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cartoon: two ways to improve your mind. One is reading Ten Tips for Improving Your Mind

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

If you want to improve your mind beyond comprehension − or even just boost your cognitive ability a wee bit − read on. I'll tell you everything you need to know.

1. Move to a new country

Probably the single best thing you can do to to improve your mind is to live overseas. Ideally move to a country in which the ethnicity and culture is different to yours. For example, if you are from the USA, move to a country in Africa or Asia. You will see all around you new ways of doing things, new ways of solving problems and new ways of living. You will meet people who have been raised differently to you and have values which are not the same as yours.

As a result, you become more creative in your thinking. Indeed, this one of the few, if only, ways to boost your creativity for the long term.

However, to really benefit moving to a new country, you need to avoid spending all of your time with your fellow countrymen and women in the expat community. When I was a teenager, I moved from the UK with my family and went to an American international school. Many of the American pupils there probably never really met a British person, hung out with British people or even made an effort to understand the society in which they lived thanks to a welcoming expat community that tended to look down on the British.

In fact, having lived in six countries on three continents, I have found that the expat communities everywhere tend to look down on their host countries. I expect they find this easier than learning from their host countries and the people who were born there. Don't fall into this trap. Respect your host country, accept people there do things differently and learn from the experience.

2. Learn another language

Learn another language. Ideally, become fluent in another language. If you are already bilingual or multilingual, you will know that speaking another language enables you to communicate with a massive group of people that you could otherwise communicate with. It brings to you more literature, more entertainment and more information.

Speaking another language makes you think differently. For example, if you are a native English speaker learning German, you will need to learn: to structure your grammar differently, that all nouns have a sex (or are neuter) and the necessity of conjugating verbs.

If you learn Thai, you will need to learn: a new alphabet; to speak a language in which words are verbally expressed by tone as well as pronunciation; and to use a radically different concept of pluralisation than is used in any European language.

Bilingual people think differently depending on which language they are speaking.

If you have kids, get them learning another language right away. It's easy for kids. Mine grew up in an environment where English, Dutch and Thai were spoken. Today, they are perfectly bilingual English-Dutch and can switch between the languages effortlessly. They read in both languages, socialise in both languages and understand the cultures behind both languages. They can also get by in French or Thai if they need to.

There is also evidence that suggests (but has not proven) that being bilingual confers concrete benefits such as delaying the onslaught of Alzheimer's disease.

3. Read novels that you enjoy

This is less of a challenge than moving country or learning a new language.

If you are not in the habit of reading fiction, change that habit. Reading broadens the mind. Fiction expands the imagination. And don't worry, you need not feel obliged to read great literature. Read what interests you, whether it is romance, science fiction, mystery or anything, just read and enjoy!

But do not discount classic literature. It is great for a reason. Sure, scholars have intellectualised authors such as Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, F Scott Fitzgerald and others to the extent they may seem intimidating to read. But the truth is, these authors' books are ripping good reads! Better still they often inexpensive to buy. Indeed, if you have an eReader, you can download many of the classics free at https://www.gutenberg.org.

If there is a book club in your area, think about joining it. You will meet others with an interest in reading, be introduced to books you may never have thought to read before and you can discuss stories with other enthusiasts.

Importantly, do not just read one book. Read regularly. Check the shelves in your library. Become a regular at your local bookshop. Scour second hand book sales and exchange books with you friends. Your life will become a little richer with each book your read.

4. Read non-fiction too

Do not limit your reading to fiction. Enjoy non-fiction too. Biographies and histories can inspire and help you understand why the world is what it is today. Science can blow your mind and help you understand the world, the solar system and the universe, from quarks to the universe itself. Travel books can bring understanding of new places, peoples and cultures. Technical books can teach you new competencies. Lord, love a duck! There is just so much to learn in books you should probably turn off your computer once you finish this article and start reading a book.

Of course you can read a lot of non-fiction on the web. There are loads of blogs, web sites and newsletters on any and every subject you or I could possibly think of. AwesomeYou.Be is just one example of 37 godzillion web sites − though I like to think it is the best!

Blogs and the like are great. Don't get me wrong. You can get up to the second information on anything. You can use your favourite search engine to find info on any topic and you can get multiple viewpoints at the click of a mouse. So why read non-fiction books?

There are several reasons. Firstly, books are normally edited (with the exception of poorly produced self-published books), which means they are generally better written and more readable than blog posts. Books present more sophisticated and detailed arguments. Books are often the result of substantial research. Better books are reviewed by experts prior to publishing which means they are less likely to contain serious errors than blogs. And books are more likely to be reviewed by experts after publication, which allows you to get an idea whether a new book on psychology is based on the latest cognitive research, spiritual new-age thinking or the experiences of a Buddhist monk.

5. Guess before you Google

In this day and age, when most people face a problem or have a question, their initial reaction is to Google it. Thanks to smartphones, you can Google anything, almost anywhere, at any time. In many respects, that's a great thing. So much information has never been at our fingertips before. But, the result is that our problem solving skills are being weakened when the solution to all problems is: "Google it".

Worse, the top answers you get on Google tend to be conventional answers, which are great, but hardly inspiring in terms of trying something new or being creative.

So, the next time you have a problem or want an answer, guess first. Think about the situation or the question and try and work out the best solution. Then either try the solution or check yourself on Google.

This does two really good things for your mind. Firstly, it pushes you to think creatively and analyse problems. These are two incredibly important abilities. However, like any ability, they weaken through lack of use. Regular creative and analytic thinking is good exercise for the mind.

Secondly, if you guess an answer first and then check it, you are far more likely to remember the answer, particularly if your guess was wrong (link goes to PDF document). It is a cliché to say we learn from our mistakes. But it is also true.

6. Walk regularly

Walking at least half an hour a day, five days a week is great exercise for the body and the mind. Moreover, it has been shown to boost creativity. For more on the benefits of walking, follow this link.

7. Shut up, concentrate and ask questions

When someone is talking to you, do you often find yourself thinking about how you will reply? If so, you are not really listening to and absorbing the words of your conversation partner. Learn to change. When someone is talking to you, shut up, concentrate on the words and ask questions if anything is not clear.

Once the other person has made her point, do not rush in with your own point. Rather, ask questions such as: "How do you feel about that?" and "What's next?" and "How does that affect you?"

In effect, pretend to be a psychoanalyst who aims to listen and prod her patient with questions rather than a lecturer − not that you should attempt to psychoanalyse. Just ask and listen.

As a result, you will learn more about whatever your conversation partner is talking about as well as your conversation partner herself. You will learn patience and you will learn that conversations that are not about you can be very interesting conversations indeed.

8. Have great sex with your partner

Sex is not just about procreation and satisfying desires. It also provides a lot of health benefits including reducing stress, fighting depression, relieving pain, greater happiness and more in men and women. These benefits are particularly true with respect to making love with your life partner (ie, husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend) with whom you can relax, enjoy the love-making and whom (hopefully) you know how to please and who (equally hopefully) knows how to please you.

Needless-to-say, if you are less stressed, less pained and feeling healthy, that helps the mind enormously in terms of being able to think more clearly.

Regular love making with your partner can also strengthen your relationship which provides feelings of happiness and security.

So, after you've read a book (as per my suggestion above), go flirt with your partner!

Needless-to-say, the benefits of love-making only come when you both want to make love. Don't push a partner who is not in the mood and discuss the issue if your partner is never in the mood.

9. Keep a notebook and pen with you at all times.

You never know when a great idea may strike you. You never know when someone will suggest a book you need to read. You never know when you might meet that special someone in an art museum when your smartphone's battery is dead.

For occasions like these and many others, carry a notebook and pen with you so that you can take notes. A notebook is like a back-up file for your mind. If you forget something, you can refer to thee notebook.

You can also browse through the notebook from time to time for inspiration and to be reminded of important things you have forgotten about.

10. Take real holidays

I understand that companies in the USA give their employees a small number of holiday (vacation) days off per year. Worse, I understand that many Americans are reluctant even to take those days off in fear of: falling behind in work, missing out on professional opportunities and failing to be sufficiently productive. This is fine if you are a robot doing mechanical, thoughtless tasks. But if you are a creative human being whose work is thoughtful, you need to take holidays in which you really and truly disconnect from work.

If you think that your company will not survive without you, then you are a lousy employee. You should never, ever be in a situation like that. It is too stressful for you and bad for your company.

Taking real holidays − without work based mobile phone calls and email use − clears the mind, reduces stress and brings the family together. If you are single, a travelling holiday is a great way to unwind and meet people such as other travellers and locals.

Visiting other places and ideally other cultures increases your knowledge of the world and gives you new experiences. Alternatively, if your ideal holiday is relaxing on a beautiful beach, then do it! Relaxing will freshen your mind and soul.

It does not matter how you take your holidays. What matters is that you take them, that you switch off and that you enjoy yourself.

And, when you do return to work, you will find yourself more energised, more creative and less stressed. That's good for your mind, your health and your employer.

What about you?

Do you have tips for improving the mind? If so, share them with me here! Either scroll down to the comments or send me a private message. I'd love to hear from you.

Comments below | Send feedback directly to Jeffrey



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