhaps you can ask your neighbors if they want some free dirt. Maybe you could buy some containers and plant something. Maybe you could start a business baking and selling mud-pies!

Use your imagination to come up with as many solutions as you can and then pick your favorite (which may still be your first idea, but at least you gave the other ideas a fighting chance!).

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People tend to quickly classify a situation, which causes them to think and respond in predictable ways. A creative thinker will think about situations from different perspectives. Try this group exercise to get people thinking about things in different ways.

1. Pass out three cards to everyone in the group and ask them to write down a different problem statement on each card.
2. Shuffle the cards and pass out two cards to each person, putting the remainder in the middle of the table. If anyone gets his own card or one he dislikes, he should exchange it for a new one from the pile in the middle.
3. People should now pair up and synthesize their four problem statements into one new one. Present this to the group.
4. The group should now come up with one new problem statement that incorporates the best parts of everything that has been presented.

This exercise is a good way to gain understanding of the problem and what directions the group should take to solve it.

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Engineering challenges are fun activities that are frequently assigned to students in physics or engineering classes, but they can easily be used outside of these venues. An engineering challenge usually has a simple goal and some rules about what sorts of materials you are allowed to use. These are great ways to get people thinking creatively and to foster teamwork and competition. Try an engineering challenge at a birthday party, office outing, scout meeting, or any other gathering where you want to have fun and exercise your creativity.

The objective in the Catapult challenge is to fling a tennis ball the furthest distance. Each team is given the same kit of supplies, which could contain things like wood, nails, rubber tubing, dowels, etc. Teams can construct traditional catapults, trebuchets or more creative flinging devices if they wish. In addition to the distance challenge, you might want to set up targets and give prizes for accuracy. Each team will be allowed to aim and make adjustments in an attempt to get closest to the target.

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Engineering challenges are fun activities that are frequently assigned to students in physics or engineering classes, but they can easily be used outside of these venues. An engineering challenge usually has a simple goal and some rules about what sorts of materials you are allowed to use. These are great ways to get people thinking creatively and to foster teamwork and competition. Try an engineering challenge at a birthday party, office outing, scout meeting, or any other gathering where you want to have fun and exercise your creativity.

In the Paper Boat challenge, participants are asked to make a boat out of paper and a small amount of tape, glue or staples. Everyone should be using the same amount of materials. Each boat will be required to hold a small cargo (marbles, pencils, or little toy figurines work nicely). The boat that remains floating the longest is the winner. A variation of this challenge is to allow teams to use as much or as little paper as they want, but have a heavier cargo (a baseball or book). The lightest boat that can float the cargo for 1 minute is the winner.

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