Ingenious Hacks for a Sharper Mind

My time in quarantine is starting to feel like Groundhog Day, each day repeating itself in an endless loop. Same environment. Same people. Same food. Same view from my window.

Last week, I became aware that all this sameness has dulled my senses. During life before COVID-19, my days were stimulating. I alternated time at the computer with breaks to meet clients, drive to the office, go to the gym. Today, I don’t pay close attention to my environment. I don’t need to because nothing changes. Today is just like yesterday. 

This too shall pass and life will be different, in unpredictable ways. We will need resourcefulness and creativity to find solutions to the battered economy, the loss of jobs, the threat of a resurgence of the virus. My current skillset, cultivated to help me thrive in a world that was, needs sharpening to address the challenges of the world that will be. 

As I often do, I turned to history to learn from people who lived before me. I discovered that those who thrived after periods of isolation, Nelson Mandela, for example, spent their solitary time focused on what they could control, and developed skills and ideas that served them once they were free.  Mandela decided that in order to negotiate more effectively with his captors, he needed to speak their language, so he taught himself Afrikaans while imprisoned.

As a student of human potential, I understand that on a biological level what these people were doing was stimulating their brains to develop new neural pathways. Our brains are built for efficiency, so we develop a skill that works in one situation, and will apply it over and over again, in an attempt to achieve the same level of success. Over time, we develop habitual ways of thinking which are a collection of these efficient processes. 

However, have you ever heard the saying “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” This is what happens in our brains over time as we apply the same coping scenario to every new situation. Cultivating new neural pathways, however, makes the brain more resilient, more able to deal with change, more able to see new possibilities. 

To make sure I am poised  to take advantage of opportunities that will present themselves when we are free to move about in the world I began asking myself the question: How can I develop new neural pathways now that will help me in the future?

Here is a list of what I came up with in response, little things I do daily or weekly to keep myself sharp and engaged and that might inspire you to create your own:

Write lists with opposite hand. (I do this with grocery lists, and notes to my kids.)

Finish a hot shower with several minutes of ice cold water.

Brush teeth while balancing on one foot

Part hair on the opposite side. 

Listen to a piece of music my kids recommend.

Record a FB live and watch it. (This one is scary!)

Cook something unusual.

Go for a walk around the neighborhood and notice something I haven’t seen before.

Think of a question I’ve never asked.

The good news is that thinking differently isn’t hard, it just requires a bit consistent attention. What small thing can you do on a daily basis that will help you in the months to come?