To run a successful business, your mental fitness is just as important as your bottom line or your marketing plan. It takes work to stay sharp, but learning how to get smarter will make you a more agile, creative business leader.
Intelligence is a use-it-or-lose-it commodity, so exercising your brain needs to be an ongoing effort. “You can't just play a [brain-training] game for ten minutes and think you'll be sharper for the rest of your life," says Susanne Jaeggi, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Michigan. "It takes dedication and practice [to get smarter]."
You may already know about the most effective strategies for improving your brainpower: exercise, low stress, and continued learning. But it's hard to commit to doing them when your business takes all your time.
Here are three strategies to work brain-boosting activities into your busy schedule:
1. Get a treadmill desk. "The most important thing for maintaining brain function is physical condition," says Richard Restak, a neuroscientist and author of Think Smart (Riverhead Trade, 2010). If you don’t keep your body healthy, your mind will start to deteriorate.
For many entrepreneurs, busy workdays get in the way of workouts. Instead of trying to juggle both, merge them. Take calls or answer emails on a treadmill desk, bike to off-site meetings, or do jumping jacks while you brainstorm. Not only will you have more energy, your brain will function better -- now and in the future.
If you have more time for exercise, try partner dancing (such as salsa or swing) or tennis. Each requires you to make rapid-fire decisions and store a lot of information at once, so they are especially good for your brain.
2. Learn a language on your commute. To get smarter, tax your brain with a challenging task like learning a new language. Work it into a busy schedule by practicing on your commute. (Try Babbel, a free language-learning app for iOS and Andriod.)
If languages aren't your thing, learn to play chess or a musical instrument, or do a daily crossword. "Any activity that demands high mental capacity will help you improve your general cognitive ability," says Jaeggi.
According to Jaeggi’s research, you need to practice these activities for at least one month, 20-25 minutes a day, in order to see any real benefit. Just like going to the gym, "the longer you train, the better the outcome," she says.
3. Meditate whenever you have to wait. "Stress is the biggest peril toward maintaining good brain function," Restak says. Cortisol, the hormone you release when you're stressed out, impairs your memory and brain function. Mindfulness, or meditation, helps lower stress, keeping your brain sharp.
Meditate while you wait for water to boil, for a train to arrive, for a meeting to start, or for a doctor to finally see you. It doesn’t require silence or solitude -- just mindful attention. Try this online meditation guide to help you get started.
Related: 3 Easy Tricks to Improve Your Memory
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.