A major part of the joy of life arises from having an active brain. It’s not simply the particular pleasure of cerebral games, but much of our daily life is dependent upon our general thinking skills. If our brain deteriorates we become more limited in what we can do and we become increasingly dependent upon others.
You keep your brain active by using it. The following provides a scroll of some general tips:
It is also important to eat reasonably well and to get some physical exercise. See Exercise, Diet, and Living Habits.
Some good sites to help with general brain health:
Don’t be under the illusion that playing games alone is going to keep your brain active. Or that the occasional crossword puzzle or brain trainer app is going to offset Alzheimer’s and keep you in tip top mental condition. No more so that eating a couple of pieces of fruit a day implies a healthy diet. However just as fruit can be part of a healthy diet, so can games be part of a healthy mental diet.
The most important thing with regards playing games is to find one or ones that you enjoy. If you play certain games because you feel you ought, but don’t enjoy, you won’t keep them up for long. Though I would encourage you to try new games and give them a go. You may find a game you had previously looked down on or otherwise assumed you would not like, that you actually do.
There are many games that have a strong mental component, probably most. Some are listed below together with links. But don’t take this list as anything like comprehensive. Any game you play which you need to give some thought to is helping keep your brain active.
Joining a club relating to a game you enjoy significantly increases the mental benefits. It encourages you to keep improving. It gives you more variety of opponent and thus forces you to be more flexible. And there are additional benefits arising from interactions with other members of the club.
With regards playing games as part of your mental health it is important not to get obsessed with winning or being the best. In terms of general brain health it is the taking part that matters. Of course you should be seeking to win when you play, or looking to complete the game. It is by trying to do so that you keep focussed on improving, which is an important part of keeping your brain active. However becoming obsessed about winning will almost certainly be counterproductive. The following are some of the consequences that frequently result from an obsession with winning:
- We avoid certain challenging circumstances because we don’t want to risk being beaten.
- We put other people off from playing with us, and thus lose some of the opportunities arising from playing a range of different people.
- Our emotions get in the way of analysing our performance and looking for ways to improve.
- We are never satisfied, unless in the very rare case we are literally the best in the world, because there is always someone who is better than us.
The following are some notes and links for different games:
A range of benefits. It is a game of strategy and tactics, and requires and helps develop high levels of concentration. Chess should be played with a human opponent, though there are many computer versions to enable you to get a bit of practice. However I would strong recommend that if you have an interest in chess that you join a chess club and play regularly against other people, rather than simply lock yourself away on a computer.
Chess is a game you are unlikely to reach the top in. There is always someone better than you. But when you go for a jog you are not looking to be the best runner. You are out getting some very worthwhile exercise. So it is with chess. Make the effort to be able to give others a reasonable game, but don’t get upset when you are beaten.
Note that if you feel chess is too much for you, you can try simpler games such as draughts, also known as chequers, and Nine Man Morris.
There are many card games, and those played against other people generally require some degree of mental workout. Your memory is involved, as may be some basic understanding of probabilities. There may also be some strategy and also some degree of being able to read the body language of your opponent or opponents.
Bridge in particular is a card game where you need to make extensive use of your brain, and joining a bridge club would be very worthwhile assuming you enjoy the game.
Poker is another card game which requires significant mental abilities, with a good understanding of probabilities being essential, and with significant additional interpersonal skills being of great benefit. Don’t however get drawn into playing poker for high stakes. There will always be others waiting to take you for a ride. And be very very wary of playing with strangers – your early good luck is almost certainly a scam.
Crossword puzzles are readily available either in newspapers, magazines, crossword books, online and are a general good way of keeping your brain active. There is a wide range of different types of crossword puzzles of differing difficulty. Don’t struggle with crosswords that you can’t make much progress on. Do ones that you can make progress at but are not necessarily too easy. If you regularly do a particular type of puzzle you will find yourselves slowly getting better at it over time.
As with crossword puzzles Sudoku puzzles are readily and widely available in newspapers, magazines, Sudoku books, and online. They also vary in difficulty. As with crossword puzzles don’t struggle with puzzles you can’t do, but do look to move on from those you find easy.
Having a good vocabulary helps you think better. If you had no language you would not be able to think in any meaningful way, and there would be little pleasure in life. The larger our vocabulary the wider and more subtle our range of thoughts. We can and should continue to develop our vocabulary through life. Word games help us do this. Not only does it help us remember more obscure words we have lurking in the back of our minds and brings them more to the fore, but we pick up on the words others use.
Playing board games, particularly games with other people, is a good general way of keeping your brain active and also helps maintain or improve communication and social skills and also focussing skills. Whilst you should make the effort to win you should not be overly obsessed with this. It truly is the playing that matters, not the winning. The following are some suggestions:
- Scrabble: good for your vocabulary and bit of mental math.
- Monopoly: helps with thinking in financial terms and with general decision making
- Mastermind: general logical thinking
- Cluedo: general deduction
- Trivial Pursuit: a general knowledge quiz game. Pick up new facts and seek to remember them for the next time you play.
- Go: a general strategy game.
There are many many others and you should seek to play a variety of games, though there’s nothing wrong with regularly returning to favourites. There’s also nothing wrong with learning to get better at given games. Look up winning strategies and try them out. There’s nothing ‘cheating’ about this, it’s just seeking to improve your brain. But to re-emphasise, winning is not what is important, and if you are a sore loser people won’t particularly want to play with you.
There are many many different types of computer and video games, and doing many of them can be good for your brain in moderation. However you should not get fixated on these, and they can give you a distorted view of life.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
You should be continually learning. It is a great way of maintaining an interest in life, keeping your brain active, and potentially meeting new people. It will also give you more and better job opportunities.
There are many ways of learning new things, including:
- Take local adult learning courses. You can find out about these in your local library, or simply do an internet search for adult learning courses. [Just stick ‘adult learning courses (place)’ in your browser, where (place) is your local town or area.]
- Take on-line courses of which there is an ever growing number. Some sites are given in the links on this site.
- Buy or otherwise obtain, from a library for example, teach yourself material.
- Find a private tutor.
- If it’s a physical skill, just keep practicing, albeit learn theory as well so you can focus your practicing in an effective manner.
- Depending upon the nature of whatever you wish to learn observe those who are already expert and seek to copy or emulate them. If appropriate immerse yourself in an environment within which you get learning opportunities.
- Take advantage of any training opportunities that might be available through your work.
Some ideas for what you might learn include:
The following are a few tips when learning a new subject:
- Try to ensure you have got the best resources or learning material you can reasonably get hold of. Good learning material can significantly speed up your learning process.
- If self-studying plan a regular time to study, and choose a place conducive to studying
- Don’t kid yourself that you can learn or study just as well whilst listening to music with words. Music without words is likely to be less distracting though not as effective as studying in silence. However if there are lots of other distractions around you, listening to some classical or instrumental music can help you concentrate.
- If you are reading a book for information or knowledge then taking notes as you go along will help you focus on what you are looking for and help you remember. Either note down key points, or represent key ideas in some visual way. When making notes be sure they are readable and make sense. There is little point in taking notes that you are unable to read or understand later.
- For almost any subject there are a few critically important concepts which once you have grasped provide the scaffolding off which most of the rest of the subject matter hangs. These are your mental models for the particular subject matter. Be continually looking for how best to summarize key ideas and how best to relate them both to each other and to other ideas you already know. Look to represent key concepts in a diagrammatic, visual, or mindmaping format.
- Start with basic ideas before trying to tackle more complex ones. If you don’t master the basic concepts first, you will rely on memorizing more advanced concepts rather than understanding them. You will then end up misunderstanding and misapplying the concepts.
- Be an active learner by asking yourself questions that you can seek out the answers to as you continue your learning. Don’t be concerned about the fact that you don’t understand something but see it as an opportunity to better understand. There is a lot of satisfaction in finding ourselves understanding something we previously hadn’t.
- If you are trying to remember information then you need to regularly review it and remind yourself of it. Typically you should space out your reviewing of the material with initially closely spaced reviews, and then more spaced out ones. Example spacing might be 1 day after, then 3 or 4 days after, then a couple of weeks, and then a couple of months later. If in reviewing it you find you have largely forgotten it, then you might need to reinstate more regular reviews.
- A very good way of learning something is to try to teach it. Even if you are not intending to actually teach it, prepare material as though you were, and ask yourselves questions that you imagine a student might ask.
With respect to learning a new skill:
- To learn a new skill you generally need to be pushing at your limits. This means you will be continually ‘failing’. This is a vital part of learning and improving. If you are not frequently failing then it is likely you are not trying hard enough and you will not be learning nearly as effectively as you could be.
- If you are trying to learn a skill, then read up on or get taught the best way to do it, then practice, practice, practice, with focused practice sessions and pushing the envelope as you do so. Get a mentor or someone who can help ensure you are not practicing bad habits. It is important to get frequent feedback which you use to continually improve your performance.
- When developing skills look at how masters do it. Then try to copy them. Compare your outputs with theirs and look at how to improve.
- Have patience when learning a new skill. Keep practicing and you will learn it. If you expect to magically learn it with little effort you will be disappointed. If however you put in the effort, and keep putting in the effort, and keep going despite obstacles and sometimes slow progress, you will succeed in getting very good.
- Mentally practicing a skill, rehearsing it in your mind, contributes to your getting better at it.
- Improvement is often not a linear response to our learning or practice efforts. Often we are seemingly making no improvement at all, before we then we make some quick and significant improvements, get to a new level, and then seemingly level off again. Do not get disheartened during the periods of seeming lack of improvement. Without you continuing to learn or practice during these periods you would not make the dramatic improvements later on.
[Alternative version of Quiz with Scoring]: Requires ActiveX enabled
Reminder on taking tests: It’s not about trying to prove you already know it, it’s about learning.
List 6 or more general ways of keeping of your brain active.
List 3 or more ways that an obsession with winning, and expressing significant displeasure at loosing, can be counterproductive with regards helping keep your brain active.
If you had lots of spare time, list out about 6 things you’d like to learn.
Which of the following is closest to being true:
a. When learning a new skill we can expect a steady increase in our performance. The more effort we put in, the better we will be.
b. When learning a new skill our seeming improvement will be uneven. Sometimes we will seem to be making a lot of progress, at other times we may seem to be making no progress at all or even seemingly getting worse.
Should you heed the statement: “If at first you don’t succeed, give up and try something else.”
List some general tips for increasing your chances of succeeding when studying some new topic.