We’d all love our brains to process information faster and have better memory recall. While you might think doing crossword puzzles, math puzzles like Sudoku, or brain-training apps will keep your brain in top shape, Dr. Jennifer Jones, a psychologist and expert in the science of success, says there’s no real proof that these can improve your mental acuity. She offers some daily practices that can truly grow your brain:
Moving in your circadian rhythm is the best way to improve your brain power, according to Jones. When our sleep cycle is disrupted, our brain’s ability to process information and consolidate stress is inhibited. “Our cognitive abilities don’t work the way they should,” says Jones.
Fish oil, says Jones, helps to prevent stress. “Anytime we have stress, it disrupts our cognitive faculties,” she says. Fish oil helps dendrites (the branches that grow off the neuron) to grow. “In order to have the best brain functioning, we need to have lots of dendrites,” says Jones.
“Your brain needs novelty to grow,” says Jones. Stepping out of your comfort zone literally stretches your brain by allowing the dendrites to become like big trees with full branches rather than little shrubs. If you’re afraid of public speaking, for example, speaking out more in a meeting may be enough to push you out of your comfort zone.
Jones says the new experiences you get from doing something outside your norm is what helps your brain grow. “We label ourselves and identify in very specific roles, and when we stay in those roles, we don’t have any brain growth at all. Anything that makes us really comfortable is not really good for our brain,” she says.
If you’re like me and find math problems mentally exhausting, that’s exactly what you should be doing. “When you’re learning something new, and your brain is feeling like it wants to take a nap, that’s when you know you’re doing things that are growing your brain neurologically, not just maintaining it,” says Jones.
There’s plenty of research that shows meditation increases the grey matter in your brain. “If you’re not meditating, it’s like you’re eating junk food every day,” says Jones. While meditating accesses the unconscious mind, mind focus exercises access the subconscious mind, an area Jones says is pivotal to neurological growth–“80% of your decisions are made subconsciously,” she says.
The subconscious mind is often accessed through hypnosis, which is why smokers often achieve success with quitting after undergoing hypnotherapy. The unconscious mind is accessed while you’re sleeping, which is why Jones says the most important things we can do to improve brain growth happen right before we go to sleep. Before your head hits the pillow, think about what has impacted you the most throughout the day, either positive or negative, and allow your brain to process it in your dreams.