|Georgia O'Keeffe, Blue Flower, 1918|
One hour of increased brain activity via innovative thinking or experiencing new stimuli can make you smarter, more energetic, more creative, more sociable, and more open to new experiences and ways of thinking. The key ingredients are to be open to new experiences and to make changes in previous ways of thinking about these experiences. Here are some of the endless numbers of activities that can stimulate your brain.
1. Don’t allow yourself any dead time. While waiting (in line at the bank, a coffee shop, a restaurant, the grocery store, or waiting for someone to pick you up, or a show on TV to start), ponder things, calculate, and memorize. You can, for example, memorize digits of pi (you can get to 50 in a matter of hours, 200 in a matter of weeks), try to remember all of your high school teachers' names, memorize prime numbers, get good at reciting the alphabet backwards, learn the Greek alphabet (forwards and backwards), remember how many movies Tom Cruise has been in, or try doubling numbers (1, 2, 4, 8, 16…) until they become challenging. You can even try doubling numbers visually, as in picturing one simple object (like a marble), then two, then four, and so on. (A good way to do this is to imagine the objects in a grid or on a circle.)
2. Reflect on your own belief system. Every decision you make in life is based on your belief system. To open your mind, start to list your fundamental beliefs, and for each one ask yourself why you believe it. Then ask yourself whether you could imagine being you if you didn't exactly believe it anymore, but believed something marginally different. Then marginally different from that. Pick a belief a week and work at it. Ask some really good friends what they believe and how they acquired their beliefs. Understand this: your belief system is absolutely unique to you; your friend's belief system is unique to them. An open mind is comfortable with differences and with using a variety of lenses to view an issue.
3. Push the limits of your body. By using your body in new ways, you can learn more about yourself and expand your mind. Walk backwards through your whole house for a completely new spatial perspective (being careful not to trip over anything or fall down the stairs). Learn to do a handstand, backflip, or a kip-up. Take martial arts classes. Try some hip-hop classes or learn a breakdance move. Can you touch your toes? Work on it. Try skiing, snowboarding, jet skiing, hang gliding, parasailing, surfing, and anything else that pushes the limits of your comfort zone! Learn to spin a pencil around your thumb, solve a Rubik's Cube, or try cup-stacking]]. Don't know what something is? Look it up!Learn to juggle. A great workout for your brain, eyes and reflexes. Are three balls too easy? Try four, or better yet, five. If you get extremely good, try 10! 20! 50! Think it's impossible? Keep an open mind. Try contact juggling for a different challenge.Try a new physical sensation. Take a dip in a glacial lake or a hot spring.
4. Stimulate your eyes. Go to a cheap or free art gallery. Even if you think it's bad art, it can still be thought-provoking and introduce you to people with different tastes from your own. Watch movies or shows in genres that you don't normally explore. Immerse yourself in cyberpunk, horror, anime, documentaries, stand-up comedy (Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Louis CK, etc.), or anything else you haven’t gotten around to trying (and potentially loving).Watch shows that you discriminate against. Do you hate (or think you’d hate) the O.C.? Make a point of trying it once or twice. Do the same with a soap opera, science fiction, or fantasy show. Watch the Spanish channels, religious channels, the Discovery, Travel, or Disney Channel, even if only for a few days.Try not watching any TV for two weeks. Fill your newfound free time with new and exciting activities.
5. Stimulate your ears. Listen to music you haven't had much exposure to, such as classical, new age, zouk, rap, hip-hop, drum and bass, dubstep, trance, metal, jazz, exotica, polka, international, mariachi, country, or Afro-blues. You don't have to like it at first, but if you keep an open mind, you can still find it interesting. Listen to a radio station you typically don't listen to or use an online music player such as Pandora that will expose you to new artists based on your proposed interests.
6. Learn about different people and lifestyles. A great gateway into this is Wikipedia, where you can read articles on a wide variety of practices, such as BDSM, swinging, Wicca, Christianity, the Green Party, conservatism, communism, anarchism, Sunnis, discordianism, Tutsis, and the Amish. Consider how many members they have worldwide. Volunteer with an organization that works with a community of people you are unfamiliar with.
7. Learn something new. Take unusual classes at a community college or community-based educational program near you: pick up a catalog and open your mind to learning things like art history, basket-weaving, first-aid training, or business ethics. Your local university likely offers easy survey courses with no prerequisites, such as meteorology, nutrition, or Japanese pop culture. You could even find unexpected topics such as Vampires and Werewolves. Learn different languages (Norwegian, Esperanto, Japanese, French, Arabic, Italian, Finnish, Saami, Chinese, Navajo, etc.), especially those with roots very different from your own. The internet is a great place to find obscure classes cheaply or for free. Look for free lectures on YouTube or KhanAcademy.org. Join clubs based on things you have no knowledge of. A Scrabble club, investment club, folk dance club, etc., would not only teach you something new, but also make you new friends.Build ridiculous things like radios, legos, robots, and trebuchets.
8. Improve your literacy and numeracy. Learn how to write or speak backwards. (Leonardo DaVinci, the quintessential Renaissance man and a jack-of-all-trades, wrote all of his notes backwards so that they could only be read with a mirror.) Or try writing upside down, or reading backwards. None of these is as hard as it might seem; you'll soon get the hang of it. Learn to read and write any language that you don't know. Here are a few ideas: Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, Aramaic, Mandarin, Maltese, Cantonese, Russian, Finnish, Latin, Welsh and Dutch.Learn to count in a different numeral base than the one you're used to (chances are you're using decimal), use binary (base 2), octal (base 8), duodecimal (base 12), hexadecimal (base 16), vigesimal (base 20 used in Mayan numerals) or another numeral system. When you start getting familiar with basic operations, try converting from one system to another. Next, mix different systems in a single operation. Throw in some of this or that and one day you might be able to multiply rot13-encoded hexadecimal by xor'ed vigesimal.Learn classical cipher schemes and algorithms. Encode and decode using the Vigènere cipher, a Bible cipher, or your own code.
9. Explore other cultures and religions. Start by trying new foods. Have you had sushi? What about Vietnamese? Mediterranean? Indian? Native-American? Cajun? Have you ever tasted a boba? A shot of wheatgrass? Have you smoked a hookah or eaten durian or the Filipino delicacy, balut? While you’re at it, attend churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, trade union meetings, and meditations.
10. Face your fears. Are you computer-illiterate? Putz around on a computer for a while. Don't be scared. You won't break anything. Learn a programming language. Nothing is as hard as anyone makes it out to be. Build your own computer. Think it's hard? You'll never know until you actually do it. It's somewhat ridiculous how many how-to's there are on building a computer.
11. Open your mind to other political or religious points of view. You may find it hard to stomach at first, but in time you might find a grain of truth in what your nemesis has to say. Even if you don't, you'll be able to argue with one of "them" much more intelligently. Here's a hard but effective method: take a controversial issue that you have a strong opinion about. Write an essay defending your opinion with as much evidence and actual citations as possible. Then, write another essay defending the other side, again with evidence and citations, considering that side's arguments seriously and being scrupulously honest and putting in as much effort as you did the first essay.
12. Try blocking out one of your senses. Do everyday things, like cleaning up your room or using your cell phone, with a blindfold. It puts things in perspective when you are forced to "create" new ways of doing things you've already figured how to do. You could also try using a different part of your body to do things, like write with your teeth or type with your toes.
13. Play strategy games. Strategy is the poetry of the mind. Bridge, checkers, chess, shogi, and Go are all great ways to exercise your mental flexibility. Doing jigsaw and/or brainteaser puzzles will also help you subconsciously think of things in new ways, and you may surprise yourself at how talented you are at certain types of puzzles!
14. Travel. Becoming an outsider really exposes a mind to new things. You can even do this travel inside your country or state! How well do you know your own city? Have you tried using only a bike, or only using your own two feet and public transportation? (Ever considered what it's like if that was the only means to get around, say if you were physically unable to drive around? Being a pedestrian once in a while will make you a better driver.) Go off the beaten path!
15. Give some thought to the mysteries of the world. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Or think about places like the Bermuda Triangle: why do so many people disappear? Check out books and sites on these strange topics.
16. Learn to play a musical instrument. Piano is very popular. Or try learning the African drum Djembe. You do not need to have the best instrument to start learning. If you have a friend that can play a certain instrument, he/she will surely help you start. If you enjoy it, you can join a class.
17. Talk to someone you wouldn't normally talk to. Chat up your bus driver, a protestor, someone on his or her lunch break, a homeless person, or anyone else you might not otherwise give much thought to. Everyone likes to tell the story of their life.
18. Spend a whole day without ever checking what time it is. Wake up when you wake up and go to bed when you are tired. You'll see that a day is a lot longer than you thought and that the sun still moves without those little numbers ticking. What separates the real from the artificial?
19. Learn to draw and paint from life. Life drawing will change the way you see the world. Practice is the best way to get good at it. Look for free online art lessons and books including a series by Andrew Loomis. Local groups sometimes get together offline for a Sketchcrawl or other "plein air" trips. Treat yourself to a pocket sketchbook, sketching set and a good pen or just improvise with free ballpoints or pencils and the backs of old printouts.
20. Browse something that you are not familiar with the internet. Read random topics on Wikipedia. Type in a random work in a search engine and see what's happens. Try sites such as Stumbleupon and Digg to find different stuff on the web. Browse eBay. Look up recipes.
Hardening of the categories causes art disease!