The Brain Game

highland cowSo I’m in Scotland, which means my ability to respond to comments is limited, but I did want to pass along something I learned on the flight over here. I do not own a TV, so those little screens on the seat ahead of me fascinate me, and I spend most of the flight noshing on documentaries or playing trivia games.

highland piperI came across one program created by the BBC and narrated by Michael Mosely. The narrator described himself as a happy child who’d grown into an anxious, insomniac man. For years, he’d lain awake at night fretting over the state of the world, the next day’s to-do list, or the previous day’s activities. Increasingly, he viewed the future with foreboding and life as drudgery.

highland sheep worryingThis of course caught my ear, because I too, can get into ruts, and it’s no understatement to admit I view the world and other people with a certain distrust. I can be fretful and worried and heaven knows, my sleeping patterns aren’t ideal. I was curious about what can be done to reverse the bad sleep and bad attitude, if anything.

Turns out, there are steps to take to combat both pessimism and insomnia, and they’re simple. The first thing Mosely did was practice twenty minutes a day of mindfulness meditation. He sat quietly, eyes closed, and focused on his breathing. That’s it. No yoga contortions, no arcane diet, no biofeedback machine, just paid attention to breathing for twenty minutes a day.

highland sheep dogThe second change in his routine was to do a short brain-training game every day. It’s an easy, even fun game. He looked at panel of sixteen faces, the same sixteen, over and over. One face on each panel would be smiling, the other fifteen frowning. To play the game, he simply clicked on the happy face, over and over. To see the game he played, or to play it yourself, click here.

The point of the game to was encourage the brain to literally “look” on the bright side. After seven weeks, Mosely tested as more optimistic, and his sleep was greatly improved. Guess who’s going to try both the meditation and the brain game for the next seven weeks?

highland piggy bankI want to see if I can effect the same changes, but I’m also struck by how small, even silly changes made consistently can create larger shifts in our lives. For example, simply smiling can improve your mood. Petting a dog lowers blood pressure. If you sit a lot, simply getting out of the chair every 30 minutes increases life expectancy. Modest savings can grow into a comfortable retirement if the habit is kept up over time.

At a time in life when I can easily feel overwhelmed, the idea that little changes can yield big results is a great comfort. What small changes have you made, or would you like to make, in pursuit of a big result?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card.

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26 comments on “The Brain Game

  1. 1
    Sherri says:

    I’ve found that a daily walk, sun or shine, helps improve my mood.

  2. 2
    Susan Gorman says:

    Each morning, I get up, get dressed , put my sneakers on, grab the leashes and walk the dogs. It might sound like a small thing but walking centers me and prepares me for the day. I sit at a desk all day at work and I know that I need the excercise.
    I am going to make and effort to stay away from bread and pasta and make healthier eating choices. This is a great time of year to make healthier choices with all of the summer veggies and fruit.
    Both of these small changes should result in weight loss….if I stick to them! :)
    Grace–have a fabulous time in Scotland! Enjoy!

  3. 3
    Barbara Elness says:

    I started taking a yoga class twice a week and there is a five minute meditation before each class. I think it has helped me become calmer and take things in stride better than before. One change that I’m working on now is staying in the moment. My sister just retired and all I can think of is getting to that same point so I can move back home and enjoy time with my family and friends, but I have to live for now, not four years from now. Otherwise that time will come and I’ll have missed all the good things about those four years because I lived for the future instead of right now.

  4. 4
    Lara says:

    I am years due of exercise and healthy living. I happily discovered on a hike two weeks ago that the long-held belief that I am beyond making physical changes is not true at all. It was an uphill battle on the way to the top of that hike and with my heart and lungs burning from non-exertion in years, I was surprised myself by making it! I now do daily exercises and I am looking forward to more hikes soon!

  5. 5
    Mary T says:

    I have I have tried all of the things mentioned in your post at one time or another and they do help. I am prone to depression, especially Winter depression.

    When I am feeling low one thing that helps me a lot is to laugh – so I seek laughter. I seek out humor that makes me laugh out loud – mostly TV or books. I have had people tell me that when they are depressed nothing seems funny, but that is not true for me.

    • 5.1
      Mary T says:

      “I have I have” – typos can be funny too. Hope someone gets a laugh from that. I just find it annoying.

  6. 6
    Kassia says:

    Oh I hope you are having a great time… post pictures my friend so we can experience Scotland vicariously!!! Because of one comment you posted about a Scotland singer I have discovered the Highlander Games in New Hampshire and I am taking my family and 3 friends there in September! I am so excited!!!

    When the horrible moments come and all looks gray and discouraging a few things make a difference for me.

    Laughter – oh the power of a good laughter!!!! I have books on knock knock jokes, family circus, and clean nice jokes… At a dark time in my life I had books all over so I could read it at all time.

    Music ( to me Christian music is my thing!) I hear certain songs that I love and make me think of God’s grace and I can be calm and encouraged. Honestly all changes for me. Not the circumstances but I change!

    I meditate – I have 2 Psalms that over and over help me stop and think and I reflect on where I have been, where I am today and see the long history of God’s grace and intervention in my life and I keep going one more day!

    At times one of the best things I have done is taking pictures. Regardless of the season pictures are really something that makes me see life in a different way.

    Another thing that helps me is of course reading! I love certain books and have no problems reading them again and again. I love Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones… yep… nothing like a good struggle good x evil and see good prevailing to give me a boost!!!

    I am not sure those are small things… they are things that work for me!!!

    :)

  7. 7
    Maria says:

    Lately, I’ve had a few nights here and there of insomnia so am practicing concentrating on my breaths–not counting them, just focusing on them with the easy in and out motion. And it has worked! And, if I’m having a not-so-great day, I simply tell myself (over and over), “it’s just a bad day, not a bad life.” :)

  8. 8
    Gail Nichols says:

    I wish I could lose 20 pounds just to feel better. The chocolate cheese cake keeps calling my name :)

  9. 9
    Sharlene Wegner says:

    I think maybe I will try the meditation you mentioned, although 20 min seems like a long time! My husband & I are going to try to save money on food, by having food at home instead of last minute take-out (although I love pizza, so that has to stay!), and by checking weekly ads & coupons. I just got my hours cut at work, so any little bit will help!

  10. 10
    Kathy Nye says:

    Can’t wait to hear your results.

    Two little changes that help me are drinking more water and less sugary drinks (harder than it sounds) and getting enough sleep. I am a nicer person when I am not sleep deprived.

  11. 11
    Terri C. says:

    I’ve changed my eating habits and have seen results. Nothing better than cutting sugar out of my life!

  12. 12
    Michelle K says:

    I would like to get a standing desk for work so I could be more healthy. But I’m not sure that there is one long enough to hold all the monitors I use. Looking into it…

  13. 13
    catslady says:

    I’m on the computer more than watch TV but then a lot of times I’m doing both – both time suckers but I also think I learn a lot. It also can be depressing when reading about the world but I hate to keep my head in the sand. I am trying that getting up every 30 minutes but I soon forget – going to get myself a timer!! But my biggest answer is reading – always has been. Reading at night makes me forget the day’s problems or the world’s for that matter. Luckily, I don’t have to get up early very often so I read until I’m sleepy enough to fall right to sleep.

  14. 14
    Glenda says:

    Before my children were born I was a technical writer for a big corporation. I loved the writing. I hated the office politics. I was a stay at home mom/school volunteer for many years but eventually had to earn some money. I started writing freelance from home. I was chained to the computer all day – either working or looking for my next job. I decided to get a full time job and now work retail at an independent high end pet store. I am on my feet 98% of the day and get weightlifting in since we stock and unload deliveries. I lost some weight and built muscle. Plus, I get to help people find the best food and other products for their furbabies. Sadly there is still some office politics type stuff, but at least I’m not tied to the computer anymore. :-)

    • 14.1
      Glenda says:

      As of 11 last night, I’ve decided to keep all tbe supplies for de-skunking large double coated dogs on hand at all times.

  15. 15
    Diane B says:

    Eat more salad and less sweets. Get back into my exercise routine. Easy in intentions; hard in practice.

    Happy travels in Scotland, Grace!

  16. 16
    Gretchen H says:

    Whose gorgeous puppy is in the pic you posted? I’m not a dog person but if I ever did give in to my boys and get one, I’d have to get a border collie!

  17. 17
    Anne Egger says:

    I wanted to comment on positive attitude. There was a song by Rosemary Clooney called “Count Your Blessings”. I don’t do this every day, but I do this quite a lot. I post online and also pen to paper I try to write down 10 blessings. For example, God, my health, my husband, 2 cats, baby gardenias, small yellow roses, girlfriends, Atlanta, train, and walking. It makes me aware of the present and the gifts God has given me.

  18. 18
    Monica Petringa says:

    The small (large) change is in the form of a puppy. Her name is Roxy, she is 4 months old. Why is she a change? So that my depression, diabetes and lack of mobility would be forced out of bed to feed pet tend another being who does not understand I feel like the worst person ever. She understands kibble, water, her ball the word cookie…and that petting her and caring for her gets me out of myself and slowly back into the world. I am not alone.

  19. 19
    bn100 says:

    cleaning my bookshelves

  20. 20
    Janiec says:

    I play trivia games on Sporcle daily to keep my brain active and I learn new things all the time.

  21. 21
    Nise' says:

    Last year I took an introduction to Tai Chi class and was surprised that breathing was a big part of the practice. I have seen numerous positive results from this twice weekly 45 min. class.

  22. 22
    Georgie D says:

    Well it’s not so small, but the last “change” was to quit smoking. I can breath again! I can smell again, and I can exersize.. Lots of other positives came from this.

  23. 23
    Ruth says:

    I don’t know about the brain game, but I love the Scottish cows, dog, and mostly the “sheep worrying” sign! Hope you are enjoying Scotland; it is my dream visit. You must come home with a plaid!

  24. 24
    Sheryl says:

    I have tried to stop buying as many paperback books and getting more on my Kindle. My husband says I can open a bookstore. I did pull some off my bookcase and donate them to my local library.