At any age, we can make our intellectual faculties more efficient. Beyond mnemonic exercises (or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval [remembering] in the human memory for better understanding.), which are sometimes boring, there are gentler methods designed to help us develop our full potential, improve our perception of reality and develop our creativity. Presentation.
Laptops, cell phones, electronic diaries, GPS systems… Technology comes to the rescue of our cerebral deficiencies, to the point where we sometimes have the impression of being deprived of our own capacities. Has it encouraged us to be lazy? Not only. Apart from the mental fatigue that comes with age, invasive stress contributes to atrophy our performances.
“Today, we need to know how to do things faster and better,” says Monique Le Poncin, a doctor of science and the founder of the “brain gym”. “It is no longer a question of training our memory, but of optimizing our brain in order to keep up with the demands of an increasingly competitive economic world. Some techniques tend to build up our grey matter in a body-building way. Others propose a softer gym. Far from being opposed, the different methods are complementary.
Mind aerobics: test and train yourself
As Mr. Jourdain wrote prose without knowing it, we all do brain aerobics to memorize elements of our daily lives, each one developing its own strategies: “To remember a telephone number, I try to find associations. For example, for “18.104.22.168”, I will link 44 to the landing during the Second World War, 1997 to the year of birth of my daughter and 83 to the department of Var”, says Sandrine, 35 years old, mother of a family. But it is possible to optimize this personal technique, especially with the help of the many guides on the market.
The vast majority of them recommend general tips and propose batteries of exercises. These exercises are first of all used to evaluate our immediate memory (for example, looking at a list of abstract words for thirty seconds and then reproducing them), our observation skills (reproducing a complex geometric figure in our heads), our sense of organization (redrawing the map of a neighborhood with its merchants). Sometimes, it is also a question of testing our capacity for reasoning and logic (completing a sequence of numbers). They also allow us to identify which tactics are naturally familiar to us: giving an emotional meaning to a sequence of numbers like Sandrine, representing them visually (on a telephone dial), singing them.
These mnemonics are used to train our mental alertness. By dint of daily exercises, our cerebral mechanics are unwound. Nevertheless, if it is ideal for the older ones who want to give breath to their mental capacities, this method does not modify in depth the way of apprehending a problem.
Mind training: for more efficient behaviors
To go further and acquire new behavioral automatisms, Monique Le Poncin has developed the brain gym, a method appreciated by the business world, students or seniors frightened by the spectre of Alzheimer’s. It is about learning a new way of perceiving, memorizing and organizing one’s thoughts, depending on the objective. To do this, its concept is based on the analogy with the functioning of the brain. Perception is fundamental. To sharpen this ability, one must first focus on a single objective (exercise: find the men with black shoes), without using reflection. In doing so, one must be wary of filters that distort perception (depending on one’s culture, one may see more executives than athletes) by focusing on the question (identify all black shoes).
Finally, we control our gaze by scanning the space from top to bottom and from left to right and by dividing it into blocks. In the same way, to memorize the fifty guests at a cocktail party, you will scan the assembly several times and form your own “associations” (blonds, men in tuxedos, etc.) depending on the goal (finding the man of your life or a future collaborator). But memorization implies respecting other golden rules: perform a “stop action” (suspend all other actions to focus on this activity), record what you want to remember and replay the film three times (first, look at the groups formed; second, visualize them in your mind; third, verify them in person).
This method aims at changing our bad brain procedures to acquire more efficient strategies. The most difficult thing is to transform this reprogramming into a reflex in any situation that requires our sense of observation or listening, our memory, our ability to explain ideas clearly…
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Mind mapping: enhancing creativity
Other techniques help us develop our imagination. Tony Buzan invented “mind mapping”: it is a tree of words put into images according to our inspiration. We write a word (or a drawing that evokes it) in the center of a sheet of paper laid out horizontally and then, without thinking, we associate other words with it, thus developing our imagined ideas in the form of branches that will themselves subdivide. Among the rules to respect: use a maximum of colors, vary the size of the characters and arrows establishing the connections between the words…
This tool, based on “radiant thinking” (by association from a central point), trains one to master one’s thinking processes and to generate more and more creative thoughts. It works like its distant cousin, brain-storming (free association of ideas), when it invites to play on all the registers of sensations in the words spontaneously emitted (use expressions evoking a smell, a touch, a taste, pronounce them aloud, visualize them). The authors recommend “mind mapping” to promote decision-making, memorization, to summarize a novel… And even to follow a live speech! Everyone will find the application that suits him best.
From muscles to grey cells
Mind Gym is an original technique which proposes to link the body’s movements to the cerebral functions involved in learning, thanks to twenty-six exercises. Some examples.
=> Walking on the spot while alternately touching the opposite knee with one hand. Practiced regularly, this “cross crawl” develops the neural networks, optimizes the communication between the two hemispheres and makes our reasoning faculties more fluid.
=> Doing the elephant: put your ear on your shoulder and, with the arm on the same side stretched out in front of you like a trunk, draw “lying eights” (mathematical symbol of infinity) by following them with your eyes. This facilitates attention and memorization,
=> Sitting, standing or lying down, cross your ankles and wrists, interlace your fingers and turn your hands inwards at chest level. While breathing deeply, stay one minute and then uncross your legs and join your fingertips. This cross-contact position is particularly helpful in increasing attention and clarity of listening.
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