If you're older than 22, your brain may have already peaked. And if you're over 25, then your cognitive power is likely on the decline, according to most studies.
But fret not, because there's a bunch you can do to keep your noggin chugging along until a ripe old age.
Your brain craves information, just as much as a dog craves peanut butter. Getting new insights, solving problems, drenching yourself in the waters of intelligence, those are the things that it wants above all else. But the rewards aren't free. You have to keep your brain functioning at its full potential so it can process that information into something beneficial for yourself.
Here are some tips for keeping your brain in tip-top shape:
Mindfulness may sound like work, but when you get good at it the brain can rest. Make a pact with yourself to focus on what the body is doing during a task and stop thinking so much. With practice, you'll find your focus becomes much sharper and you'll be more present when dealing with other people. When you can operate from a space of clarity instead of confusion, you'll be much more effective.
Break Out of Your Pattern
When you were younger, your brain would soak up information like a sponge. It would actively seek out new information and drive your child-self every which way. As we get older, we tend to get stuck in our ways of thinking and patterns of behavior. Break those patterns and make efforts to learn new things. Curiosity is a sign of a healthy brain.
Play Brain Games
You love playing games, don't you? Everyone does. While you're connecting the dots, matching the puppies or even learning a language, your brain is chugging along and creating new neural pathways. You see, your brain LOVES to learn; it loves to make those connections that make you look smart.
According to studies cited in an article by Neuronation, “by training with brain games, individuals became more efficient at performing their everyday tasks of different complexity.” So go ahead and play some online games and stop feeling guilty about it.
Don't Listen to the Naysayers
Shh. Lots of people out there have a steady stream of negative self-talk that goes on. This can include mental discussions about worthiness or quality. Over time, these messages can zap your mental energies. But these same messages can also be like weightlifting for the brain. Work on replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Recognize the negative or unhelpful thought, avoid blaming yourself for it, then change it. This is a powerful exercise.
Establish Habits For Low-Function Stuff
When a habit gets imprinted on your brain, you no longer have to pay attention to it. It's an autopilot mode that the lazy part of our brain wants to really enforce.
This is why practice makes perfect. Trying to learn complicated skills until you can do them with little thinking is one of the things our brain does best. Exercise this part of the brain by learning something that takes practice. (For more information on this, Google “chunking.”)
Go All In
It's not enough just to be mindful if you really want to learn something. You need to have a curiosity for it. You need some enthusiasm. You need to go all in. Active pursuit of a goal triggers many of our reward centers. When we really want something and fully engage with it, you'll be sharper.
Learn Some Vocabulary
Language is something that's fundamental to our brains. Read a dictionary. Merriam-Webster works hard to present its readers with a new word every single day.
Learn how to use the word in a sentence and when to use that word compared to a synonym. Or, learn an entirely new language. Yes, it is possible for adults to pick up new languages, but you may need to seek out training material that's catered to adults.
Let It Rest
While your brain cries out for new information, there are times when you can get overloaded. There's only so much gas you can put in the car at any given point in time, and there's only so much information that your gray matter can wade in before it needs a chance to soak it up. Cramming never works.
If you feel like you can't take in any more information, you need to let your brain process it. Take a 20-minute power nap, walk around the building or do something that's in your habit list to let the new ideas settle into your brain.
The real secret sauce in staying sharp is to keep at it, just like exercising a little every day. One brain game, or one session where you're all in, one low-level function pushed into habit is not going to do it.
When you build on each small success, that's how our brains really grow. It worked when we were in school and it'll work today.