Television’s favorite suited-and-sassy sleuth is back. Sherlock Holmes (in the hands of the very capable Benedict Cumberbatch) is learned, observant, and intelligent to a fault. He makes deductions in a matter of seconds; solving mysteries by inspecting, analyzing, and remembering everything he knows. If you’re struggling to boost your own brain power, take some tips from the great problem solver himself.
Make A Mind Palace
As we age, memories both short and long term become more difficult to retain. It’s important to develop good memory skills young, to get the brain in the practice of binding together and categorizing information. If you take the time to improve your memory, you’ll see the benefits immediately and for many years to come.
But, how can you remember better? Many experts say, build a mind palace.
A mind palace is an imaginary place (perhaps an old school, a house or, yes, even a palace) that is well known and can be visualized with ease. Can you close your eyes and see yourself walking from room to room in your childhood home? Perfect. That’s the basis of the mind palace.
Once your mind palace locale has been chosen, get to know the space well. Allow yourself to explore the palace, paying attention to the position of rooms and the items inside those rooms. Then, you’re ready to start filling your palace. Start with a shopping list: eggs, bacon, bread, tea, milk. Assign each item its own room in your mind palace, thinking of a reason for each location, such as: “eggs are in the front hallway, because I can imagine someone coming through the door, not looking at the floor and trampling a carton of eggs.” (When it comes to memory techniques, sillier images and ideas are always better).
When your shopping list has been positioned within the mind palace, forget about it. After you arrive at the grocery store, walk through your palace and see if you can find every item you need – chances are you will clearly remember every single thing you meant to buy. And although a five-item shopping list isn’t too hard to recall, many people who practice the mind palace technique seriously can remember 50-odd item lists, a plethora of names and dates, and even the positions of a randomly stacked pack of playing cards.
Take A Look Around You
As a child we learn to look both ways before crossing the street, and as an adult it is equally important to be aware of and engaged with our surroundings. Better attentiveness and observation skills leads to better brain health as well: keeping the mind active at all times.
Make a conscious decision to pay more attention to the world around you, and observation skills will grow. When you meet a new colleague, check to see if he’s wearing a wedding ring, if the color of his shoelaces matches the color of his shoes, or if his fingernails have been recently trimmed. As a bonus, putting more attention into the people that you meet will make you better at recognizing and remembering new faces.
Besides just identifying features in the people and things around you, consider what those characteristics might indicate. Make it a game. Go to the grocery store and look at the shopping cart of the person checking out ahead of you, then imagine what she’s doing that evening. Canned soup, a four-pack of yogurt and a box of cereal? Maybe she’s an artist, living along in a studio apartment and so busy with painting that she can’t find time to cook. Have fun with your deductions; even if they’re probably not true, you’ll be giving your brain a creative workout just the same.
Also, keep a journal. Writing down your daily thoughts, feelings and observations will help you remember them better in the future, and can improve your ability to notice and recall information.
Don’t Get Bored
When Sherlock is bored, he casually shoots a smiley face into his apartment wall. To avoid such destructive behavior, and to keep your brain from breaking down, engage in fun mental tasks as much as you can. Crossword puzzles have been proven to keep the brain younger and active longer, and one study from the Archives of Neurology even indicated that people who have spent large portions of their lives reading, writing and doing crossword puzzles may be at a lesser risk of developing Alzheimer’s brain plaque.
Thanks to the internet and smart phones, it’s easier than ever to do puzzles anytime, any place. Math problems can help you remember arithmetic basics you haven’t used in years; with logic puzzles you can practice analyzing evidence and coming to a conclusion; and riddles are great for solving with friends and improving lateral thinking skills.
Another great way to keep your mind sharp is by constantly learning new information, or practicing a new skill. Try an instrument, take a cooking class, or have a friend teach you how to knit. Not only do these activities keep the brain on its toes and the mind free from boredom, but you’ll have a fantastic new hobby to boast about.
Learning a language is also great for brain health: a 2013 study from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital found that studying a new language can actually change the inferior frontal cortex of the brain by stimulating new neural growth. In the same way that juggling will teach your muscles a new, automatic way of moving, language learning can make your brain quicker and more limber.