The good folks over at the BBC thought they had worked out a way to make us all smarter. In a television show called “Get Smarter in a Week,” they had several dozen volunteers follow a regimen which included eating better food, adding more physical activity to their routine, and most importantly, doing “brain exercises.”
They even produced a booklet, available online, describing the program. Rumour has it that a major publishing company approached them to produce a print version, but the British Broadcasting Corporation turned them down. Apparently, they objected to the likely title: IQ Boosting For Dummies.
I’m generally skeptical of things that promise simple fixes and amazing results. But I have to say I applaud the BBC just for trying. If the BBC’s show was designed to make us smarter, one has to wonder about the purpose of NBC’s “Celebrity Cooking Showdown,” or worse, ABC’s “Micro-Mini: I Didn’t Really Wet My Pants.”
And as it turns out, the show had some interesting results, with participants performing up to 40 percent better on tests. The neat thing is that the “mental exercises” didn’t involve pages of math drill or tedious lectures the use of glaze in pre-common era pottery. They were simple things that you can incorporate into your daily life.
For example, the show suggests that you try doing a Sudoku puzzle from time to time, or that you should memorize phone numbers instead of putting them into speed dial. It also suggests your brain functions can be improved by doing things like taking a shower with your eyes closed, or playing charades, although I have my doubts about these two recommendations. Showering with your eyes closed is a good way to get a concussion, and if acting were good for your brain, Hollywood would be full of geniuses.
The tasks, although they sound simple, are supposed to improve creativity, spatial awareness, memory and your word and number skills. If nothing else, the show got me thinking, and I believe I’ve come up with several more brain boosting exercises.
For a creativity boost, try locking yourself out of the house. There’s nothing quite like the challenge of trying to do a home invasion without A) Setting off the house alarm which calls all three branches of the emergency services to your door and B) Setting off the nosy neighbour alarm, which calls everyone else to your door.
A good way to boost your word skills is to leave loose change in your pants pocket, and then throw the pants in the laundry. When the change jams the washing machine pump so that it overheats into a blob of molten plastic, you’ll remember swear words you didn’t know you’d heard. As a bonus, this improves your spouse’s brain: he will improve his fine motor skills repairing it, and increase his memory function by not letting you forget it.
Moving house several times in a short period of time is another good one. Indeed, us mobile night owls are probably smarter than most, because when we tiptoe around the dark house at night, we have to remember exactly which living room we’re in, and exactly where we’ve put that shin-cracking coffee table this time.
Many people would argue that being a parent is the ultimate brain improvement exercise. For example, try explaining to your two-year-old why he can’t take everyone else’s red crayons at playgroup when the other boy’s mom allowed him to swipe all the blue ones. This is especially difficult to do when you’ve just realized she’s the one who cut you off in traffic and grabbed the parking spot you wanted.
I would argue that being a parent at the same time you’re running a business is even more challenging. One minute you might be on the phone with your bank manager, discussing the Japanese exchange rate; the next, you might be discussing the various characters on Dora the Explorer with your toddler.
I like to call such mental extremes brain shifting, and I hope it’s good for me.
However, I suspect my friends would tell you that it’s not and that really I stripped my gears long ago.