Unleash your inner genius ... with a pen and a cuddly kitten: How watching cute animal videos, having a messy desk and writing can reduce stress levels
While researching my latest book Brainhack, I’ve poured through countless academic papers and scientific studies to find the simple tips and tricks we can all adopt to transform the way we think and make more of our brains. From moaning less to watching cute kitten videos on YouTube, these tips are proven to unlock your inner Einstein, making you smarter, more productive and more creative…
If you feel guilty for watching YouTube videos of cute kittens or adorable babies at your desk, don’t.
1) STOP MOANING
Too much whingeing is bad for the brain. Research shows moaning for more than 30 minutes leads to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, hampering how brain cells communicate and speeding up cell death. Over time, repeated bouts of negativity shrink the hippocampus, the area of the brain that deals with long-term memories and spatial navigation. The trick is not to moan, but complain. Complaining is a constructive, positive action and you’re much more likely to get the gripe out of your system.
2) HAVE A MESSY DESK
Our brains are very impressionable so the unconscious cues of working in a messy room make us think ‘messy’. This disorderly thinking is an ideal state to be in when trying to come up with innovative and unexpected ideas. A Northwestern University experiment looked at how working in a messy or tidy room influenced creativity. Researchers found that subjects in a messy room drew more creative pictures and solved a challenging brainteaser faster than subjects in a tidy room.
3) WATCH A KITTEN VIDEO
If you feel guilty for watching YouTube videos of cute kittens or adorable babies at your desk, don’t. Funny or feelgood videos can relieve stress. A study found 30 minutes of watching such clips lowered cortisol levels by 67 per cent and adrenaline by 35 per cent.
4) PICK UP A PEN
Compared to typing, writing uses more of the brain. On a keyboard, one tap creates an entire letter, while writing uses several strokes for each letter, activating areas of brain responsible for thinking and language. In a UCLA study half a group of students took longhand notes in a lecture and half used a laptop. The students with handwritten notes had a stronger conceptual understanding of the subject and where to apply the information, compared to those who took laptop notes.
The other benefit of pen and paper is avoiding the distraction of the internet – it has been found that students with laptops waste as much as 40 per cent of their time on unrelated websites.
5) BE MORE SARCASTIC
Far from being the lowest form of wit, being sarcastic or listening to someone who is sarcastic can make you more creative. It involves using language areas on the left side of the brain to interpret the meaning of words, and the frontal lobes and right side to understand the emotional and social context.
US researchers testing the effects of making and receiving sarcastic comments on 300 people found 75 per cent of people who had been the butt of sarcastic remarks came up with the right solution in creative problem-solving tests, compared to only 25 per cent who received sincere comments. Some 64 per cent of those who made sarcastic comments were also correct, compared to 30 per cent of a control group.
6) HAVE A NAP
Siestas help solidify memories. When a memory is first recorded in the hippocampus, which converts short-term memories into long-term ones, it’s still fragile and can be easily forgotten. Napping pushes the memory into the neocortex, the brain’s more permanent storage area. A University of Adelaide study found that a ten- to 15-minute nap boosted performance and alertness for up to two hours after waking.
7) TAKE A BREAK
A study by tech company the Draugheim group found that the most productive employees were those who took frequent breaks: 17 minutes for every 52 minutes of work, to be precise. And you could reap the benefits of taking a break from work altogether.
Ferran Adria, owner and head chef of El Bulli, voted the world’s best restaurant five times, shut his restaurant six months a year to give kitchen staff time to experiment with new dishes. ‘Now we will eat knowledge,’ he said.
Studies show regular activity can reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s by as much as 20 per cent
MAKE A DONE LIST
To-do lists are about goals, a done list is about achievements. The brain unconsciously changes a to-do list into a ‘what you haven’t done list’, creating stress and anxiety. A done list creates positive associations, making you feel more positive about yourself.
9) TAKE SOME EXERCISE
Most people think it’s cerebral activities like reading and studying that improve our minds. But exercise also has a huge effect on brain function. Studies show regular activity can reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s by as much as 20 per cent, while a brisk stroll will lower levels of cortisol.
10) THINK LIKE A CHILD
Simply imagining yourself as a free-thinking, imaginative seven-year-old can make you more creative. A study asked a group of students to write an essay on the same subject, but half were asked to write it from the perspective of themselves as a seven-year-old. They were all then asked to complete a test of creative thinking, with those who had imagined themselves as a child showing significantly higher levels of originality.
Brainhack: Tips And Tricks To Unleash Your Brain’s Full Potential by Neil Pavitt is published by John Wiley and Sons Ltd, £10.99. To get your copy for £8.24 call 0844 571 0640 or visit www.mailbookshop.co.uk by May 22.