Brain gymnastics: four tips for a healthy brain

Four useful exercises for more attention, concentration and memory.

Combat stress with the 4G method

If it is more difficult cognitively, you experience more stress. And vice versa, thinking or remembering may be less successful under the influence of persistent stress. A very successful way to deal with that jammer is the 4G method, which refers to an Event, the Thoughts you have about it, the Feelings that result from it, and the Behavior with which you react. “The starting point is that an event itself is not stressful, but that the thought about it determines whether you end up in a negative stress circle. That is where the turning point lies: you can break through that by intervening at the thought level and bending negative thoughts into real helpful ones. This way you end up in a positive stress circle, which will also improve your cognitive complaints. This is useful for everyone, because no one escapes stress,” emphasizes neuropsychologist Dr Noëlle Kamminga (Maastricht University Medical Center).

Practical example:

Event. I’m back from the store and I forgot something.

Thoughts. I haven’t been paying attention. Again. However, all the messages were on my note. How stupid am I!

Turn that thought into: Sorry. I forgot something. That happens to the best.

Feelings. Disgusted, angry, frustration

Because of the positive thought, these are converted into: I am a bit disappointed, but I remain calm under it.

Behaviour. I take it out on my environment, partner and children. I get physical complaints such as muscle tension, worse walking.

Is converted into: I’m going to relax and, for example, play a game with the (grand) children.

Memory training: build a memory palace

Memory training for advanced users is the construction of so-called memory palaces. That technique is based on the fact that people are very good at remembering places. This method was already used in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. According to tradition, the Greek poet Simonides would have lived in the 5of century BC recited a poem at a banquet. When he walked out afterwards, the building collapsed. Simonides was able to identify the bodies of the deceased based on where they had previously been. This myth is about the origin of the memory palace method.

Practical example:

If you want to quickly store new information such as a shopping list in your memory, mentally identify some places in your home that you know very well. Make a route from the front door through your home. Then link each new item you want to remember to a place or object on that route and visualize that link. For example, you place tomatoes at the front door, milk at the bottom of the stairs, olives in the hall, gingerbread on your counter and so on. Because you know these places perfectly, you can recall the information by looking at each place to see what is there. It takes some practice at first, but once you’ve mastered this you can easily remember new things and make your memory really stronger.

Try mindful attention training

Before you can absorb information from your environment, you must be able to focus your attention and concentrate. Due to the many stimuli around us, this often does not work. Through this simple exercise, you can relearn how to hold your attention for longer.

Practical example:

Sit comfortably in your living room or garden and then focus for 1 minute on everything you hear around you, 1 minute on everything you see from your chair and 1 minute on how your body feels. Use a kitchen timer to time this. After each minute, write down exactly what you have heard, seen and felt.

Practice ‘unofficial’ mindfulness

Mindfulness helps tremendously in combating tension and stress, two major obstacles to memory and concentration. For many people, those longer meditations are too difficult or require too much investment of time and discipline. “That’s why attention is growing for the so-called unofficial way of mindfulness, which does not add extra tension to situations that are already stressful by themselves,” explains Dr. Noëlle Kamminga.

This method consists of countless small exercises in your daily life. “Thanks to these exercises you stay calm in the moment. This also helps enormously to prevent you from giving blunt or primary reactions in a stress situation, with which you harm yourself or others. Such mindfulness snacks keep your stress level low and also your cognitive processes – concentration, memory, planning, and organization – will become more fluid as a result.”

Practical example

Choose a routine activity such as making coffee, peeling potatoes, or washing the car. Try to see this banal act almost as an art form, as the Japanese do with their tea ritual. Breathe in and out slowly and watch your hands do their work, enjoy the movement. It is not about the end result but about the action itself. Stay with your attention on that action and do it consciously and with surrender. Then you will notice that your sense of time disappears (for a moment) and that you can find peace in an everyday job that you would normally quickly finish.

Read more: Noëlle Kamminga, Brain fitness, Boom publisher, isbn 9789024444960, 25, 95€

If it is more difficult cognitively, you experience more stress. And vice versa, thinking or remembering may be less successful under the influence of persistent stress. A very successful way to deal with that jammer is the 4G method, which refers to an Event, the Thoughts you have about it, the Feelings that result from it, and the Behavior with which you react. “The starting point is that an event itself is not stressful, but that the thought about it determines whether you end up in a negative stress circle. That is where the turning point lies: you can break through that by intervening at the thought level and bending negative thoughts into real helpful ones. This way you end up in a positive stress circle, which will also improve your cognitive complaints. This is useful for everyone, because no one escapes stress,” emphasizes neuropsychologist Dr Noëlle Kamminga (Maastricht University Medical Center). I’m back from the store and I forgot something. Thoughts. I haven’t been paying attention. Again. However, all the messages were on my note. How stupid I am! Turn that thought into: Too bad. I forgot something. That happens to the best sometimes. Feelings. Bales, angry, frustration. The positive thought converts these into: I am a bit disappointed, but I remain calm.Behaviour. I take it out on my environment, partner and children. I get physical complaints such as muscle tension, worse walking. Is converted into: I am going to relax and, for example, play a game with the (grand) children. Memory training for advanced users is the construction of so-called memory palaces. That technique is based on the fact that people are very good at remembering places. This method was already used in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. According to tradition, the Greek poet Simonides recited a poem during a banquet in the 5th century BC. When he walked out afterwards, the building collapsed. Simonides was able to identify the bodies of the deceased based on where they had previously been. This myth is pretty much the origin of the memory palace method. Practical example: To quickly store new information such as a shopping list in your memory, mentally identify some places in your house that you know very well. Make a route from the front door through your home. Then link each new item you want to remember to a place or object on that route and visualize that link. For example, you place tomatoes at the front door, milk at the bottom of the stairs, olives in the hall, gingerbread on your counter and so on. Because you know these places perfectly, you can recall the information by looking at each place to see what is there. It takes some practice at first, but once you’ve mastered this you can easily remember new things and make your memory really stronger. Before you can absorb information from your environment, you must be able to focus your attention and concentrate. Due to the many stimuli around us, this often does not work. Through this simple exercise, you can relearn how to hold your attention for longer. Case study: Sit comfortably in your living room or garden and then focus for 1 minute on everything you hear around you, 1 minute on everything you see from your chair and 1 minute on how your body feels. Use a kitchen timer to time this. After each minute, write down exactly what you have heard, seen and felt. Mindfulness helps tremendously in combating tension and stress, two major obstacles to memory and concentration. For many people, those longer meditations are too difficult or require too much investment of time and discipline. “That’s why attention is growing for the so-called unofficial way of mindfulness, which does not add extra tension to situations that are already stressful by themselves,” explains Dr. Noëlle Kamminga. This method consists of countless small exercises in your daily life. “Thanks to these exercises you stay calm in the moment. This also helps enormously to prevent you from giving blunt or primary reactions in a stress situation, with which you harm yourself or others. Such mindfulness snacks keep your stress level low and also your cognitive processes – concentration, memory, planning and organization – run more smoothly as a result.” Practical example Choose a routine activity such as making coffee, peeling potatoes or washing the car. Try to see this banal act almost as an art form, as the Japanese do with their tea ritual. Breathe in and out slowly and watch your hands do their job, enjoy the movement. It is not about the end result but about the action itself. Stay with your attention on that action and do it consciously and with surrender. Then you will notice that your sense of time disappears (for a while) and that you can find peace in an everyday job that you would normally quickly rush through.

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