In episode 113 of Own It! the podcast, which airs this coming Friday, Nicola grills me quite closely about how I think. I confess that I live in my brain and why it is my most important organ, and I have been thinking about the sorts of things I do now to keep my brain in tip top condition for later life.
I order my thoughts in conversation and in writing. That’s why I love so much to write this blog and my weekly newsy newsletter and Facebook notes and status updates, because I think in writing because it obliges me to work out how to communicate well and better all the time, plus it gets me to order my thoughts which is so useful. And such good training.
I spend a lot of time thinking and I keep plenty of time clear for it, I prioritise it and I love it. There are other things you can do (and I bet you’ll have plenty of your own too) but here are some I either do now or have done in my past or intend to do again.
Sudoku – I do this almost everyday on a free app, it trains the part of my brain that deals with numbers and seeing patterns. I generally do this while watching TV as most of it does not fully engage my brain.
Crosswords – I don’t do these as often as I like, but I do LOVE to do them when the opportunity arises. Again I have an app for this and if I had even more free time I would go for one a day. Once, when a temp in the Seventies, I used to sit on an office chair all day and do nothing. Bosses could afford that in those days, can you imagine? So one day I thought I’d try the cryptic crossword. I’d never done it before and no-one taught me how to do it, but if you’ve got nothing else to do, why not? I can remember the first one took me all day, eight hours! And I think it is generally known that two brains are better than one when it comes to the cryptic ones. But I like the fast ones too. Many of my friends have been able to do the hard crosswords in e.g. The Times in twenty minutes or less.
So that reminds me of another one I do – hang out with brainy people.
Brain-Training – I haven’t done this recently but it was Nicola herself who sent me a Nintendo device for Christmas one year and I much enjoyed Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training, not least because you can see yourself improving as you do it. I LOVE that.
Another thing which improves yet another part of the brain is learning a foreign language and Duolingo featured large in my life in 2016 as I learned French. That too shows you how well you are doing and daily improvement which is measurable is very encouraging in any endeavour.
In the past I have enjoyed line dancing in London with a lot of OAPs who swore that the patterns of the dances kept their brains functioning well, as does exercise too of course.
I suspect jigsaw puzzles would be yet another form of brain training. I’ve been tempted by those again recently. Any form of puzzle, really.
I try very hard to watch my own thoughts and behaviour patterns to avoid habitual ruts and closed-mindedness, and I am always prepared to change my mind. My view is that everything changes all of the time, so why wouldn’t I move with that? Anything else is very aging. I don’t want an old brain.
I read anything and everything, provided it is worth my time. If I find I don’t care about what I am reading or I am not enjoying it, and it doesn’t have any improving qualities, then I stop immediately. That’s a waste of good thinking time!
I take complete control of what information I take in and believe, especially when it comes to news, the media and TV. My favourite shows fall into one of the following categories generally:
- Anything that provokes thought (which is almost everything in my world!).
- Drama which helps me think about human nature and about my own behaviour, and involves good writing or good acting, preferably both.
- All of the programmes which are so trendy now in foreign languages. I fancy myself as a bit of a linguist and although I will never master the Skandi languages, or even try, modern contemporary dramas with subtitles are favoured in a way I could never have imagined just five years ago. They are brain stretching because they require me to give 100% attention to what’s going on, to single-task. Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, French, Icelandic, Finnish. Who knew?
- For the same reason, I like foreign novels translated into English.
- The occasional quiz like University Challenge i.e. not the dumbed down ones. Eggheads perhaps, if only they were not so annoying! These are mainly a test of memory but they do add new general knowledge to your memory banks too. Memory is another part of the brain which works better with training. Trivial Pursuit is good for memory testing, nothing so satisfying as dredging up some info you thought you’d forgotten, usually something drummed into me in a science lesson 50 years ago!
- Documentaries are a relatively new interest. As a younger woman I would never have gone there, but learning about new places, people and things is now endlessly fascinating.
- Certain reality TV shows, for the “journey”. I am a bit snobbish about these and don’t do ones set in houses or jungles, for instance. But not only do I learn about myself but about other people and the journey shows relate to my work. If my clients want better output, then they have to improve performance. And the reality shows I like play into this, viz #Strictly.
- Programmes about real people I admire like, say, the Alan Bennett one during the 2016 Christmas holidays. Creative people mainly. And writers, for obvious reasons. Desert Island Discs offers the same opportunity, to learn about real people and reflect on what this has to teach me about my own life and about my work.
I am sure there are many more ways in which I nurture my brain, my intelligence, my learning and my thinking in ways which I would never have participated when a younger woman. I am now proud to wear the badge of a lifelong learner and grateful that I had an education, such as it was, that encouraged enquiry and gave me the grounding to pursue anything intellectual. That was perhaps my parents’ greatest gift to me, for which I shall be forever thankful.
What do you do to educate yourself and order your thoughts?