Cognitive scientists recommend that people keep their minds active if they want to remain sentient into their seniority. This is usually translated into doing memory tasks and daily crossword puzzles. But why look so far afield for ways to use your mind when opportunities are presented every day for insight, commentary, and thoughtfulness? Here are five ways to keep your mind - and the minds of those around you - sharp and constantly evolving. They will have the side benefits of making your life more interesting, productive, and sexy.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, December 7, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Taking life seriously: How to preserve your mind, raise intellectual children, be a constructive citizen, and get laid more
Practice using your brain cells is now known to extend intellectual life, so that popular programs emphasize cognitive games and memory tasks (e.g., memorize your shopping lists) in order to avoid senioritis. But why seek artificial kinds of mental stimulation when everyday life presents so many opportunities? Here are five ways to not only keep your own mind sharp, but make your children (and grandchildren) keen and your and their lives interesting.
1. Discuss TV shows, movies, and plays. When you leave the movie theater, are your first words, "Where do we eat (get a drink)?" Instead, say the most obvious thing you noticed about the movie, and wait to gather the other person's (people's) reactions to your insight. You may even have to prompt them to speak - they're so unused to expressing their thoughts. You'll be amazed how often they disagree, or have a totally different read on the film. Don't shy away from differences - explore them with a smile. "Isn't it funny how people respond so differently?" And the discussion is on - what facts about the movie led you to your individual conclusions, what about your backgrounds sensitizes each of you to different facets of the film, and so on.
2. Talk about the world with your family. When you read about prominent, powerful people, it's remarkable how often they sharpened their intellectual talons discussing world events around the dinner table or at other family gatherings. This includes every recent president (yes, even George W.! - remember how sharp his brother Jeb is), along with their major critics. Okay, so you don't want your child to be president or a political commentator or columnist. But you do want them to be able to understand and cope with the world around them. And how hard is it to take a headline from the local paper to talk about? - look at all the money you'll save not paying for enrichment courses you send kids to when they should be roller-blading. Finally, it has the side effect of making you think about the world.
3. Practice asking questions. I know, you greet these recommendations as more opportunities for you to aerate your views. Wrong! They depend on your ability to actually carry out a discussion, which in turn requires you to elicit thoughts from your children, mate, and others you know. To do this, you must develop the ability to listen based on an actual eagerness to understand what's on their minds. Thinking, interacting, learning: all depend on how well - how sincerely - you receive thoughts and information from others.
4. Think about people. It's good if you can accept others - God bless humility and forgiveness. But these virtues are in addition to being aware of what your spouse, lover, children, friends are like - how they think, what concerns them, what they fear, what their goals are, how they are similar to or differ from you, what they are like as human beings. If you are lucky, you can discus these things with your significant other. You might want to write such thoughts down in an informal journal or word file (destroy them if you wish). No mental exercise is more challenging emotionally or intellectually - or more rewarding. Not only will it improve your home life, it will make you a better boss, employee, and co-worker and improve your business dealings. Just make sure when you figure something out about someone that you act in accordance with your insights.
5. Remember: thinking is fun. Reading this list may already be making you anxious. Maybe it reminds you of literature and psychology classes and organizational retreats you attended - and hated. But this is your life - you control the agenda, the pace, what you do as a result. Taking ownership of your mind is like following the maintenance procedures for your expensive new automobile or espresso machine. Only now you are dealing with the greatest gift life has given you - what makes you a sentient, constructive, immortal human being. And, oh yes, it'll improve your love life (picture the cartoon by Hardin of Rodin's The Thinker eyeing the lovers in Rodin's neighboring statue, The Kiss, and thinking, "So what's he got that I haven't got?"). Now that's worth thinking about!