The intricate neural network within our skulls shapes every aspect of our lives. Who we are at the core stems from the 100 billion neurons firing away day and night. Thankfully, we have more influence over our brain’s structure and functioning than science once realized. We can enhance our cognition, emotional regulation, and mental health through targeted training.
Neuroplasticity provides the key – the brain’s ability to rewire, change, and forge new connections in response to experiences and stimuli. Scientists believed our neuronal connections for much of history were fixed early in life. However, pioneering research in the 1960s revealed the brain continuously adapts and learns. The adage “use it or lose it” applies to our mental faculties. Exercising key brain areas strengthens existing neural pathways and sparks neuron growth. As muscles get stronger through consistent training, targeted brain exercises flex our cognitive and emotional strengths.
In this article, we dive into science-backed methods for “working out” your brain and choosing activities that genuinely captivate your interests, so practicing feels rewarding. Consistent improvements in memory, learning, attention span, planning, and impulse control become possible with consistency over time. Mental training not only staves off age-related decline but unlocks capacities that enable a richer quality of life. Read on to discover inspiring ways to harness your brain’s remarkable neuroplasticity.
Ways to Train Your Brain
Learn New Skills
Regularly seeking mentally stimulating activities activates brain cell growth and communication between different brain regions. Novel and complex activities are ideal “brain exercises.”
Learning a new language trains areas involved in speech production and comprehension. Picking up an instrument engages motor, auditory, and visual processing areas. Reading about an unfamiliar topic strengthens neural networks as you absorb and analyze new information.
Games and problem-solving activities also give your brain a workout. Puzzles like Sudoku and crosswords activate cognitive skills like logic, pattern recognition, and working memory. Strategic games like chess build systems thinking, planning, and mental flexibility.
Mentally taxing activities release neurotransmitters that enhance learning and mood. They also build cognitive reserve, improving your brain’s resilience to neurodegeneration from aging.
Make learning fun by choosing topics or skills you’re genuinely interested in. This intrinsic motivation will fuel your consistency.
Example: Lisa challenged herself to learn Italian over the past year. She used language apps, watched Italian shows, and did weekly lessons with a tutor. Immersing herself in intensive Italian training strengthened her language acquisition skills significantly.
Train Your Working Memory
Working memory is your brain’s capacity to process information and recall. It acts like a mental workspace or scratchpad, essential for learning, focus, and cognitive performance.
Luckily, targeted exercises can expand your working memory’s storage limits. These often involve memorizing increasingly longer strings of information.
Start simple, like memorizing a short list of words. Increase the number of comments over sessions to keep challenging yourself. To remember longer number strings, visualize placing them sequentially in familiar places.
Use working memory when learning new skills, too. Memorize vocabulary when studying a language. Recall chord progressions when learning guitar. Absorb anatomy terms when taking a sculpture class.
You can also find fun brain training apps with activities specifically designed to exercise working memory. Many involve repeating back sequences, remembering the locations of tiles, or recalling details from passages.
Strengthening your working memory capacity sharpens focus, reasoning, and your ability to manage multiple tasks.
Example: Noah used a brain training app for 10 minutes a day that had him memorize increasingly long number strings. After a month of daily practice, he noticed his working memory and ability to stay focused improved significantly.
Mindfulness practices involve focused awareness of the present moment. This builds neural pathways necessary for concentration while strengthening regions that regulate emotions and stress.
Meditation and breathwork are two standard methods. Start with short 5-10 minute sessions and gradually increase over time. Focus on the physical sensations of breathing. When your mind wanders, gently return attention to your breath. Visualization, mindfulness movement (yoga), and body scans can also help train present-moment focus.
A dedicated practice supports cognitive skills like sustained attention, information processing speed, and impulse control. It also reduces mind wandering and rumination on negative thoughts.
The benefits compound over time as mindfulness becomes an ingrained mental habit. Regular training enhances your baseline resilience and emotional intelligence.
Example: Ava started doing 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation in the morning and evening. After three months, she noticed improved focus during tasks at work and more regulated responses to stress. Building this daily habit enabled Ava to direct her mental energy better.
Developing our brains with intention, care, and consistency may be among the most valuable investments we can make in life. When directed wisely, a sharp, agile, balanced mind enriches our intellect and uplifts nearly all areas of life.
Thankfully, the brain’s incredible malleability through neuroplasticity means cognitive enhancement is within our control. We need to feed our brains with novel, multisensory stimulation and practice. By flexing our mental muscles regularly, we strengthen key neural pathways for focus, emotional resilience, complex thinking, and more.
Start where you are, begin small, and build momentum with consistency. Routinize brain training so it becomes an ingrained habit. Whether learning new skills, practicing mindfulness, or exercising the body cumulatively, these efforts deliver compounding cognitive benefits over months and years.
Remember that brain training requires patience yet pays exponential dividends long-term. Also, know there may be periods where focus drifts or progress stalls. Self-compassion is essential during these natural ebbs and flows. Stay consistent but flexible in adjusting your training approach based on evolving needs.
No matter your age or current mental faculties, there are always opportunities to expand your mind’s capabilities actively. See brain training as a lifelong endeavor to nourish your potential continually. Just as we make physical exercise a lifelong priority for the body, let us prioritize exercising the mind. Keep your brain engaged as it continues maturing across the decades. A regularly trained mind can create value, meaning, and transformation.