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Birney Imes: Let's get smarter in 2012


Birney Imes



Lately my wife, Beth, has been spending a lot of time with her iPhone. At first I figured she was texting or checking email or doing one of the hundreds of things people with iPhones do. Turns out she's playing the phone version of Scrabble with a friend in New York. 


The other day that same friend emailed her an article titled "31 ways to get smarter in 2012." 


Want to guess what suggestion #1 is? Play word games with friends. Figures. Research shows word puzzles can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia, according to the article. So don't feel guilty whiling away time with the popular smartphone game. Or for that matter working the crossword puzzle in The Dispatch. 


Here's more suggestions (direct quotes from article are italicized): 


Get more sleep. Research has shown your brain continues to process memories even after you've gone to sleep, so you can recall them better later. 


Eat dark chocolate. This is a self-improvement tip easy to embrace. Dark chocolate -- not white or milk chocolate -- is reported to have memory-improving flavonoids. It's also thought to reduce blood pressure and is a potent anti-oxidant. 


Check out iTunes U: A musician friend claims you can learn how to do anything on YouTube. Top-tier schools put their lectures online at iTunes U in everything from ancient philosophy to astrophysics. 


Download the TED app: The world's greatest minds gather annually at TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences to explore the cutting edge of issues like brain mapping and prenatal intelligence. You can download the app. or just Google TED. Check out this TED presentation: "Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude." 


Wipe the smile off your face: Experiments have shown that the simple act of frowning makes you more skeptical and analytic in your thinking. 


Get news from Al Jazeera: Too many of us get our news from sources that think like us. A 2009 study found that viewers of Al Jazeera English were more open-minded than people who got their news from CNN International and BBC World. 


Hydrate: All kinds of things go haywire when we don't drink enough liquids, headaches among them. Coffee and alcohol are both diuretics and can lead to dehydration. Lack of fluids forces the brain to work harder and may dampen its planning ability. 


Drink coffee: Despite being a diuretic, Coffee has its benefits. In a study, women who drank four cups of coffee a day were less likely to suffer depression than women who drank just one cup a week. Other studies have shown coffee to bolster short-term memory. 


Write by hand: If you remember how. Brain scans show that handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing. Bonus brain boost: It's easier to remember something once you've written it down on paper. 


On the subject of using our hands, the article recommends joining a knitting circle, learning to play an instrument and playing violent video games. Yes, you read it right. Various studies have found that videogames quicken reactions, improve multitasking and reduce hostile feelings after a stressful task. 


Zone out: Let your mind wander. One of the side benefits of exercising, gardening or an activity that doesn't require all your attention is that it allows you to daydream. A string of studies suggests that zoning out, especially when you don't consciously realize you're doing it, allows the brain to work on important "big picture" thinking. 


Become an expert: Learn something inside-out and new worlds open to you. Master one task you really enjoy and your brain will perform more efficiently when you do it. Chess whizzes, for example, recognize patterns more quickly than amateurs. Expertise is not innate--practice ... does make perfect. 


Write reviews on line: Anyone can be a critic on the Internet--and you should too. When you like or hate something, review it on Amazon, Yelp, whatever. Typing out your opinion will help you better understand your own thinking. Be reasonable, though, and do it in the spirit of constructive criticism. Online reviews can have a powerful effect on a business. 


Oh, and an idea I particularly like: Toss your smartphone. Constantly checking your email disrupts focus and saps productivity. And go offline from time to time by installing Freedom, Internet-blocking software that lets you concentrate on the task at hand. 


But then how do you play word games with a friend in another town? Here's a link to the story:


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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