Monday, January 16, 2006

Eleven ways to think more clearly

The following is what I found for methods to help you think more clearly.

1. Time it right. Most older people think more clearly in the morning; most younger people, in the afternoon. Figure out your own best "thinking time" and reserve it for your most challenging brain work.

2. Listen to Confucius. The number one "memory aid" used by memory researchers themselves: Write it down. As the Chinese proverb puts it, the weakest ink lasts longer than the strongest memory.

3. Anchor new memories to established ones. "Think of your existing memory as a scaffold upon which to fit new information," says University of Michigan cognitive researcher Denise Park, Ph.D. "Don't isolate new information out in left field. Always relate it to something."

4. Practice, practice, practice. Learning and repeatedly practicing new skills appears to change the brain's internal organization. A study showed that periodic training sessions helped volunteers in their 70s do better on cognitive and memory skills than they had when they were seven years younger. "Practice really helps," says Len Giambra, Ph.D., an emeritus psychologist at the National Institute on Aging. "A well-practiced older individual many times will be faster than an unpracticed younger individual."

5. Give your ideas a chance. Many of us are rewarded for our abilities to quickly evaluate facts and make a quick "go or no-go" decision. Creativity demands a much more leisurely and playful approach -- a willingness to give "absurd" ideas their due.

6. Expose yourself to multiple experiences. Creativity often boils down to the ability to adapt solutions from one domain to another. Velcro for instance, was inspired by burrs that stick to your clothing. The "pull-tab" top on aluminum cans was originally patterned after a banana's peel.

7. Listen to Mozart. An experimental psychologist has found evidence supporting the "Mozart Effect" -- that is, a brain exposed to Wolfgang's music grows more complex connections. This allows faster, integrated access to more information.

8. Exercise the body to improve the mind. An increasing cadre of researchers now believe aerobic workouts can increase everything from school performance to nerve conduction velocity. Suspected mechanisms: increased oxygen and nutrient supplied to the brain, plus a boost in natural compounds called neurotrophins, which promote brain cell growth. Some studies show mixed results. But exercise has so many other benefits that it definitely makes sense to do it.

9. Try something new. Near the end of his life, Impressionist painter Henri Matisse revitalized his art by exchanging brushes for scissors, which he used to create a series of brilliant paper cutouts. Such experimentation appears to be the hallmark of successful creativity, says psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, Ph.D., editor of the Journal of Creative Behavior. In a study that compared creative people who burn out with those who continue to create, he says, the chief difference was that the latter were constantly exposing themselves to new knowledge, in the process giving themselves a fresh start.

10. End distractions. If you're bombarded with irrelevant stimuli, it's hard to focus. When you absolutely must do something (complete a report, for instance), try renting a motel room where you can unplug the phone and concentrate.

11. Follow your passion! Recently a Dutch psychologist tried to figure out what separated chess masters from chess grand masters. He subjected groups of each to a battery of tests -- IQ, memory, spatial reasoning. He found no testing difference between them. The only difference: Grand masters simply loved chess more. They had more passion and commitment to it. Passion may be the key to creativity.


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