Exercising your mind is healthy, and just like exercise, you don’t need a bunch of equipment or special programs to do it.
In fact, some of the best ways to exercise your brain involve nothing more than some concerted effort and three minutes of your time.
Boosting Your Attention
These attention exercises challenge your ability to focus and concentrate, as well as give you skills needed to make the most of your focus when you need it.
17. Pomodoro Weightlifting
Exercise your focus and attention like a weightlifter
Weightlifters build muscle strength by systematically increasing the demands of their sets. By increasing weight lifted slightly over time, these athletes train their bodies to become stronger.
Next time you sit down to do work or read at home, set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes. For that fifteen minutes, focus on doing one thing. Whether that is reading your book or writing off emails for work, focus on just that one thing. When the timer goes off, take a five minute break. After the break, set the timer again and repeat.
Keep track of how long you can focus on one thing. It could be shorter or longer than that fifteen minutes.
If you can focus for an hour straight, that should probably be your set length. If your attention wanders after 8 minutes, go ahead and slim down the set length.
16. Practice Good Listening Skills
By practicing attentive listening, whether in a social situation or while listening to a performance, you’ll improve aspects of your attention.
Listening actively on a social level requires more than paying attention to what is being said. Also pay attention to how they’re saying it.
15. Read Short Stories or Long Articles
If you’re an active internet user, you’re probably not a stranger to browsing bite-sized internet articles ad nauseum.
These articles can be a fun diversion, but it’s healthier for your brain to keep it engaged with longer-form articles that require focus on single subject or idea.
By regularly taking time to read works of over 3,000 words in length, you can increase attention.
14. Spoil Your Curious Side
Many legendary scientists changed the world simply by indulging their curious side. Darwin was even known to stare at single specimens for hours at a time.
Take a note from these individuals and take time to focus on one thing, whether it be a picture, an animal, or even a dot on the wall. Be sure to notice all the details, how they connect with each other.
Challenge yourself by setting a timer.
13. Have a Staring Contest With The Mirror
Make two marks on the mirror with a washable marker. Stare at these points for three minutes, taking care to remain motionless and expressionless.
12. For Those With Only Three Minutes…
Find an analogue clock or a stopwatch. Sit comfortably in a chair and watch the second hand revolve around the clock’s face. Sit as still as possible and continue for three minutes.
Boosting Your Memory
11. Grocery List? Schmocery List!
Challenge your memory by writing out your grocery list and memorizing it. You may use mnemonics if you like, and keep the list handy just in case, but try shopping for your whole list completely from memory.
You can do this with any list as well! Grocery stores simply offer a chance to get a chore done while you’re brain training.
10. Summarize Books As You Read Them
As you read a book, take time every 30 minutes to summarize everything you’ve read in that section. It’s much more difficult than you’d expect!
Keep doing this as you read your book, writing down your summaries as you read. You’ll find recalling what you read gets much easier and you’ll retain what you read much better after you’re finished.
9. Draw a Map From Memory
Next time you visit someplace new, draw a map of where you went and how you got there. Do this with every new location you visit.
By exercising visuo-spatial aspects of your memory, you’ll improve multiple brain functions at once.
8. Memorize Poetry, Passages, or Music
Ever been impressed by a man who can recite Keats to the last syllable? No? Good! Cause you can too. And doing so also happens to be very brain-healthy indeed.
Memorize your favorite poetry, passages from books you read, or music (particularly if you play an instrument.)
7. Tell Stories
Did you know that our memory is built to understand the world in stories? That’s why we fall prey to so many cognitive biases due to false or misleading narratives.
By telling stories, we do more than simply relate facts. Studies done with fMRI machines show that all areas of the brain light up both while telling and while listening to stories.
6. Learn A New Language
Learning a new language can stave off Alzheimer’s disease in susceptible individuals by as much as five years.
Not only that, but simply being in a bilingual environment can help perceptibly boost your working memory.
Boosting Your Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
5. Solve Logical Deduction Puzzles
Logical deduction is pure reasoning, which makes it a great exercise for critical thinking and problem solving.
Be sure to bring scratch paper! The idea isn’t to do it off quickly in your head, but to learn how logical deduction works and carefully follow all the steps that lead to the one possible answer.
4. Ask Open Ended Questions
Next time you’re conversing with someone (about any topic), make an effort towards asking open ended questions.
Asking open-ended questions involves creative thinking as well as good social intuition, plus it literally opens up the conversation to new topics that may otherwise not have entered the fray.
3. Understand Cognitive Biases
Cognitive biases can reduce even the most logical person to an irrational mess. Understanding cognitive biases, and how they make you believe things that aren’t true, is a key first step toward building your critical thinking ability.
2. Distinguish Between Fact and Opinion
To sharpen your critical thinking, be sure to distinguish information as either a fact or an opinion. If something is an opinion, why does the person saying it hold that opinion? What would their reasoning be?
1. Explain Your Viewpoints
Similar to the steps before this one, this takes your critical thinking abilities out and exercises it in the real world. You know your favorite music. You have your certain political leanings even. How would you explain why?
Write down your thoughts or talk them out with a friend. You’ll exercise your brain and discover new things about yourself!