I recently heard an educator give a presentation on how to help students learn by changing the way they think. The idea was to change their way of thinking from “I’m not good at… math, science, art” etc, to “I’m not good at …math, science, art – yet!” Sometimes we get stuck telling ourselves we can’t do something, and, as a result, we unfortunately are right.
Cognitive exercise can be like that. A few months ago, the Minnesota HABIT director, Dr. Shandera-Oschner, summarized some of the research on the benefit of computer games. But, beneficial cognitive exercise doesn’t have to be just computer brain games (although computer brain games are also good). There are lots of ways to exercise our brains, and as long as we find the exercise challenging, it can give us benefit.
How do you conquer something that seems difficult? If you continue to tell yourself (and others) that "I can’t use a computer," or "I’m not good at card games," or "I can’t dance" – then you are right. On the other hand, if you change your way of thinking by adding the word, “Yet” to the end of the statement...
“I can’t use a computer yet” or “I’m not good at card games yet” “I’m not good at dancing yet”
You open yourself to new and healthy, cognitive training opportunities.
When you think of physical activity, you know it is impossible to run a 26.2- mile marathon without training, conditioning and preparing the body for this grueling task. One must start out with short distances and keep working on it, regularly trying to improve the distance and speed. It doesn’t come easy, and it takes time.
Similarly, when you start doing something new cognitively, you have to start slower, learn new skills, make mistakes and keep trying. Before long you will see how much you have improved. Maybe you’re not the fastest one playing the game, but you are better than you were the first day.
So now you might be asking yourself – what can I do to improve my cognitive skills? Ask yourself, what would you find fun to do? There are many things you can do, too many to list, but to name a few – learn a new card game, try to memorize a poem, start playing the piano again or learn how to play a new musical instrument. Learn a new language – a few words at a time. Maybe you could start to write your life-story, including in it the fun things you did, and those moments when things didn’t go quite the way they were planned. Go through those boxes or books of photos and identify who is in the picture, when it was taken and what was the occasion. If you aren’t sure of the specifics, get with family or friends to get their input. Play word games, but keep pushing past the basic level, to the intermediate level and then to the advanced. Before you know it, you will be so good, you need to find another challenging cognitive task!
If you find it difficult at first, don’t get discouraged. Remind yourself—I’m not good at writing my life-story, yet. Or I’m not good at word games, yet.
If you’re like me, sometimes it’s difficult to get started. So, let’s set a small goal, and write it down. If you are a HABIT alumni, put this on your To Do list in your Memory Support System. What is the first step in your cognitive activity? Do you need to buy a word puzzle book? Pull out that box of pictures? Call a local music school for their class schedule? Ask about the choir openings at your church? Whatever that first thing is, schedule that for yourself. Then move onto the next thing and the next. Before long, you are doing it! Each day we complete the task, put that checkmark stating it was completed, and pat yourself on the back. Whatever you decide to do, don’t give up. Push yourself a little more tomorrow and have fun. We have a lot to learn – yet!