Archive for the ‘Exercising the Brain’ Category

  • Be Resourceful: 10 Simple Tricks To Remembering Names

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    Here in Maine “resourcefulness” is a necessity and not just a positive attribute. Knowing, for example, that – due to our prolonged frost season –  it is unsafe to plant our gardens a moment before Memorial Day, some of us have created unique winter gardens from one of Maine’s most abundant natural resources: the stones, which thrive on our beaches year-round.

    Rachel's Winter Garden

    In a different but equally vital ode to resourcefulness, Helen Coster in  Forbes Magazine’s “Entrepreneurs” section, recently published a great top ten list of simple tricks to remembering names.

    As much as we Savvy Seniors tout the value of social media networking, we never minimize the benefit of face-to-face, in-person networking. The big risk, however, is that just as you connect with the person most vital to your life, your work or your future you draw a blank on his or her name. It happens to the best of us. The only aspect that could be age specific is that the older we get, the more names we hold in our mental database.

    Forbes presented the tips in a funky slide slow that’s a bit difficult to follow, so we’ve copied and pasted them here for your ease of reading and remembering. Our favorite – being as resourceful as we are – is #9, Speak Up.

    Thank you, Forbes!

    1. Plenty of business deals (and romantic rendezvous) have been foiled because someone failed to recall the right name at the right time. There are tricks to remembering names. Benjamin Levy, author of Remember Every Name Every Time, advocates the FACE method: “focus, ask, comment and employ.” Focus: Lock in on the person’s face. Ask: Inquire which version he prefers (“Is it Ted or Theodore?”). Comment: Say something about the name and cross-reference it in your head (“My college roommate’s name was Ted.”) Employ: Put the name to use–“Nice seeing you, Ted”–to drive it home.

    2. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: The most surefire strategy is to repeat the person’s name–both in your head, and out loud–as soon as possible after you’ve been introduced. Occasionally use the person’s name in conversation. “Pleasure to meet you, Bob,” or “Bob, so good to see you.” Don’t overdo it, of course, but don’t worry that Bob will recoil, either. He’d rather you remember his name than not.

    3. Picture This: Turn someone’s name into an image that you can remember. When you meet Shirley, think of a Shirley temple. Don’t laugh – it works.

    4. Spell It Out: Another imagery-based tactic: Ask someone to spell out his or her name. If you can picture the letters in your mind, you’ll have a better chance of remembering the name. A derivation on that: Imagine the person’s name written across his forehead, like a billboard.

    5. Connect: Try to associate names with things people tell you about themselves (careers, hobbies) that will trigger the sound or association of the name in your mind. Fred likes to fish, Margarita runs a bar, you get the idea.

    6. Word Play: Let the words do the work for you. Mnemonic devices (Dale works in sales) work nicely, as does alliteration (Jim from Jersey).

    7. Lead the Way: If you know that your name will be hard to remember or pronounce, do other people a favor and help them out. They’ll return the favor – or, if you’re chatting with a Mike or a Bob, maybe they’ll make some big production out of their own common name, making it stick in your mind.

    8. Put Pen to Paper: It’s not enough to write down a person’s name as soon as possible after meeting them. Record the name in a “new contacts” file, and include when and where you met.

    9. Speak Up: Embarrassing as it seems, don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat his or her name. Start out with a compliment, such as “I’ve had so much fun talking with you, and I’ve completely forgotten your name.” If you realize you’ve blanked on a name a few seconds after introduction, just say “I’m sorry, I missed your name.”

    10. Prime the Pump: You spy a person, whose name you’ve forgotten, making her way toward you. What to do? If you’re speaking with someone you know, introduce them right off the bat. The newcomer will probably introduce herself on her own. Problem solved.

  • Multitasking: Why Two Tasks Work and Three Are Overwhelming

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    In today’s social media driven environment, opportunities to multitask at warp speed proliferate. Online, we can dance from snippet to snippet of news, music, e-books, webinars, job postings, how-to tips, etc, etc.  But how much of the “information” is our brain actually capable of absorbing?

    Two (I was going to cite three but thought better of it after reading article #2) fascinating articles shed much needed light on the highly vaunted “art” of multitasking.

    In The Myth of Multitasking, Karen Hopkins, reports, “when we think we’re getting better at multitasking, we’re really getting faster at switching back and forth between two different things at different times… training gets the ‘Thinking Brain’ to think a little faster. So we’re switching tasks quickly enough to appear to be doing them simultaneously. Which,” she continues, “is still nothing to shake a stick and sneeze at.”

    I almost missed that simultaneous “shaking a stick and sneezing!”

    In the second, more recent article published in Scientific American, How the Brain Keeps Track of Two Tasks at Once, Katherine Harmon points us to new research which”illustrates how the brain can simultaneously keep track of two separate goals, even while it is busy performing a task related to one of the aims, hinting that the mind might be better at multitasking than previously thought.”

    Etienne Koechlin, director of the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Paris and coauthor of the new study shows that “rather than being totally devoted to one goal at a time, the human brain can distribute two goals to different hemispheres to keep them both in mind–if it perceives a worthy reward for doing so.”

    Caveat Emptor!  I said I was only going to cite two articles, but I’ll just point you to this third one by Naomi Kenner and Russell Poldrack which tries to explain What Happens When You Try To Do Three Things at Once?

    As I try to visualize this, the first thing that comes to mind is “visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads” but, then, they are all sugarplums, aren’t they?

    "Can You See What I See?" illustration by Walter Wick

  • No fainting goats… and no sheep!

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    This fascinating “White” paper, Take Charge in Changing Times: Ten Career Tips from Australian, Joanna Maxwell is a must read. I rarely use “must,” preferring to let readers make their own choices, but there are so many valuable insights here, it is a must! The insights are grounded in reality – the kind of tips that first seem so obvious we cannot understand why we had not noticed them before. These “Ten Career Tips” are just as applicable for any aspect of our lives – not just our business genes. Even better – the words and the colourful art are incredibly good fun!

    workincolour.com.au

    Joanna’s highly creative website WorkInColour: Work.Think.Live.In Colour is a feast for your eyes, mind, body and soul. Enjoy!

  • What Is One of Your Most Powerful Assets?

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    Positive Thinking! Yes, it may sound a bit hackneyed but if cultivated and nurtured it truly can change your life, your work and your well-being.

    The trick is not just to “think” in a vacuum but rather to mobilize positive thoughts so they become habit forming.

    Leo Barbuta, author of the Zen Habits blog offers a valuable condensed guide to help develop your positive thinking habit:

    • Realize it’s possible, instead of telling yourself why you can’t.
    • Become aware of your self-talk.
    • Squash negative thoughts like a bug.
    • Replace them with positive thoughts.
    • Love what you have already.
    • Be grateful for your life, your gifts, and other people. Every day.
    • Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t.
    • Don’t compare yourself to others. But be inspired by them.
    • Accept criticism with grace.
    • See failure as a stepping stone to success.
    • Surround yourself by those who are positive.
    • Complain less, smile more.
    • Imagine that you’re already positive.
    • Then become that person in your next act.

    Once this becomes second nature to you, you will realize that it is your nature and every next step you take will be much easier.

  • What Do Stone Age Eggshell Engravings and Seniors’ Higher-Order Reasoning Have in Common???

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    60,000 Year-Old Engraved Ostrich Egg Shell Fragments

    Both illustrate the wisdom of the ages: early, pre-historic human wisdom and the evolution of higher-order reasoning among today’s seniors.

    Jim Emerman, Executive Vice President of Civic Ventures led me to this reassuring paper, “Reasoning about Social Conflicts Improves into Old Age”, from the National Academy of Sciences.

    “It is well documented,” the paper posits, “that aging is associated with cognitive declines in many domains. Yet it is a common lay belief that some aspects of thinking improve into old age. Specifically, older people are believed to show better competencies for reasoning about social dilemmas and conflicts.”

    …We show that relative to young and middle-aged people, older people make more use of higher-order reasoning schemes that emphasize the need for multiple perspectives, allow for compromise, and recognize the limits of knowledge.”

    Bolstered by this encouraging news, I starting poking around the National Academy of Sciences’ site to see what other relevant bits of wisdom I might find.  Being Spring and just past Easter, I was drawn to their “Stone Age Eggshell Engravings” article about the earliest reliable evidence of an engraving tradition that continues to thrive today. Moreover, the eggs “represent a system of symbolic representation in which collective identities and individual expressions are clearly communicated, suggesting social, cultural, and cognitive underpinnings that overlap with those of modern people.”

    Hooked, I then Googled “Stone Age Eggshell Engravings” and found this article by Jonathan Amos, BBC Science correspondent, which refers to the National Academy of Science paper and includes the marvelous photos (above).

    Amos reports that, “the markings are almost certainly a form of messaging – of graphic communication…. Symbolic thought – the ability to let one thing represent another – was a giant leap in human evolution, and sets our species apart from the rest of the animal world… Understanding when and where this behaviour first emerged is a key quest for scientists studying human origins.”

    So, at 60,000 years plus 60, I’d say Savvy Seniors’ “little grey cells” are still functioning remarkably well!

  • Good Leadership and Moral Clarity in the Clear Light of Spring

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    Spring has sprung in Maine - at last!

    Yesterday, a reader emailed to comment on my post, Dancing to the Music of Leadership. I called the video brilliant and offered kudos to its creator Derek Sivers.

    My reader said, “Not sure this works for me —put a funny-looking mustache on the guy, have him wear a brown shirt, and you get another kind of crowd-pleasing ‘leadership’…  Crowds are not always right.”

    I responded: “You are so right. Your comment gives me goosebumps. But, moral clarity aside, I do love the simplicity in Derek’s commentary regarding how a movement is formed.”

    While I am delighted my reader pointed out something I should have grasped and addressed in my comments on this video, I also stand by my kudos for Derek’s ability to communicate in plain simple English just how a “crowd” or movement happens to follow a charismatic, entrepreneurial leader. It is, as many have said, easier to deal with the devil you know…

    The more we understand the underlying dynamics of a movement, the more opportunity we have to nip the malevolent ones in the bud. One the other hand, if we don’t have a clue, we might find ourselves swept away with the brown shirts or today’s tea cups before our moral clarity genes kick in. Once you’re in a “movement,” it can be cumbersome to extricate yourself. Here in the midst of New England’s mighty maples, we’d say you’ve been caught in the sap’s downward flow when you should have waited for the sugar to rise.

  • Simple Productivity: The Little Rules of Action

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    Fellow blogger, Leo Babauta, at Zen Habits, says, “Too often we get stuck in inaction — the quagmire of doubt and perfectionism and distractions and planning that stops us from moving forward…. And while I’m no proponent of a whirling buzz of activity, I also believe people get lost in the distractions of the world and lose sight of what’s important, and how to actually accomplish their Something Amazing.”

    We hope Leos’ “Little Rules” will help you create “Something Amazing,” or – at the very least – help propel you forward in your quest for meaningful work:

    1. Don’t overthink. Too much thinking often results in getting stuck, in going in circles. Some thinking is good — it’s good to have a clear picture of where you’re going or why you’re doing this — but don’t get stuck thinking. Just do.

    2. Just start. All the planning in the world will get you nowhere. You need to take that first step, no matter how small or how shaky. My rule for motivating myself to run is: Just lace up your shoes and get out the door. The rest takes care of itself.

    3. Forget perfection. Perfectionism is the enemy of action. Kill it, immediately. You can’t let perfect stop you from doing. You can turn a bad draft into a good one, but you can’t turn no draft into a good draft. So get going.

    4. Don’t mistake motion for action. A common mistake. A fury of activity doesn’t mean you’re doing anything. When you find yourself moving too quickly, doing too many things at once, this is a good reminder to stop. Slow down. Focus.

    5. Focus on the important actions. Clear the distractions. Pick the one most important thing you must do today, and focus on that. Exclusively. When you’re done with that, repeat the process.

    6. Move slowly, consciously. Be deliberate. Action doesn’t need to be done fast. In fact, that often leads to mistakes, and while perfection isn’t at all necessary, neither is making a ridiculous amount of mistakes that could be avoided with a bit of consciousness.

    7. Take small steps. Biting off more than you can chew will kill the action. Maybe because of choking, I dunno. But small steps always works. Little tiny blows that will eventually break down that mountain. And each step is a victory, that will compel you to further victories.

    8. Negative thinking gets you nowhere. Seriously, stop doing that. Self doubt? The urge to quit? Telling yourself that it’s OK to be distracted and that you can always get to it later? Squash those thoughts. Well, OK, you can be distracted for a little bit, but you get the idea. Positive thinking, as corny as it sounds, really works. It’s self-talk, and what we tell ourselves has a funny habit of turning into reality.

    9. Meetings aren’t action. This is a common mistake in management. They hold meetings to get things done. Meetings, unfortunately, almost always get in the way of actual doing. Stop holding those meetings!

    10. Talking (usually) isn’t action. Well, unless the action you need to take is a presentation or speech or something. Or you’re a television broadcaster. But usually, talking is just talking. Communication is necessary, but don’t mistake it for actual action.

    11. Planning isn’t action. Sure, you need to plan. Do it, so you’re clear about what you’re doing. Just do it quickly, and get to the actual action as quickly as you can.

    12. Reading about it isn’t action. You’re reading an article about action. Ironic, I know. But let this be the last one. Now get to work!

    13. Sometimes, inaction is better. This might be the most ironic thing on the list, but really, if you find yourself spinning your wheels, or you find you’re doing more harm than good, rethink whether the action is even necessary. Or better yet, do this from the beginning — is it necessary? Only do the action if it is.

    Thank you, Leo!

  • The Geezers’ Crusade

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    Don’t miss this highly provocative essay by New York Times op-ed columnist, David Brooks. But beware being lulled into thinking, “he gets it!” Just as you begin to think this is a marvelous tribute to our intellectual and leadership prowess, he knocks the pins out from under us.

    But again… do not despair. Keep reading until you reach the “readers comments,” They – for the most part – are a brilliant antidote, guaranteed to restore your faith in the power of reasonable people.

    And, for those of you not familiar with David Brooks, I admire his writing, his thoughts and especially his ability to provoke. Isn’t this what good journalism should be, as opposed to simple regurgitation of news or even worse manipulative spin?

  • Barbells and Brains

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    If, like Leonardo, you wish to develop a dazzling “working resumé” (see SSW’s 1/26/10 post) it behooves you to keep in top form – mentally and physically.

    This snippet, Exercise: In Women, Training for a Sharper Mind by Roni Caryn Rabin from the NY Times, heralds a new study from Canada which has demonstrated that “Older women who did an hour or two of strength [not just toning] training exercises each week had improved cognitive function a year later, scoring higher on tests of the brain processes responsible for planning and executing tasks.”

    Exciting news, but for those men and women not yet ready to heft the barbells, hope thrives in this fascinating and equally energizing article by Jane E. Brody, Healthy Aging, With Nary a Supplement.

    Brody notes, “The desire to achieve a healthy old age is laudable indeed, and will be even more so in the future. According to a projection of the century-long rise in life expectancy published in The Lancet in October, 2009, more than half the children born since 2000 in wealthy countries can expect to celebrate their 100th birthday. If so many of us are destined to become centenarians, it is all the more important to be able to enjoy those years unencumbered by chronic disease and disability. There is no virtue in simply living long; the goal should be to live long and well.”

    “Americans have yet to learn,” she continues, “what Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recognized in 400 B.C. ‘All parts of the body which have a function if used in moderation and exercised in labors in which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy, well developed and age more slowly; but if unused and left idle they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly.’ ”

    She concludes, “It’s time to stop making excuses and make regular physical activity an integral part of your life, like eating, sleeping and brushing your teeth.”

    Soooo, put an extra dollop on your toothbrush, walk twice around your accustomed one-circle block, maybe begin to carry a baseball (Leonardo preferred a chisel) in each hand. Before you know it you, too, will be reaching for the barbells, nudging those neurons and enhancing your brain’s capacity.

  • Nudging Neurons

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    “How to Train the Aging Brain,” A fascinating article in The New York Times, deconstructs the myth that old brains can no longer grow and learn.

    Researchers note, “The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.”

    Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s super sleuth, had it right when he said,”It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely.”

    Positive news indeed for “gray matter,” and yet another arrow in our quiver to help pierce that daunting age-bias barrier.

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