Mental workout

Author: admin

Mukul Sharma tells you how to keep those grey cells ticking


Everyone will ultimately lose his or her brain at the end of their lives, sure. But that doesn’t mean we have to lose our minds too in the process while waiting. Unfortunately, a lot of us do because we stop using the brain. Which is a shame because it’s an organ that develops by interacting with the world through perception and action. Mental activity improves its performance and protects against cognitive decline. Even in old age it can continually adapt and rewire itself and grow new neurons.

Having said that, here’s a caveat: all that terrific sounding advice about how older people should immediately start solving  puzzles, do crossword, play Scrabble, cultivate a hobby, pick up chess or bridge, learn a new language, etc, is not going  to go anywhere in a hurry if you are not motivated enough or there’s no positive feedback. After all, if you genuinely don’t feel like speaking in Spanish suddenly or Sudoku repeatedly stumps you, you’re going to lose interest pretty fast. However, there are two avenues still open to anyone who wants to keep those grey cells ticking till the end of time. One’s called experimental action and the other, lateral or science-fiction thinking.

Experimental action forces the brain to learn things in a fun way. For example if you use a computer, switch to using the mouse with your left hand (or the right hand if you’re left-handed). In the beginning this is not going to be easy but then in the beginning learning to tie shoelaces was a major drag too wasn’t it? You’re going  to be surprised how fast your brain picks up the task as it stimulates cells to grow and connect with each other by laying down new pathways. You’ll have mastered it in a week max, if that. Similarly, try brushing your teeth with the opposite hand. Or soaping or dialling or whatever you’ve been doing with your dominant hand all your life. (Eating can be messy, so skip it.) Sometimes combining two senses or using one of them in an uncommon way can have the same effect. Lay out all the clothes you’ll be wearing after a shower and wear them with your eyes closed. Or if you’re sharing a meal, go through the process without talking, using only non-verbal cues to communicate.

Lateral thinking is another great way to continue the development of the cranium’s contents. Ask yourself  how many timepieces there are in the house. As soon as you total all the wristwatches and clocks and think you have the answer, think again. There’s probably a couple more in the car, one in the PC, another on the DVD, cell phone, etc. It’s estimated there are about 40 in every household. Discover the rest. Then discover  more questions like this one. For example, how many electric motors are there in the house? (About 40 again.) Similarly, think about how many  things that CAN’T be done fast. Here are two: making mayonnaise and putting on the car’s seat belt. Try to figure out why not and then think of more things.

Science fiction thinking is the best way to ensure you’ll be thinking way into the next century. Here are some sample questions: What would be the shape of chairs if our knees bent the other way? What colour would a chameleon turn if it’s placed on a mirror? How to tell if a piece of iron is a magnet if you’re in a bare wooden room without any clothes on? From looking for a nipple and learning to use it, to managing damage control on a goofed up pension plan, our brain has been on steroids since birth. The greatest enemy of increa­sing years is mental inactivity and lack of imagi­nation, usually resulting from a ennui-ridden angst of having been there, done that.

Sharma is the creator of brain game ‘Mindsport’, and consulting editor with The Times of India

Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age in June 2008