Blaze Your Own Trail

Do you use all of your brain power? Probably most of us could put more of our brains to good use daily. It’s estimated we only utilize a tip of the iceberg amount of our brain’s capacity. Yet most of us are okay with this. Why?

Is it because thinking deeply or doing complex things is more difficult? I suspect this may be part of the reason, yet we also realize hard things usually get easier the more we do them. Still, we drag our proverbial feet toward improving our mental fitness and increasing our brain’s capacity.

I’m drawn to the path of least resistance, yet I also have experienced doing what’s outside my comfort zone often becomes my most rewarding accomplishments. Yes, at times I failed or didn’t achieve all my goals. But when truly worthwhile, I kept trying. It’s scary to not succeed or do complex things that make us feel physically or mentally inadequate. It’s simply easier not to do them. But this only creates more problems now and leads to less cognitive ability later in life.

Remember the law regarding inertia? A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion stays in motion. A similar concept can be applied to our brains. The more we use it, the more we have to use. I’d encourage us all to go even farther and use our Whole Brain-not just the parts we’re used to or enjoy.

When we explore the areas of our brain not typically used often, they’re strengthened and function better later. If we only do simple things, it’s like walking in someone else’s footprints. It’s easier but we’re not blazing any new mental trails.

We all know people who remain mentally and physically sharp as older adults. Why do you think this is? It’s not simply their genes. The physical and mental exercise they did when younger allows them to have improved cognitive function as older adults. What are we waiting for? Let’s blaze our own cognitive trail and do some hard things!

Here are a few simple examples to get started. Take a look, then make up some of your own based on your own unique experiences and where you want to take your brain power!

  • Start with what you love. Take an interest and go farther. Love cooking? Try a difficult recipe or a new, more complicated technique. Love reading? Try something outside of your favorite genre, join a book club or simply read aloud to activate different parts of the brain. Take what you already love to the next, more complex level.
  • Do your opposite. Stretch the opposite side of your brain. Use your non-dominant hand/side (safely of course). Hate math and numbers? Do some mental math, balance your checkbook without a calculator, or try a numbers puzzle. It doesn’t have to be for a long time, but doing that which we don’t enjoy strengthens underutilized parts of our brain.
  • Push past what’s comfortable. We’ve all heard of the ‘wall’ runners feel when distance running. When they ‘hit’ this and run through it, they usually succeed at their goal or at least feel better trying. We can do the same with our brains. Do another problem, read a few more pages, try to grasp one more concept or play one more song. Don’t push yourself into a stressful situation, but do challenge yourself and ALL the parts of your brain.
  • Do it for your future. Whether it’s more independence later in life, enjoying loved ones, and/or simply desiring a better quality of life, how we use our brain now will impact how we can use in it our future. Don’t wait for tomorrow, do it now.

Doing hard things in life is well, hard. It requires more brain power, willpower, and physical and mental stamina. But the reward for doing so is the improved brain function we’ll have both now and in our future. Let’s push past comfortable by blazing a mental trail into a better cognitive future.

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