Sunday, May 07, 2006

How to Keep Mentally Active in the Summer

I find that after the summer vacation starts, there’s always this high you get once you realize that you won’t be doing homework for a long time. However, after a little while you find that your thinking is starting to slowdown, you feel mentally and physically lazy. Maybe you aren’t like this, but sometimes I’ll find myself watching TV for way longer than I expected, and not even enjoying it.

This sort of wasted time makes me feel like garbage. Not only did I not move for 3 hours (don’t laugh), but I know I could have used that time to do something more fun and constructive. Now, now, don’t get me wrong. I think that the summer is the perfect time to relax, but this doesn’t mean that our brains and bodies have to go to mush.

With this update I hope to give you some ideas on how to keep your mind active during a generally lazy summer.

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Puzzles and Games
The idea that Alzheimer’s disease can be staved off through crossword puzzles was always interesting to me. While the studies are not yet conclusive, the implication is reasonable. Keeping your mind active, even through games can help sustain your brain. I’ve recently tried Sudoku, after much resistance, and I like it a lot. However, the fun doesn’t stop there: Chess and other such challenging board games are good too. Don’t fool yourself though, playing Solitaire on your computer probably isn’t stimulating your brain much.

I remember when I was a kid, I used to love reading. Back then, I always read what I wanted: fantasy, science, some really nerdy stuff that I’m too embarrassed to mention, etc. However, once I entered high school, being forced to read very dry, dense novels almost crushed my passion. Recently though, I have rediscovered that reading can be invigorating, interesting and even intense (there’s some alliteration for you!). So go read what you want, just makes some time for it. It will increase your vocabulary and expand your mind.

Be Creative
I know that you are a very creative person. However, some of us haven’t exercised this part of our brains for so long that we have almost forgotten what it is like. Try anything: Learn an instrument, start drawing/painting, build something, write a story. Anything creative is fine. Just try it, even if you think it won’t work out. I’m sure you will surprise yourself. Recently, I started learning how to draw realistically. Frankly, before I would have said I am a terrible drawer. However, even after a couple weeks (on and off), my drawing ability as improved drastically after some instruction - Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

I drew my left hand recently, and I think it is crazy good. Remember to push through those challenging times, the reward is well worth it. Every time you reach a roadblock, keep in mind that your goal is right after it. Even the feeling of a sense of accomplishment is enough, but that extra creativity can make you smarter and give you more sex appeal. What more could you want?

I know I already wrote about creativity; however, I wanted to mention a different aspect of it through music. Recently I have started reaching a new sense of awareness with many things. It started when I was listening to Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (First Movement). Which has a profoundly sad back-story in my opinion.

There are a lot of subtleties to experience that we frequently miss or ignore. This applies to everything from music to just walking. However, I think music is readily accessible to everyone. So I’d like you to try playing a song that you really like and listen carefully. You may be surprised to see what you have been missing. Try it loudly, or by putting on some headphones. It will change the way you perceive that song.

Oh, this tip doesn’t work for the song "Check up on it" by Beyoncé. You just realize how stupid the song actually is – even though it’s so catchy.

Keep on Moving
Any sort of physical activity will do: basketball, soccer, swimming, going to the gym, shaking that groove thang, etc. Not only will this improve your health and get rid of that lazy feeling, I firmly believe that physical health is tied to mental health. I’m not exactly sure why; it could be that your body is no longer wasting its resources on the upkeep of an unhealthy system, it could be something else. The important thing to know is that when your body is feeling good, your mind will follow.

  • Play some stimulating games
  • Read an interesting book
  • Be Creative
  • Listen to music carefully
  • Keep moving
You can do as many of these items as you wish; one or all of them is fine. A general guideline that I think will help: Whatever you do, try to make it something divergent, something you don’t usually do. In that way, you’ll be using your brain in a different way, forming new connections. You’ll be amazed how such small things can change the way you think. So go for it! All those things you’ve been yearning to start: Now is the perfect time!

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