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!
Previously we learned how the mind makes associations between all the different sensory inputs as well as emotional states and social triggers. You can use this to your advantage when you want to be sure to remember something. Most people rely almost exclusively on their senses of sight and hearing. Try to get your sense of smell, touch, or taste into the memory, or pay attention to your emotional state. A memory that involves four senses will be much stronger than a memory that involves only two. The more associations you have for a particular memory, the more protection you have against losing it, and the more ways you will have to remember it later.
Most people have heard of Pavlov's dog. Pavlov would ring a bell every time he fed his dog. Eventually, the dog would start salivating after hearing the bell, even if no food was in sight. This experiment shows how the dog's mind made an association between hearing and taste. This happens in humans too. The brain automatically makes associations between the five senses, in addition to emotional or social triggers. Once these associations are created, they can be recalled simply by experiencing one of the original inputs. In the dog's case, a sound triggers a memory about taste. Certainly you have had the experience where a smell, a flavor, or a sound has brought up a memory from your childhood.
In order for us to remember a new fact, it must be associated with one of the 7 different inputs described above. Each different sensory input causes different connections between neurons in the cerebral cortex, and the more inputs you have, the stronger your memory of that fact will be.
In the middle of the brain, connected to the cortex, is the hippocampus. Actually there are two hippocampi, one on each side of the brain. The hippocampus helps to form new memories about experienced events. It interprets incoming sensory inputs and turns them into memories. If the hippocampus is damaged, it becomes incredibly difficult to form new memories and recall old memories. In fact, it is one of the first parts of the brain that succumbs to Alzheimer's disease.
The hippocampus also stores and processes spatial information. This is how you remember locations and know how to get from place to place. The types of people who never get lost and are good at finding shortcuts have a very active hippocampus. Taxi cab drivers tend to have a large hippocampus, indicating that if you use your spatial skills, your hippocampus can actually grow.
To prevent information overload, your hippocampus is constantly sifting through incoming sensory inputs and deciding what to save and what to discard. For a memory to get into long-term storage, it must be selected by the hippocampus. Information with emotional significance or information that relates to something we already know tends to get preferential treatment. This is why meaningfulness is important for information you want to learn.
The cerebral cortex is the main part of the human brain. It is the part that handles memory, language, thought, and consciousness. When you see a picture of a brain, the outer layer that looks convoluted and bumpy is the cerebral cortex. It is actually a flat sheet of cells that are all bunched up around the middle parts of the brain. This folding increases the surface area; if you unfolded a human cortex, it would measure more than 4 square feet. The cortex is made up of four lobes separated from front to back and left to right. Each type of sensory input has its own place on the cortex. For example, there is a specific place where all processing related to smells happen. Muscle movements have their own spot, vision has a spot, and so on.
Neurotrophins are small proteins that are naturally produced in the brain and act like mental nutrients. A constant level of neurotrophins are required just to keep the neurons alive. Neurotrophins are also responsible for pruning out unwanted cells and for stimulating the growth of new dendrites.
Stimulating your mind with new and interesting experiences causes it to increase the production of neurotrophins, which in turn increase the strength and complexity of the dendrites. It causes neurons to connect to different areas of the brain and form new patterns. The more connections you have, the more ways you have to remember a piece of information.
So, seeking out novel experiences is a great way to keep your mind in shape.