Fitness for the Brain

Author: Ury Smirnov. Category: Let's be smarter. Date:01.03.2012, 11:00.

Today we’ll talk about the physical “growth” of new ideas. We’ll take a tour across Internet services, which help to develop the mental faculties. We’ll discuss the idea of a startup, the founders of which, with high probability, will get a chance to join the club of billionaires. 🙂

“The new idea – it’s just a new neural network”

The ability to overcome patterns of thinking and act creatively is not God’s gift, but a result of the habit of “loading” one’s brain with non-standard tasks. The famous American scholar and writer Steven Johnson, bestseller’s “Where do good ideas go from” author, mocks common notion that the source of ideas is a kind of “divine” inspiration, unpredictable flash of consciousness. Johnson investigated the mechanisms of creation of new in social, and nature environment (appearance of new species of living creatures is also a kind of innovation). “The new idea is a new network of neurons, the new configuration, which has never happened before” – emphasizes Johnson.

Nutritionists like to say: “Man is what he eats.” But even more people are what they think. Our brain is constantly changing physically: new neural connections appear, older ones weaken and disappear. This process depends on what we think day after day, with whom and on what topics we communicate, what books we read, what movies we look, what problems we are solving, etc. As a result, today, you will not come up with the idea which haunted, haunted, but never dawned a year ago – simply because the associative links, which could give rise to the idea at idle time weakened. But you are about to “overshadow” another idea – because the whole year, you are “grown” the appropriate neural network, hard thinking and working through the exciting challenge.

Back in 2000, experts at London University College have discovered the amazing manifestations of the so-called neuroplasticity* (the brain’s ability to change itself in order to become more efficient) while training London taxi drivers. As you know, they pass a rigorous examination on the map of the city to which they must prepare for several months. Researchers have tried to figure out how the remembering mazes metropolis affects the brain – and were amazed at the dramatic changes in the structure and size of major brain structures (especially hippocampus) of trained taxi drivers.

*The idea of “plasticity” of the brain was first proposed in 1890 by the American philosopher and psychologist William James, but the next half-century scientific community didn’t give it a value.

At the end of 2011 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in U.S. Department of Defense DARPA (the same that stood at the origins of the Internet) has launched a Narrative Networks program. Its goal is to establish what physical changes occur in the brain while listening to some stories, and how these changes affect people’s emotions, behavior, their propensity to certain judgments, the fundamental elements of personality. It sounds a bit scary, considering the departmental affiliation of the agency. But the results of the project, used in the “peaceful” purposes (i.e. for the rewriting of textbooks and retraining of teachers), could produce a revolution in education and in the resolution of a huge number of social problems and conflicts…

We are responsible for the quality of our decisions. Middle-aged people are mistaken in the belief that their brain is formed in his youth and since then has not changed. Even more dramatically is the misleading of the elderly that their brain will inevitably deteriorate – it is scientifically disproved lie. To the loss of clarity, vigor, flexibility, creative thinking leads our reluctance to burden our brain’s with a creative work (as well as the habit of overloading it with routine tasks), shifting the search for solutions to the other people, the lack of habit to expand horizons, to communicate with smart people, etc. If we want always to use our brain at full power – we should act exactly the opposite.

You can now carry out a trial workout with Brain Workshop program for playing N-Back, which improves the short-term memory of man and the so-called “Fluid” intellect, which determines the ability of people to think logically and find solutions to new problems.

And now – let’s begin to master new tools.

“Think fast, do it smarter!”

I sincerely wish that one of the following sites become your “home page” – and that you have opened it right after the morning exercises, or visit the fitness club. 🙂

Lumosity.com. This resource, that managed to attract 14 million users, is provided with a powerful scientific support: its scientific advisory board consists of neuroscientists and psychologists of the leading universities and research centers in the United States. The results of their researches are widely discussed at international conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. For example, in 2010 the specialists of the University of Berkeley found that a specially tailored service to the Lumosity games and exercises improve the management of emotions and weaken the habit to dwell on one and the same thoughts. Scientists at Stanford University have shown how regular classes at the service improve the speed and flexibility of thinking, verbal and visual memory. And psychologists at the University of New South Wales found that training with a service helps patients with mild cognitive impairment.

Among other clinically and experimentally proven results: faster problem-solving skills, improve sensitivity, understanding, memory for numbers, names, directions, increasing the concentration at work or while driving, developing the ability to distribute attention to the entire field of view (which is important for people working with large flows of information), increasing flexibility, productivity and creativity. Service provides personalized training programs, and allows you to monitor the growth of your abilities.

Mind360.com. This service is also not neglected by scientists: programmers and designers created games in collaboration with leading cognitive psychologists. The developers have focused on five main areas: improving memory, attention, logic, visual sensitivity and the so-called executive functions (developed executive functions, for example, means that you clearly know how much tip the waiter earned and when to order a taxi to the airport, as well as you can calm your appetite before dinner, ignoring the bag of popcorn).

Service offers a range of exercises specifically designed for professionals, aging baby boomers, the children and their parents, for beginners, experienced and advanced users. It creates a cognitive profile of the user, identifies its strengths and weaknesses, the program automatically determines on what skills he should longer work. Users can use the services of a personal trainer, ask a question to the staff psychologist on the forum, share experiences with each other.

Fitbrains.com. This service is that one which slogans we used in the title of this chapter. It much like the previous: the scientific support in five areas and training, 30 games and 15 training schemes, personal recommendations for brain training, assessment of progress, and so on. Also, the service provides interesting scientific and practical information. For example, tips, how to meditate, to live a healthy lifestyle, eat: the brain loves fresh air, aerobics, healthy sleep, and contained in oily fish, omega-3, which restores the ability of neurons to exchange of nerve impulses.

From self-control – to manage yourself

The subjective feeling of “I’m in great form of intellectual” – is often not the case. The man talks a lot, vigorously waving his hands, confidently interrupting opponents – and his brain is functioning at this time at low speed and generates a mediocre idea. A person would have to switch to another activity, a break – but for the decision he has no objective data.

A popular quote from Peter Drucker is “You can only manage what you can measure.” In the past, objective data about the brain could be obtained only in special laboratories equipped with expensive equipment. But at the end of 2010 the consumer neyrocontroller XWave for as low as $ 100, working together with the iPhone appeared on the market. With the shape slightly reminding headset headphones, it allows you to remove the electrical signals from the ear lobe, and the forehead of the owner and objectively reflect the two states of the brain: relaxation and concentration. You will be able to assess your condition, to analyze what your actions and how quickly lead to change – and deliberately try to enter into these states. Including – using the free application XWave, which allows, for example, to drive the ball on the smartphone screen, or switch music tracks without touching the screen only with the power of thought. 🙂

By the way, with each passing day there are more applications for smartphones and tablets that can help train the brain and generate ideas. For example, an application Einstein Brain Trainer HD is a set of 30 specific exercises to train the brain and for the daily tests to check the growth of intellectual abilities. Catching up in such applications, you can control the results in XWave.

And finally – online service to manage one’s life and development.

Mindforger.com – English-language service that will help to find a solution to any problem in life, from job change and weight loss – to find a partner and the meaning of life. For these purposes, you can use a “wired” in the service analytical tools popular among psychologists and businessmen: a model of effective questions GROW, setting goals on how SMART, SWOT-analysis, setting priorities, using the Matrix Eisenhower, the wheel of life balance Wheel of Life. The service also helps to store and structure ideas, plans, tips, documents, sketches, and provides a platform to communicate for professional trainers and their clients.

Do you want to earn a billion dollars? 🙂
Personal acquaintance with the above instruments has caused me to accelerated growth of the neural network, which, in turn, helped to see a business idea
lying on the surface.

What is missing today, for a growing infrastructure services “brain fitness”? Connection with professional activities of man, working in the embeddedness of business processes.

Why do people develop their quality: memory, attention, reaction speed, etc. – with the abstract games? As a rule, above all, to improve their competitiveness in the profession, to achieve new successes in their business. But the same qualities are developed during the work! However, it is not always systematically and efficiently. People often make mistakes in setting priorities, act contrary to the natural rhythms of their brain, overload themselves with a routine, and often useless work. In part, this may remedy by proposed Internet service.

First, it will analyze your practice and neyrocontroller data – and will tell you the optimal pace of work and daily routine. Second, it will automatically generate for you personalized exercises to develop memory, attention, creativity, etc. It will form them as from cubes, from your own development projects.

For example, if you are IT-specialist – the service will offer to train memory, remembering the new professional terms (and they appear on the IT-market literally every day). And if you teach a foreign language – your training material will be from the words in which you have made mistakes in your correspondence with foreign partners. If you are a writer or a journalist – the service will analyze your work pace and editing style, words and topics that you are “stuck” – and help you master the freewriting technique when thoughts are free to flow at a virtual “paper.” If you are an architect, the material for the daily “wake up” of creativity will be the 3D-model designs that you actually use in your projects. Etc., etc.

In my opinion, there is a vacant niche for a startup in a global scale. 🙂





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