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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!

Close your eyes and try to recreate the following smells. This exercise helps improve your ability to form concrete impressions from memory, an ability that is one characteristic of creative people.

1. Brussel sprouts
2. A banana
3. Gasoline
4. Pencil shavings
5. Stinky socks

How well did you do at recreating the smells? How long did it take for each smell? Rank your recreation on a scale of 1-10 to how close it was to a real smell. Try to continuously improve.

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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 Kite challenge is to construct a kite out of a sheet of paper, plastic drinking straws and tape. The winning kite will be the one to reach the highest altitude with a fixed length of string. If you don't have a windy place nearby, you can allow the contestants to run with the kite to simulate wind. To measure altitude, a simple angle altimeter can be purchased at many hobby stores, or you can create your own with a protractor, string and a small weight.

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Negative thinking is usually a bad thing, especially if it occurs in the form of premature judgment of an idea. However, sometimes intentionally thinking negatively can help you find weak points in your solution.

Think about the worst parts of your idea. Try to identify all the defects that you can. Be as critical and superficial as possible and keep a list of all the negative aspects of your idea. Once you are done, go over your list and identify the key defects. See if you can improve them.

This can be especially helpful if you are going to present your idea to a group or person who is going to judge it. If you already know the top few things that are wrong with it, you can have some arguments or alternative solutions prepared in your defense.

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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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