With the mindless social media and reality television culture we live in today, it’s easy to feel like your mind is going to mush on a daily basis. But you can stop the cycle by adopting habits to follow to rouse and inspire your brain. Rankin McGugin, a research fellow in the Vanderbilt University Neuroscience Department, says there is a wealth of research proving your brain is continuously expanding and learning.
“It’s an old myth that a person is born with as many neurons as he or she will ever have,” McGugin explains. “We now see that adults can make new neurons throughout their lives. What you learn, how you learn it, daily experiences, even what you eat can impact adult neurogenesis.”
When it comes to stimulating your mind, a little bit goes a long way. There are simple things you can do every single day to essentially help you become a smarter person.
Read the Newspaper
Your parents might have been onto something; reading the paper first thing in the morning while sipping your coffee is a great way to get a grasp on the important things happening around the world. As an added bonus, you’ll have much more to talk about at social gatherings or work events.
Come Up With 10 Ideas Every Day
It doesn’t even matter what the subject is; coming up with an assortment of random ideas is a great way to exercise your brain. Think up interesting movie concepts, ways to solve a recurring problem in society, song titles and potential new start up companies.
McGugin emphasizes the importance of what you put into your body and how it affects your brain. “There is a whole line of research that looks at 'brain foods,' and how diet and dietary nutrients influence the birth of new neurons,” she says. “In essence, it’s all about antioxidants. They prevent damage from free radicals, so this helps promote new neurons forming. Green tea is arguably the best source of all antioxidants.”
Read a Book
Everyone complains about not having enough time to read books, but get creative with the little pockets of time you can find to squeeze it in. Fiction books allow you to understand characters and see things from their perspective, while non-fiction teaches you new things you wouldn’t ordinarily know about otherwise, like politics, religion or psychology.
Find a Productive Hobby
Whether it’s learning to read music, practicing a certain sport or something as simple as taking up knitting, if you’re actively working on something every day you’re actively acquiring new skills and learning a lot more than you think.
Explore New Areas
If you can travel to far off places, that’s great. But if that isn’t feasible, you can still discover new places and new things in your own neighborhood or city. By exploring foreign areas, you’ll meet new people, learn new facts and start to understand more about the world you live in. “The neurological benefits of living in an enriched environment have long been known,” McGugin says. “Research shows that exposure to stimulating environments enhances neurogenesis functioning and regulates emotionality.”
Surround Yourself With Smart People
If you hang out with other people who are smarter than you, you’ll find yourself feeling challenged and inspired even through simple conversations or coffee dates with them. Also, never be afraid to ask these people questions; if you’re humble and willing to learn, the possibilities are endless.
Take Online Courses
Just because you’re technically finished with school doesn’t mean you have to stop actively seeking out learning opportunities like online classes. Don’t spread yourself too thin; pick one or two and focus on them completely. McGugin says that new research in her lab has shown that learning promotes the birth of new cells. “Learning new cognitive tasks in a variety of ways improves the survival rate of neurons and promotes their longevity,” she adds. “Cells that may normally die over the course of development, are literally ‘saved’ by learning.”
Write Things Down
Write a blog, jot things down on your iPhone or even keep a handwritten diary. Keeping a record of what you’re doing and what you’re learning is a great way to hold yourself accountable and to set goals for what else you’d like to learn in the future.
Exercising your body will help grow your brain. "We all know that exercise is good for your heart and your beach body, but its also great for your brain,” McGugin tells us. “Exercise releases a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which helps relay messages from one part of the brain to another. There are about 40 million neurons in the brain, and most of these are influenced directly or indirectly by serotonin. So increasing your exercise increases your brain’s ability to talk to itself, making you smarter."