Although we sponge up more experiences, wisdom, ideas and empathy as we go through life, those brain treasures become harder to tap into with time.

In fact, by age 40 we start losing about 5 percent of our brain matter per decade.

Neuron firing slows, thought processing time slows in proportion, and our “working memory” slips. But while biology predisposes us to eventual mental decline, brain exercise has been shown to slow—even in some instances, to actually reverse—the cognitive degeneration process. Equally important, adding a few morning rituals (and physical exercise) to your routine at any age can benefit your emotional mindset as well as physical brain strength.

Here’s a one-month challenge: Start with any one of these mind-expanding routines, adding another each week. In total, each exercise takes about 15 minutes, but that’s a quick investment in your future:

  • A daily practice of gratitude. Keep a little journal (or use a “notes” app) to quickly jot down five things you are thankful for. Don’t worry about being grandiose! If you’re grateful to have your favorite coffee on the shelf or happy your puppy didn’t wee during the night, list it. The real message behind those simple entries are that you had enough money to provide what you desired for a morning beverage, and you are becoming successful in training a new pet. These hidden victories may be invisible to your conscious self, but your brain will make that connection and you’ll feel good about yourself and better about your life in general as a result.
  • Add 3 minutes of mindfulness. Start with one minute if you can’t manage three, but then add time as this mental exercise becomes more comfortable. Some call it meditation, some prayer, others just “letting the mind be in the moment” without directed thought or in-head chatter. Literally hundreds of studies show that this practice can lead to more self-control and improved memory because this simple exercise of controlling your thoughts to “empty” the mind can actually increase volume in those brain centers.
  • Sharpen your MacGyver instincts! Set a timer for three minutes and challenge yourself to generate at least one wild idea solution in that time period. First imagine some crazy sounding problem and then provide a solution. Write down your daily musings if you want to look back later for a chuckle or don’t, it doesn’t matter. This is a great way to train yourself to be more flexible in your thinking and it’s a fun exercise once you learn to let it flow and not edit it for plausibility too closely… at least, not in the beginning. As you practice, you’ll become better at problem solving in general.
  • Write. Anything. At. All. Try to fill a page at least, but don’t edit or judge what you’re writing. Quickly write or type whatever comes into your mind, from a letter to your boss to random thoughts about the fish swimming in your doctor’s fish tank.
  • Extra Credit: Pick an “increase your brainpower” app and do an exercise every day. This is too easy to be one of the four routines, but it adds a quick spark of fun and studies do show benefit from this form of adult mental play.

Take the challenge!

In only one month, studies have shown you actually can become clearer in your thinking and more aware of opportunity as you become more flexible in your thinking. It all translates into a happier state of mind, and who doesn’t want to start every morning with that payoff!

Post by Jody Glynn Patrick, Glynn Patrick & Associates

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