Train your brain

10Mar14

Most everyone is keenly aware of their physical self-image. But have you ever considered how you perceive your own mind?

Heart my brain

I’ve always thought of myself as having a poor memory: I seldom remember the plots of books and movies in any detail, for example, no matter how much I’ve enjoyed them. Over the years I’ve also come to believe that I’m terrible at math, that I’m directionally impaired, and that I lack focus because I’m easily distracted.

Until recently, I hadn’t questioned these assumptions. After all, my cognitive self-image was based on my own experience (like the time I thought I’d lost my wallet at the grocery store, only to find it an hour later … inside my freezer).

But a chance encounter with a banner ad two weeks ago changed my mind. *Ahem.* Pardon the pun.

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The theory behind Lumosity is that our brains are plastic — that is, they can change if we challenge them.

I felt pretty pathetic as I took the baseline quiz. But to my surprise, my memory ranked about average compared to my peers. Even more surprising: According to the test I had excellent concentration skills, and was really quite good at math.

I also felt a bit stupid as I played the first few games. The instructions sounded deceptively simple (“if the leaves are green, click on the direction they’re pointing; if yellow, click on the direction they’re traveling”) — but actually following those instructions was another matter.

Still, I’ve persisted. And as my confidence has grown over the past few days, so has the difficulty of the games. New games have also popped into the rotation, as have unexpected obstacles in my now-familiar favorites. In short: I’ve become addicted.

“Yeah, but does it work?” you might ask. At least one blogger discredits it as a waste of time (note, however, that he hasn’t actually tried it).

I can’t say for certain that it does work — but I’m going to stick with it, for four reasons. First, the games are just plain fun. (My favorite involves avoiding fiery train crashes.)

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Second, it stokes my competitiveness. I feel almost compelled to try to beat my own top scores every day.

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Fourth, the games act as a sort of mental palate cleanser. They demand total concentration, which I find both stimulating and oddly relaxing.

And finally, Lumosity gives me hope that maybe I’m not doomed to suffer cognitive decline as I age. Even if it’s just a placebo effect, I do feel a bit sharper after two weeks.

In the end, though, the most important benefit I’ve gained from playing Lumosity is a deeper appreciation for — and understanding of — my own mind. For starters, I’ve stopped telling myself that I hate math … and have actually started doing more equations in my head.

Want to give it a try yourself? You can play for free at www.lumosity.com. I’d love to hear your thoughts!



4 Responses to “Train your brain”

  1. Snap! I’ve become addicted to Lumosity too! And I too have discovered how competitive I am – I get so cross with myself if I lose a point! – and have felt my little grey cells getting some unaccustomed strain in the mental arithmetic game.

    The idea of the brain’s plasticity certainly seems to have become accepted by neuroscientists, so I do think that there a valid argument for these games contributing to good mental health. (Love your apt description of a ‘mental palate cleanser’.) I think that any mental exercises must be good for us, whether it’s crosswords, chess, sudoku or Lumosity games. Since my brain injury, I always carry the nagging worries of not being as sharp as I was and of premature mental deterioration: these exercises make me feel as if I’m doing something positive to combat that. Go us! 🙂

    • 2 hmunro

      Go us, indeed! I’m so pleased you’re also hooked *ahem* — I meant, “enjoying the challenge.” And I think you’ll also be gratified to see how much you improve as you play the games, and that you feel sharper afterward. If nothing else, it keeps us off eBay, right? 😀

  2. 3 marianomedici

    I did the games but I didn’t want to pay for a subscription so I’m not sure what my results are .. Oops

    • 4 hmunro

      I hear ya, Mariano … I signed up for the $4 per month deal only because I know I’m more likely to stick with something if I’m paying for it. But I’m sure you still get the benefits (if there are any, ha!) by playing the games regardless.


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