15 ways to think better
How many times have you felt your brain just switch off? According to James Thornton, author of The Brain Yields its Secrets, it isn't that we lose intelligence as we age. It's just that we need to improve our ability to think. Check out his 15 suggestions for stirring up those creative juices:
1. Time it right
Most older people think more clearly in the morning; most younger people, in the afternoon. Work out when your own best 'thinking time' is and set it aside it for your most challenging brain work.
2. Get a good education - but don't overdo it
Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton says that too much specialised higher education can damage your ability to think creatively. 'You don't become a great novelist by getting a PhD in creative writing.'
3. Listen to Confucius
Writing things down is the number one memory aid used by memory researchers themselves. As the Chinese proverb puts it, the weakest ink lasts longer than the best memory.
4. Kick start your day
Research shows that the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can help you concentrate. But if you're prone to anxiety, you're probably better off avoiding it.
5. Anchor new memories to established ones
'Think of your existing memory as a scaffold upon which to fit new information,' says cognitive researcher Denise Park. 'Don't isolate new information. Always relate it to something.'
6. Practise, practise, practise
Learning and repeatedly practising new skills appears to change the brain's internal organisation. A study showed that periodic training sessions helped volunteers in their 70s perform better in cognitive and memory tasks than they had when they were seven years younger. 'Practice really helps,' says psychologist Len Giambra. 'A well-practised older person will be faster than an unpractised younger person.'
7. Give your ideas a chance
Many of us are rewarded for our abilities to rapidly evaluate facts and make quick decisions. Creativity demands a much more leisurely and playful approach - a willingness to give 'absurd' ideas a chance.
8. Pick a stimulating profession and an intelligent partner
Intriguing studies from Poland suggest that people whose careers demand they exercise their intellect are more likely to sustain high levels of mental performance during their lives. Marrying someone intelligent may also provide you with ongoing stimulation.