What is brain training?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in health and wellbeing. And if you’re interested in health and wellbeing, I assume that your interest might also extend to brain health and wellbeing.
Not surprisingly, the extent to which the attention of writers and researchers, coaches and psychologists has focused on brain health has increased considerably in recent years. Whereas, in the past, the focus was predominately on brain ill-health (including mental ill-health), a relatively recent shift over the last decade or so has seen greater interest and greater focus on those factors that contribute to our thriving and flourishing; and that includes the best possible functioning of our minds.
We forget, sometimes, that the most significant contributor to our health and wellbeing, not to mention to our work performance and lives as parents, is the way we think about things. Cognitive functioning and thinking styles have been proven, over many decades now, to largely determine our mood, behaviour and interpersonal interactions. So, the way our brains work significantly affect how we feel, what we do, and even how we love or are loved.
Given that, many have pondered the notion of whether or not we can train our brains to be more effective; or to function better and thereby allow us to be more productive, healthier, happier or better in some way.
This has, it could easily be argued, formed the basis of most types of psychotherapy over the years. Although they vary in their specific approaches, almost all forms of therapy aim, in one way or other, to help clients change the way they think about things so they can then change the way they live their lives. Brain training could easily be defined as changing the way one thinks about things.
More recently, however, the phrase has taken on a slightly different meaning. Borrowing from a physical health analogy, where it’s well known that one can train the body to become fitter and stronger, some have begun to suggest we can train our brains in a similar way so they too can become fitter and stronger. To do so, certain mental exercises are prescribed with a view to enhancing mental health, resilience and even some aspects of cognitive functioning such as memory, concentration and decision making.
Do these approaches work?
Well, yes and no! To be honest, it’s relatively early days in terms of how long some of these approaches (especially those claiming to improve cognitive abilities) have been around and how well they’ve been researched. There’s undoubtedly some evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, to support the claims they provide benefits. But there’s also strong suggestions that the claims made by some of the more prominent programs (and apps) are very possibly overstated.
So should you try brain training?
Like everything in life, it’s up to you. But if you do, ensure you have realistic expectations; especially if significant amounts of money are involved. Ensure, also, that the approach being used is relevant to you and your goals. Look for programs that aren’t overly simplistic, that are varied depending on the level of the user, and that focus on generalising learnings to real world situations.
And remember, finally, that if your goal is to keep your brain active and healthy then there are numerous activities in which you can engage, on your own, that will help. Keep reading, keep learning, keep trying new things and keep socialising. All of these simple, but important activities have been shown to provide benefits for your brain and, therefore, your overall health and wellbeing.