Alan"s Money Blog

Jul 30, 2007

70 Ways to Better Brainpower

(In no particular order.)

1. Breath deep. More air in means more oxygen in the blood and
therefore in the brain. Breath through your nose and you'll notice that you
use your diaphragm more, drawing air deeper into your lungs. Several
deep breaths can also help to relax you, which is conducive to clearer

2. Meditate. A simple meditation you can do right now is just closing your
eyes and paying attention to your breath. Tensing up your muscles and
then relaxing them to start may help. When your mind wanders, just bring
your attention back to your breath. Five or ten minutes of this will usually
relax you, clear your mind, and leave you more ready for any mental task.
For more on meditation, you can visit

3. Sit up straight. Posture affects your thinking process. Prove it to
yourself by doing math in your head while slouching, looking at the floor
and letting your mouth hang open. Then do the mental math while sitting
up straight, keeping your mouth closed and looking forward or slightly
upwards. You'll notice that it's easier to think with the latter posture.

4. Phosphotidyl Serine (PS). This supplement has been shown in clinical
studies to increase lucidity and rate of learning. It activates cell-to-cell
communication, helps regulate cell growth, improves the functioning of the
special receptors found on cells, and prepares cells for activity. In other
words, it can help your brain power. It's also thought to reverse memory
decline. Phosphatidylserine has no known adverse side effects.

5.Vinpocetine. This extract, derived from an alkaloid found in the
Periwinkle plant, is used as a cerebral vasodilator. It increases blood flow
to the brain, which improves its oxygenation and thereby increases mental
alertness and acuity. Research suggests it may also be the most powerful
memory enhancer available to date.

6. Gingko Biloba. The leaves of this tree have been proven to increase
blood flow to the brain. The trees are often planted in parks. My friends
and I used to eat a few leaves when we wanted a brain boost. It is also
inexpensive, if you buy the capsules or tea at any health food store.

7. Saint John's Wort. This is a common weed that may be growing in your
yard. Although it's brain enhancing qualities are less documented (studies
do show it's usefulness for treating long-term depression), many people
swear by it's temporary mood-elevating effect, and our brains tend to
function better when we are happy. It is inexpensive, but I used to just
collect it in the yard and make tea of it. (Hyperacum Perforatum, if you
want to look it up by it's botanical name.)

8. Good thinking habits. Just use a problem solving technique for several
weeks and it will become a habit. Redesign everything you see for a while,
and that will become a habit. You can develop many good thinking habits
with some effort, and then be more resourceful effortlessly from that point
on. Use the power of habit.

9. Use dead time. This is time that is otherwise wasted or just
under-utilized. Driving time, time spent in waiting rooms, or even time
spent raking your yard can be included in this. With a tape player and a
trip to a public library, you can start to use this time to listen to
books-on-tape. You may spend 200 hours a year in your car. What could
you learn in that time?

10. Learn a language. Learning a new language has been shown to halt
the age-related decline in brain function. It also introduces your mind to
new concepts and new ways of looking at things (in English we are afraid,
whereas in Spanish we have fear). It is one of the best brain exercises.

11. Rosemary. This common herb may have an effect on the brain when
the scent is inhaled. We are waiting for the research, but some people
swear that just sniffing rosemary wakes up their brain. It seems safe, so if
you have rosemary in your spice rack, give it a try.

12. Mindfulness exercises. Concentration and clear thinking are more or
less automatic once you remove distractions. Learn to stop and watch
your busy mind. As you notice things that are subtly bothering you, deal
with them. This might mean making a phone call you need to make, or
putting things on a list so you can forget them for now. With practice, this
becomes easier, and your thinking becomes more powerful.

13. Write. Writing is good for your mind in a number of ways. It is a way to
tell your memory what is important, so you'll recall things more easily in
the future. It is a way to clarify your thinking. It is a way to exercise your
creativity and analytical ability. Diaries, idea-journals, poetry, note-taking
and story-writing are all ways to use writing to boost your brain power.

14. Listen to Mozart. In a study at the University of California, researchers
found that children who studied piano and sang daily in chorus, were
much better at solving puzzles, and when tested, scored 80% higher in
spatial intelligence than the non-musical group. In another study, 36
students were given three spatial reasoning tests on a standard IQ test.
Just before the first test, they listened to Mozart's sonata for Two Pianos
in D Major, K. 448 for ten minutes. Before the second test, they listened
to a relaxation tape. Before the third, they sat in silence. The average
scores for all 36 students: 1st test: 119. 2nd test: 111. 3rd test: 110. A
nine-point boost from Mozart!

15. Develop your intuition. Intuition can be an important part of
brainpower. Einstein and others have relied heavily on their intuitive
hunches. See Chapter 25 for tips on how to develop your intuition.

16. Avoid foods that cause subtle allergies. These can include wheat,
corn, peanuts and dairy products. Watch yourself to see if you have a
problem with any of these. They cause digestive problems and brain fog
in some people.

17. Sleep better. As long as you get a certain amount of sleep - probably
a minimum of five hours - the quality seems to be more important than the
quantity. Also, short naps in the afternoon seem to work well to recharge
the brain for some people.

18. Caffeine. The research shows higher test scores for students who
drink coffee before major exams. My chess game gets better. In other
studies, it has been shown that too much caffeine leads to poorer quality
decisions. Caffeine affects individuals differently, and has some nasty
long-term side effects for some of us, but short-term - it works!

19. Avoid sugar. Any simple carbohydrates can give you "brain fog."
Sometimes called the "sugar blues" as well, this sluggish feeling makes it
hard to think clearly. It results from the insulin rushing into the
bloodstream to counteract the sugar rush. Avoid pasta, sugars, white
bread and potato chips before any important mental tasks.

20. Hypnosis audios. The power of suggestion is real, and one way to use
it is with hypnosis tapes, CD's or downloads. This type of brain
"programing" has more evidence for it than subliminals. You can read
more on this here:

21. Speed reading. Contrary to what many believe, your comprehension
of material often goes up when you learn to speed-read. You get to learn
a lot more in less time, and it is definitely a good brain exercise.

22. Exercise. Long term exercise can boost brainpower, which isn't
surprising. Anything that affects physical health in a positive way probably
helps the brain too. Recent research, though, shows that cognitive
function is improved immediately after just ten minutes of aerobic
exercise. If you need a brain recharge, you might want to walk up and
down the stairs a few times.

23. Imaginary friends. Talking to and getting advice from characters in
your mind can be a great way to access the information in your
subconscious mind. Imagine a conversation with a person who has a lot of
knowledge in the area you want advice in.

24. Develop your creativity. Creativity gives power to your thinking. Raw
computation can be done by computers now, but humans provide the
creative thought that shapes our world. See Chapter 24 for tips on
developing your creativity.

25. Learn more efficiently. When you decide to learn something, take
notes from the start. Leave each "learning session" with a question or two
in mind, to create anticipation and curiosity. Take short breaks, so there
will be more beginnings and endings to your studies (Things learned at
the beginning or ending of a class or session are remembered better).

26. Use techniques for clear thinking. Cluttered rooms and offices can
contribute to cluttered thinking. Organize a space for mental work. Sigh,
stretch, and take a deep breath before you start on a tough mental job.
Plan some distraction-free time for brainstorming.

27. Brain wave entrainment. The newest brain wave entrainment products
are powerful tools for altering your brain function. Some will almost
immediately relax you, while others will put your brain waves in a pattern
that is most conducive to analytical thinking. For more information on
these, you can visit here:

28. Creatine. This is a compound found in meat, used by athletes to help
build muscle. Now the evidence is here to show that it helps your brain as
well. Proceedings B , a journal published by the Royal Society reports that
the research showed improvement in working memory and general
intelligence resulting from creatine supplementation. The dose used in
the study was 5 grams per day. This is about the level used to boost
sports performance, and is as much as you'd normally get in four pounds
of meat, according to lead researcher Dr. Caroline Rae.

29. Talk. Talking is only good for the brain if you are actually exercising it,
of course. Try explaining something that you don't understand very well to
a friend, though, and you'll notice that the process of explaining will help
you clarify your understanding.

30. Do something you enjoy. This is a way to both lower stress and rev up
your brain. The key is to do something active. Watching TV doesn't count.
Whether it is playing Scrabble or building birdhouses, when you are
actively engaged in an activity that you enjoy, you worry less about things
and you start to think better.

31. Adjust your beliefs. Believe you are smarter, and you'll become
smarter. For this, affirmations may work, but even better is evidence.
Make a note of your successes. Tell yourself, "Hey, that was really
creative," when you do something creative. When you have a good idea,
make a note of it. Gather the evidence for your own intelligence and you'll
start to experience more of it.

32. Brain exercises. Do math in your mind while driving. Think of a new
use for everything you see. Regular use of the brain has been shown to
generate new neuronal growth, and even halt the decline of mental
function that often comes with age.

33. Learn new things. This is another way to exercise the brain. It can
also be done with little time investment if you use books-on-tapes while

34. Walk. Exercise has been shown to benefit the brain, and walking is
one of the best exercises for many. It is low impact, and the rhythmic
nature of it seems to put you in a state that is very conducive to clear
thinking. In fact, carry a tape recorder with you to take notes, and a
twenty minute walk can be a great way to solve problems.

35. Model others. Find others that are creative, intelligent, or very
productive. Do what they do, and think what they think. This is a key
principle of neuro-linguistic programming. Be careful about taking their
advice, though. Successful people often don't really understand why they
are successful. Do what they do, not what they say.

36. Eat fish. Eating fish actually speeds up brain waves, and improves
concentration. Researchers have also found an almost perfect correlation
between intake of fish and lowered levels of depression in the various
countries of the world. The U.S. has 24 times the incidence of depression
as Japan, for example, where fish intake is much higher.

37. Avoid unnecessary arguments. When you defend a position too
vigorously, especially when it is just to "win" the argument, you invest our
ego into it. This is not conducive to the easy acceptance and use of new
information. In other words, you put your mind in a rut, and you dig it
deeper with each argument. Debate can be a valuable thing, but when
the ego takes over, the mind closes a little. This is not a recipe for better

38. Laugh. The release of endorphins caused by laughter lowers stress
levels, which is good for long term brain health. Laughter also tends to
leave you more open to new ideas and thoughts.

39. Play. Stimulating the brain causes measurable changes in the
structure of the brain. New connections are made and new brain cells are
grown. Intellectual play, as well as any playing that involves hand-eye
coordination stimulates the brain.

40. Do puzzles. Crossword puzzles, lateral thinking puzzles, and even
good riddles are a great way to get brain exercise. You can work on them
while waiting for a dentist appointment, or on the bus, if you are short on

41. Sing. When you are alone in your car, try singing about something
you are working on. This taps into and exercises your right brain. Have
you ever noticed how it is easier to rhyme when you sing than when you
just speak or write? This is because the right brain is better at pattern
recognition. By doing this brain exercise regularly you can train yourself
to tap into the power of the right brain. This will make you a more effective
problem-solver. If you doubt the distinction between the hemispheres of
the brain, look at how stutterers can stop stuttering as soon as they start
singing. Try it.

42. Nuts. University students in Brazil and other South American countries
often eat several Brazil nuts before an exam, believing they are good for
their mental power. The evidence is starting to confirm this. Other nuts
that have minerals and amino acids that are beneficial to the brain include
almonds and walnuts.

43. Olive oil. High in mono-unsaturated fat, olive oil has been shown to
improve memory. A cheaper alternative is canola oil, but this hasn't been
studied much yet.

44. Vitamin supplements. In studies, children scored higher on tests when
on a regimen of daily vitamin supplements. "Experts" will tell you that if
you eat a balanced diet, you don't need supplements, which, given the
culture here, is really just a sales pitch for vitamins, isn't it? Who eats a
perfectly balanced diet?

45. Fiber. It isn't just what goes in, but what comes out that is important to
brain function. Toxic build-up in the body and brain can cause "brain fog."
People often report clearer thinking as one of the benefits of curing their

46. Self awareness. This may not seem important to brain power, but it is.
When you know yourself better, you can avoid the usual effects of ego
and emotion in your seemingly "rational" thinking. Or you can at least take
it into account. Watch yourself, especially as you explain things or argue.

47. Motivate yourself. Motivation is as important to mental tasks as it is to
any other. Learn a few simple techniques for self motivation. You can
start with those in Chapter 8.

48. Avoid too much stress. Neuropsychiastrist Richard Restak, M.D., form
the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health
Services, sums up the research thus: "Stress causes brain damage."
Long term stress has repeated been shown to hurt the brain, not to
mention the rest of the body. Learn a few stress reduction techniques if
you get stressed out often.

49. Get educated. Scientists have known for a while that the less
educated get alzheimer's more frequently. Education in any area seems
to make the brain stronger.

50. Avoid too much fat. In laboratory studies, animals consistently learn
slower when they are on a diet high in fat. Type of fat may make a
difference, so you may want to stick to using olive oil and other
non-saturated fats. Saturated fats have been shown to actually stunt the
growth of brain cells.

51. Eat less. Overeating has the immediate effect of redirecting more
blood to the digestive process, leaving less for the brain. Long term, it
can cause arterial obstructions that reduce blood flow to the brain
permanently. In at least one study, rats on a restricted-calorie diet had
more brainpower.

52. Avoid suspect foods. There is evidence that the following foods can
be bad for your brain: Artificial food colorings, artificial sweeteners, colas,
corn syrup, frostings, high-sugar drinks, hydrogenated fats, sugars, white
bread, and any white-flour products.

53. Eat breakfast. When kids who didn't eat breakfast started to eat it,
researchers found that their math scores went up a whole grade on

54. Avoid diabetes. The development of diabetes coincides with a
dropping of IQ scores. In other words, if you want to maintain your brain
power, follow your doctors dietary recommendations for preventing or
treating diabetes.

55. Eat foods high in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect all your cells,
including brain cells. Some of the foods highest in antioxidants include:
prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, garlic, kale, cranberries,
strawberries, spinach, and raspberries. In one test, rats had age-related
mental decline reversed by eating the equivalent of a 1/2 cup of
blueberries per day.

56. Drink wine. In moderation, red wine can be good for the brain, it
seems. It is rich in antioxidants, which protect brain cells. One glass per
day for women and two for men is usually considered a safe and
moderate amount.

57. Use alcohol in moderation. In a study at the University of Indiana
School of Medicine, elderly light drinkers (fewer than 4 drinks per week)
scored higher on tests of thinking abilities than non-drinkers. Those who
drank 10 or more drinks per week scored lower. It is known that alcohol
can kill brain cells, so moderation seems to be the key.

58. Folic acid. According to one study, 200 micrograms of folic acid, the
amount found in 3/4 cup of cooked spinach, alleviates depression and
reverses memory loss.

59. Potential brain foods. Other foods that may be good for your brain
include: Avocados, bananas, lean beef, brewer's yeast. broccoli, brown
rice, brussel sprouts, cantaloupe, cheese, chicken, collard greens, eggs,
flaxseed oil, legumes, oatmeal, oranges, peanut butter, peas, potatoes,
romaine lettuce, salmon, soybeans, spinach, tuna, turkey, wheat germ,
and yogurt.

60. Vitamin E. Jean Carper, in researching her book, "Your Miracle Brain,"
found that many brain researchers are taking 400 I.U.s of vitamin E daily.
It is an antioxidant, and reduces the clogging of blood vessels, including
those going in the brain.

61. Vitamin C. Taken in the form of orange juice in a study at the Texas
Women's University, vitamin C increased the IQ scores of children.

62. Selenium. 100 micrograms of selenium has been shown to be a
mood-elevator. Your brain almost certainly functions better when you are
in a better mood. Foods rich in selenium include Brazil nuts and garlic.

63. Alpha-lipoic acid. Alpha-lipoic acid (10 to 50 milligrams daily) improves
memory and protects nerve cells.

64. Inositol. This is a safe and natural substance that is often grouped
with the B-vitamins. It reduces stress and promotes clear thinking. It
contributes to energy production, and so can "wake you up." Animal
studies show a measurable increase in physical activity for up to five
hours after taking it.

65. Huperzine A. This is a compound extracted from the Chinese club
moss. Researchers both in Israel and the U.S. have used it to treat
alzheimer's. It improves memory and learning an seems to be very safe.

66. Ask questions. This is a great way to keep your brain in shape. Just
get in the habit of asking questions often, even if it is only in your own
mind. Why are taller buildings better? what is the purpose of curbs? Ask
anything that comes to mind, and ponder the possible answers.

67. Sniff basil. This another of the herbs that may be good for your brain.
No studies yet, but many report a brain boost from smelling basil.

68. Temperature. Many people have noted that they think better at
certain temperatures. In general, it seems that being slightly cool, but not
uncomfortable, is most conducive to good thinking. Try experimenting on
yourself to see what temperature works best for you.

69. Use systems. From the time I was ten years old, 12 x 49 was always
(12 x 50) - 12. It's easier to figure in your head this way (588, by the way).
I didn't get any credit for my personal algorithms then, but they are selling
these shortcuts on late-night TV now, because they work. You can find
your own easier ways to do mental math or other mental tasks, or read a
good book on them.

70. Make a brainpower plan. It takes about twenty to thirty days of
repetition to establish new habits, many psychologists will tell you. This
means that when you create your plan for better brainpower, be sure you
plan to use that new problem solving technique, or eat those new brain
foods for at least three weeks. You can use many of the brain boosters
here and get immediate results, but it is creating new habits that will give
you the most brainpower.

By Steve Gillman, from A Book of Secrets.

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