Bounty of Brain Tips

As I was working hard to meet a book deadline, I collected a pile of brain tips to share with you. I couldn’t select one to write about since they all seemed interesting. Therefore, I am going to share a “buffet of tips” with you. Hope you enjoy the feast!

Brain tip #1: Improve your memory while saving money

If you want to increase your memory, what brain-training software should you choose? According to neuroscientist Peter Snyder of BrownUniversity, NONE of the 20 most popular programs on the market provide long-term results in learning and remembering. Snyder says the best memory enhancer is exercise. Next, a good diet and an active social life will measurably improve brain functions.

Brain tip #2: Observing other’s self-control will boost your own

“Monkey-see, monkey-do” was a popular chant when I was a child. Scientists have discovered that there is truth to this statement. Our mirror neurons often trigger mimicking behavior and sympathetic feelings. You feel itchy when the women you are talking to scratches her arm, you wince and feel a twinge of pain when you see others get hurt, and you crave popcorn when the people next to you are sharing a bag.

You can use this phenomenon to your advantage. If you want to improve your dieting willpower, hang out with someone who has no problem saying no. If you want to feel brave, get a boost of courage by talking with someone who loves a good challenge. When you are feeling down, go out with someone who sees the brighter side (even if their optimism is annoying). It’s much easier to shift your emotional state by using your mirror neurons than wrestling with your emotions on your own. Willpower isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Choose confident, optimistic friends and your will strengthens naturally. You are a reflection of the company you keep.

Brain tip #3: Cursing has a positive biological effect

Even if your language is generally clean, you may swear like a trucker when you stub your toe or bang your head. Psychologist Richard Stephens found that swearing actually increases pain tolerance. Women might be able to withstand twice as much pain when swearing, which could explain their outbursts during childbirth. Pain tolerance for men also increases when they grumble and shout profanities, which might explain why sports coaches cuss so much when psyching up their players. The next time your body hurts, turn on your pain blockers by swearing. However, the researchers caution that swearing in public may not be a good way to win friends and influence people.

Brain tip #4: It is easier to add ideas than to fix your brain

No matter how hard you try, you keep misspelling or mispronouncing certain words. If you try to remember the correct way to spell or speak, you get confused. According to Stanford psychologist Gordon Bower, common errors include spelling “wierd” for “weird” and “neice” for “niece.” Also, learned mispronunciations appear across the spectrum, especially if you heard a word mispronounced in the first place making it hard for you to ever remember how to say the word correctly. You can also slip into the habit of calling your spouse or child someone else’s name (hopefully, not the name of an old lover).

Instead of trying to correct yourself, you should learn new associations, like saying, “We are weird” or “My niece is nice.” How many times have you said to yourself, “I before e except after C”? Rhymes, games, and memorable connections are a great way to trick the brain into creating a new brain rut.

Brain Tip #5: Focus on the future, not the present

 I know this runs counter to my own writing on the power of awareness and presence as well as many other books and articles you’ve read. However, when you are in an emotional-laced discussion, it is sometimes better to keep your focus on the outcome you want to achieve. When your gut tells you to defend or shut down, pause, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “If I walked out of this conversation feeling proud of the results, what would have happened?” As Stephen Covey would say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” and keep the end in mind.

Brain tips 1-4 adapted from columns in Scientific American Mind and the Dana Foundation’s newsletter, Brain in the News (subscription is free for the newsletter).

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