12 Techniques to boost your brainpower
Our sophisticated grey matter has awarded us first place on the food chain, yet research into this complex subject reveals that we still use only a fraction of our potential. 12 Techniques you can tap into everyday!
After each birthday my mother threatens to learn the piano. “Stops you from going senile”, she says. But the human brain, contrary to popular opinion, does not automatically decline after a certain age. As long as it is used and stimulated, it continues to grow new dendrites that compensate for lost cells. Only when we allow it to stagnate do the dendrites shrink and deteriorate. Piano playing aside, many different techniques are available to increase brain functioning, some of these stimulate left/right brain function; others focus on reprogramming the mind with positive thoughts. Brain exercises reduce fatigue and depression, sharpen the thought process, and improve motivation and self-image. Tap into some of the techniques that will keep your thinking at optimum function.
1. Brain gym: A series of simple physical movements designed to integrate the two hemispheres. Midline crossing motions improve reading, writing, concentration and coordination, while lengthening activities help with the expression of stored information. Brain gym is a quick pick-me-up, releasing stress and balancing the energy flow. It’s easy to do and is suitable for people of all ages.
2. Mind maps: Link key words together in diagram form to trigger recall of considerable amounts of material. Word association exercises also make it possible to remember a long list of items. Both these techniques are especially useful to students and teachers.
3. Mind music: Electrical activity in the brain is classified in terms of frequency or cycles per second (Hertz). Beta waves, from 14 to 30 Hertz, occur when we are wide-awake, with all our senses activated. Alpha waves, from 8 to 13 Hertz, signify a relaxed-alert state in which we can concentrate and unlock the resources of the unconscious. Delta waves, from 0,5 to 3,5 Herz, and theta waves, from 4 to 7 Hertz, are associated with sleep state. Baroque music is an effective tool for balancing the brain, but there are also sophisticated sound technology tapes on the market that induce the required brain state. By feeding different frequencies into each ear, the two hemispheres are forced to work together to create a unified sound. When the brain hums along in an Alpha frequency, you can re-programme your subconscious with positive messages and transform your life.
4. Eye movement technology: Different mental processes are associated with different areas of the brain. To access information, we look up; to access feelings, we look down. Specific eye movements, along with visualisation and positive thought, activate enzymes in the brain that stimulate neurons to produce feel-good endorphins.
5. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) shows that there is a constant interplay between the mind, the brain and the immune system. Information is exchanged between the cells, and responses to positive and negative experiences are stored as emotional memories that affect our well being. Research by Candace Pert, US scientist, explains how peptides and neurotransmitters in the brain influence the connection between happiness and health. PNI recognises that emotional health is a powerful weapon against disease, and aims to activate the body’s natural healing process.
6. Meditation: The mental discipline of stilling the mind leads to inner harmony and increased awareness. If prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening to God. It teaches us to pay attention; the body is relaxed, but the mind is alert and empty of thoughts. With practice we become more observant, more open to guidance, insight and intuition. Beginners may find it helpful to focus on the breath, or an object, or visualise a favourite spot in nature. It’s a peaceful, restoring process, with profound benefits that extend beyond the self to the world at large.
7. Visualisation: Whatever we focus on grows – the quality of our thoughts determines the quality of our lives. Meditation and visualisation techniques help us reduce fear and stress and activate the body’s own healing ability. Many cancer patients can attest to the power of imagination. By visualising the cancer shrinking, or medication breaking it down and flushing it out, it’s possible to speed up the healing process.
It’s a useful way to deal with threats to survival and security. The primitive part of the brain that manages these issues does not respond to speech and rational thought. By visualising desired outcomes, we can re-programme destructive thought patterns.
8. Bubble energy: A visualisation technique in which you create safe space around you, protecting yourself from draining influences. Fill your bubble with your favourite colours and charge it with love and positive thoughts. Allow compassion and caring to filter in and out, but when necessary, imagine its walls strengthening and repelling negativity.
9. Affirmations: Repetition of strong positive statements that something is already so, trains the subconscious to make new patterns. ‘I am a creative person’, ‘I am worthy of love’, ‘I am an inspirational teacher’, overrides the victim mindset and stimulates the release of inherent potential. Circumstances in our lives don’t change unless we change, so affirm the changes you would like to see. Write down your goals and refine them into a mission statement to help reinforce your life purpose and direct your actions. Remember: If you aren’t in charge of your life, someone else is.
10. Neuro linguistic programming (NLP) encompasses a host of behaviour modifying techniques in which you choose the mental and emotional states you prefer. It examines how people think and process emotions, and teaches you how to identify patterns in others that can then be used in subtle ways to enhance communication. The techniques have application in the sales and performance arenas, and the marketing claim is that NLP helps to eradicate negative thought patterns and attract the relationship and career opportunities you want. The premise is that once the mind has been stretched to accommodate new ways of thinking, it never goes back to its original shape.
11. Anchoring technique: A useful NLP technique to help you overcome fear and stress. Identify an experience when you felt confident, energised and successful. Relive those feelings, remembering how your body felt when things were going well. ‘Anchor’ those feelings by making a fist, then carry that fistful of good energy into a situation where you feel stressed and disempowered. You may use a less obvious motion, like touching a bracelet or squeezing a pen. Calling on this anchor, along with deep breathing, prevents ‘down-shifting’ of brain functions and allows you to handle challenging situations more effectively.
12. Food for thought: The food we eat has a profound effect on our brains. Omega3 fat, found in oily fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and olive oil, builds a pliable cell membrane that allows receptors to mould to neurotransmitters, ensuring proper connections, better memory and improved mental functioning. Antioxidants, found in most fruits and vegetables, play a crucial role in combating degenerative brain disorders. The bottom line is that the closer we can get to the diet that our Stone Age ancestors thrived on, the better off our brains will be.