Many people claim to have poor memories, struggle with problem solving, or find concentrating for long periods difficult. In truth these issues can be overcome with simple brain training exercises. Mental exercises are said to strengthen neural connections which over time can improve both cognitive functions, including memory; attention and visual processing, as well as executive functions including planning and problem-solving.
A variety of brain training games are available online which provide mental stimulation and assist in improving memory, and there are also some brain training exercises that you can perform when away from the computer.
Brain Training Games & Apps
1. Online games: There are many online games designed to promote cognitive health by stimulating the brain through mental arithmetic, tests, riddles and problem solving. In fact there is a suite of online flash games right here aimed at testing your IQ through a series of puzzles based on the legendary Krypton Factor game show. Rather than ban staff from accessing such sites, it may actually be beneficial to your business’s bottom line to have staff exercising their brains on breaks!
2. Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: This groundbreaking game was responsible for a whole new genre aimed at stimulating the brain. The game was developed in conjunction with the esteemed Professor Ryuta Kawashima, who apart from giving it a name, was instrumental in creating a game based on his studies to be used as a tool to help players train their brain through Sudoku puzzles, mathematics, word association and other techniques traditionally employed to improve and maintain mental fitness.
3. Big Brain Academy: Not to be outdone by its mobile sibling, the Nintendo Wii has a few brain training games for itself, chief among which is the now renowned Big Brain Academy. This multiplayer game emulates many of the features found on other games in this particular genre. Players are encouraged to engage for a short period of time on a daily basis. The game itself is designed to improve the brain’s functioning through sequential testing of cognitive agility in timed puzzles, arithmetic, calculations and word associations.
4. iPhone & iPod touch Brain Training: Ever since the launch of the App Store in 2008, Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch have revolutionised the mobile gaming world thanks to their intuitive and adaptive multi-touch interface. There are myriad games available on both devices in the same ilk as those more established on the likes of the Nintendo DS and Wii. While there may not be a game offering everything in one package, there are many individual brain training games available on the App Store, both free and paid alike.
5. Who Has The Biggest Brain?: There is at least one reason why Facebook shouldn’t be blocked from offices. Like other brain training games, this app uses four main types of test: memory retention and recall, analytical capabilities, visual awareness and mathematical ability. Like the games on this site, there is a competitive element where players can see how well their Facebook friends have faired.
Personal Brain Training
1. Name Repetition: Remembering people’s names at large social gatherings or business events can be difficult. A simple trick is to focus completely on the person that you are being introduced to and repeat their name back to them in your greeting, while still holding their gaze, to ensure that you memorise their image and associated name. Each time you speak to the person address them by name.
2. Mental Arithmetic: Short-term memory can be improved by solving simple arithmetic problems mentally. You do not need to be a mathematical guru to complete this exercise as basic addition and subtraction exercises will suffice. The objective is to remember the results from each sub calculation to get to the final result, for instance: 100 minus 25 (result is 75) plus 15 (result is 90) minus 50, which gives you a final result of 40. Simple, but highly effective.
3. Sentence Association: The inability to recall a sequence of facts or points during a presentation can be embarrassing and is more likely to occur when you are nervous or under a lot of stress. During your preparation make up nonsense sentences, where each word is the beginning letter of each fact, to help you remember a lengthy checklist of facts. For instance to remember all the planets in their sequence, school children are taught the following sentence: My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us New Potatoes (Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto).
4. Rhymes: Rhymes are incredibly useful memory tools. Well known rhymes, such as I before E except after C, have been used to remember the correct spelling of words and simple facts for many years. Making up your own rhymes to remember lists or facts will help you recall important information more quickly and are generally fun to create.
5. Mnemonic Aids: Devices such as images, formulas and patterns can also assist in remembering people or places. If you intend using a visualisation technique then ensure you use positive, amusing or colourful images. For instance to remember someone named Shelley, imagine a sea shell or for someone named Rosie, visualise a bright red rose.
6. Coordination Exercises: Switching hands to control your computer mouse, dialling a telephone number or even brushing your teeth with your opposite hand can strengthen neural connections and even promote the growth of new neurons. Simply put, these exercises if practised on a regular basis are said to improve the brain’s ability to learn, increase memory and sharpen your motor skills.
7. Light Meditation: Loss of concentration and focus is a common occurrence when dealing with excessive workloads or pressure to meet deadlines. The more you try and focus on the task, the less you seem able to complete it. Step away from the task for a few minutes. Focus on your breathing, taking slow and deep breaths, and visualise a calm landscape. This will relax you and enable to regain your focus.
8. Chunking Information: If you have large lists of information or numbers to remember, the easiest and fastest way of committing the data to memory is to arrange it into groups or subcategories. Studies have shown the short term memory has the capacity to retain information is units of seven plus-or-minus two, so ensure that each group contains no more than nine different pieces of information.
9. Loci Method: The Loci Method, which is thought to have been invented by the Greek poet Simonides, is a type of mnemonic memory aid useful in remembering and reciting speeches. The idea behind this method is to imagine a familiar room, route or building which has many distinctive locations. The next step is to create a list of all the points you need to remember and associate each point with each distinctive location. Lastly imagine yourself walking through the room, along the route or through the building and see each associated point in the different locations.
10. Mind Mapping: One of the most efficient and creative problem solving techniques is called Mind Mapping. This technique helps you to quickly identify all the associated issues and facts with complex problems. It also helps you to visualise different solutions and see if, and how they can address each issue. To create a mind map, the main title or issue is written on the centre of the page and enclosed in a circle so that it stands out from the subsequent text. The next step is to draw branches from the main title to define each of the primary issues or categories. From these categories create further branches to document the related facts and issues. Continue in this manner until you have exhausted all possibilities.
If you continually practise these exercises you should be able to see an improvement in your cognitive and executive functions over time, however to ensure optimum performance you need focus on your overall health. By following a well-balanced diet, participating in regular physical exercise, drinking lots of water to maintain your hydration levels and getting enough sleep, you will see a noticeable increase in your energy levels, as well as your information processing abilities, short term memory and concentration span.