Exercising Your Brain

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Going back to my childhood, I was pretty academic in school. I was an avid reader, had a keen interest in music and dreamt of becoming a doctor. Then like many other teenagers, when puberty struck and I began high school, I became unmotivated with my studies. I lost interest in school work and preferred to hang out with my friends instead. I found the content of my lessons uninspiring and despite their best efforts, very few teachers could actually encourage me to produce the work I was capable of. Despite having an IQ of 150, I never reached my full potential in school. My formal education ended with the completion of my GCSE’s. I did fairly well in the exams but my grades suffered as a result of much of my coursework being missing or incomplete. Perhaps I would have fared better under the old ‘O Level’ system which relied on exam results only. I have met a number of successful people who performed badly in their GCSE’s so perhaps it is wise to remember that they are a reflection of the work ethic of a sixteen year old child, not the skills, knowledge, business acumen and capacity for learning of an adult.

It has been several years now since leaving school and ironically, I have more of a thirst for learning now than what I ever did as a child. I once heard a quote which has always stayed with me, ‘formal education isn’t what makes you smart, if you’re smart you educate yourself’. And I guess that is what I have been trying to do for the past few years, not for the sake of making up for the shortcomings in my formal education, but learning just for the pleasure of learning something new or mastering a new skill. Your brain is an organ that needs to be exercised. Do so by reading, writing, completing puzzles, learning new skills… Anything that engages your brain and requires you to think. Many people now realise the benefits of regularly doing activities which stimulate and challenge your brain. In recent years, brain training games have become popular and scientists believe that staying mentally active could maybe help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

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I am keeping my brain active at the moment by studying astronomy. It is a complex but fascinating subject which is certainly making me think! I have met some that think it is only worth learning things that will make you money. But there is nothing wrong with learning for the sake of learning. In my opinion, it is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Here are some ideas for getting your brain working – 

Online educational resources – The internet has a vast amount of websites and resources for learning. A lot of universities have free courses on their websites including top universities such as Harvard, Yale and Berkeley. Wikiversity is a Wikimedia project which contains lots of learning resources at all levels of education. There are some superb videos for learning on YouTube, check out #education. The BBC website also has an excellent education section (we have to make use of our licence fee somehow). There are so many other great websites – this link will take you to an article written by Marc Chernoff where he has listed some of the best!

Libraries – Visit your local library and borrow books on subjects that interest you or perhaps subjects which you have no prior knowledge of. Libraries contain books on every subject from architecture to zoology.

Hobbies – Take up a new hobby or perhaps take up one that you dropped years ago. Learn to draw or paint, cook or bake, learn a craft such as knitting or even learn to fly… Anything that sparks your interest and creativity.

Art galleries – I always find that visiting an art gallery provides a lot of intellectual stimulation, even if it is just because you find yourself staring at a piece of art and thinking, ‘how on earth did that get to be exhibited?!’

Museums – Visit local museums or travel further afield to places such as London which has some world class museums including the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Start your own business – This will provide you with lots to think about and to do!

Learn a strategy game – My husband recently taught me to play chess, an excellent way to get you thinking and an enjoyable way to pass the time rather than spending an evening just watching TV.

Write – Poetry, a short story, that novel you have been meaning to write for years or like me, that blog you have always been meaning to start.

Get outdoors – Whether it’s a walk in the local or park or a cross country hike, gentle exercise and getting closer to nature always leaves you feeling good and mentally stimulated. 

Current affairs – Keep up to date with what is happening in the world, read newspapers, watch the news, maintain an interest in politics and debate with those around you.

Learn a musical instrument – Musical instruments are more affordable than ever and with a whole host of free teaching resources available online, it has never been easier to learn an instrument. I play double bass and if you happen to also play it, check out Jeff’s excellent videos at discoverdoublebass.com

Watch a play or film – When well written, these can provide plenty of mental stimulation. The same goes for listening to music.

Make something – Whether it’s a beautiful cake, a scale model or a patchwork quilt, your brain will be kept busy as well as your hands. 

Learn a new language – As with many other subjects, there are so many free resources on the web for learning a language now, whether you want to master the basics or become a fluent speaker. French, German, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Latin… The choice is endless.

Read – As much as you can. Fiction, non-fiction, classic works of literature… Books make the world a much better place.

Personal development – Some people dismiss self help and personal development as mumbo jumbo but I disagree. Learning to increase your confidence, overcome depression about your past and anxiety about your future are crucial skills to learn. Never underestimate the importance of being able to master your emotional state, mindfulness, positive self talk and learning to see and think ‘differently’. 

Observe the world around you – It’s very easy to go through life on autopilot. Many of us have the same daily routine and switch off to what is actually going on around us. The next time you are on your daily commute or taking a walk around your home town, really look at what is around you. You will be surprised at what you may find that you have never noticed before. Historic architecture, interesting plants, places of natural beauty… Even just going outside on a clear, dark night and observing the night sky offers a feast for the senses. 

Puzzles – Crosswords, Sudoku, brain training games – these all provide great exercise for your brain. Try learning to complete a Rubik’s cube, it is immensely satisfying once you learn and a great party trick!

Mental arithmetic – Next time you reach for your calculator – don’t. Use your brain instead. The confusion on the face of shop assistants when you ask them ‘do you want the 10?’ shows that we have become incredibly reliant on technology to do our maths for us. Whether it’s basic mental arithmetic when out shopping or tackling your own accounts, practice maths at every opportunity to keep your brain sharp. 

Take a class – Flower arranging, art, cooking, pottery… There are an abundance of inexpensive (sometimes free) classes out there to take. Check out your local classifieds to find out what’s on near you. 

Join a club – From amateur dramatics, to gardening, to the WI, again there are lots of choices in your local area if you choose to look. 

Travel – New sights, new smells, different languages, new cultures… They all provide a feast for the senses and for your brain. Travel offers are wealth of opportunity to learn, perhaps more so than any other pastime in my opinion. 

Yoga – I have included yoga as it is an activity that is about the mind as well as the body. A wonderfully relaxing form of exercise, as well as increasing your flexibility and suppleness, yoga will also leave your mind feeling clear and refreshed. If you prefer more rigorous exercise, remember that all forms of physical activity help your body to release endorphins leaving you feeling good and mentally alert. 

Until next time, keep working that grey matter x 

In Pursuit Of Success

Any of you that follow me on Facebook or Instagram will know that I’m a big fan of inspirational quotes. Some people love them and some people hate them but I am firmly in the love them camp. Sometimes we all need a bit of motivation and a few simple words can sometimes encourage you to think about your life or your present situation. I once read somewhere that success in life such is 10% skill and 90% mindset. I think there is a lot of truth in that. I personally know some incredibly successful people – self made millionaires and people that have built up a successful business empire from scratch. Not all of them work in the same industry, not all of them do the same things but they all share one thing in common – a positive, focused, motivated mindset. Even when they first started their journeys, they all believed in themselves and had visions of their future success. It’s not arrogance, it’s confidence and self belief. These people inspire and attract others who want to emulate their success. 

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Try and spend your time with people who lift you higher. There are too many people in life who will try and bring you down. 

Being self employed and starting your own business is hard. I know because I’m currently doing it. It involves early mornings and late nights, seven days a week. You have to make personal sacrifices so that you can invest time and money into your business. In the beginning, the financial rewards are small compared with the amount of work that you are putting in. It would be so easy just to give up but unfortunately, that is what the road on the way looks like. The difference between people that are successful and the ones who are not is that the successful ones don’t give up. You have to remind yourself why you are doing it. Whether you want to earn lots of money for expensive things, financial freedom, to travel or whether like me, you want time freedom. The freedom to use your time the way you want, to take days off and holidays when you want, to spend your weekends with your loved ones, to spend Christmas at home with your family – that is why I am building my business. Remind yourself of your ‘why’ motivation every single day. If you have visions of living in a beautiful home, owning an expensive car, being your own boss, travelling the world… Don’t call it a dream, think of it as a plan. If you want nice things and the freedom to do what you want, you can pin your hopes on a lottery win (it won’t happen), or instead you can try and build your own success. 

Some people have an incredibly negative mindset. We all have bad days. And it’s ok. That’s life. It throws challenges, hurt, obstacles, sadness, tragedy… Downright horrible things at us that we have to deal with. But some people just go through life under a permanently dark cloud, constantly pessimistic, moaning, feeling sorry for themselves and dwelling on everything that has gone wrong and waiting for the next thing that will go wrong. It’s almost as if they set themselves up for failure after failure. I believe that positive people attract positive things and that your life situation will be as good as your attitude towards it. If you have the right mindset, you will attract people to you who will lift you up rather than bring you down.

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Spending time with negative, moaning people is one of life’s miseries. Don’t let them drag you down to their level. 

 

I love the quote ‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning how to dance in the rain’. It’s been shared so many times on social media now that people ignore it but it’s so true. A negative mind will never give you a positive life and you just have to learn how to deal with the rubbish life throws at you sometimes. In the past few years, I’ve had to deal with a lot of sadness, hurt and grief but I’m sure as hell not gonna let that defeat me. There are people no longer with me that I wish were, there are things people have done to me that I really wish they hadn’t but I can’t change any of them. All I can do is look forward, smile and keep living my life, doing the things that make me happy with people that make me happy. I don’t think about what’s wrong, I’m thankful for what’s right. When something bad happens in your life, you have a choice. You can let it define you, let it destroy you or the one which I’ve chosen – let it strengthen you. If you can build a firm foundation with the bricks that have been thrown at you in life then you’re onto a winner. 

Think of a negative attitude like a flat tyre – you won’t go anywhere until you change it 🙂 

Until next time, stay beautiful (and positive) x

Coping With The Death Of A Loved One

Death is often seen as a taboo subject. Something which many of us are reluctant to talk about. But it’s a sad fact of life. We live and then we die. But how do we cope after the death of someone we love? Today, I will share my story with you about coming to terms with the death of someone I loved dearly – my dad.

Five years ago today, my dad passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest at home. He was 56, I was 24. That day began for me (and him) just like any other. I went to work as usual thinking it was just a normal day. I left off work, got home, started cooking my dinner and then I received a phone call from my brother that would change my life forever… My dad had suffered a massive heart attack and had died. He was only 56 and seemed in pretty good health but his heart had gone into cardiac arrest and despite an amazing effort from paramedics, he couldn’t be revived. He had died almost instantly. I remember the surreal moment of listening to one of the paramedics talking to me down the phone and telling me that he ‘didn’t suffer’ and thinking to myself ‘this can’t be happening’. I cannot even begin to explain what it’s like to receive news like that…

Five years on and life has gone on. Myself and my brother have both got married and dad now has a grandchild. I know he would say to both of us that although his life is over, ours isn’t and it’s important to move forward. Losing an immediate family member can cause you to find inner strength that you never realised you had. My mum in particular has been truly remarkable at being there for me and my brother despite fighting her own serious illnesses. Despite not being here in the flesh, I truly believe that dad is still with us in some way and watching over us all.

As anyone who has ever experienced the death of a loved one, particularly an immediate family member will know, you don’t ‘get over it’ but time does make it easier to deal with. You get used to no longer having that person around anymore. I have lost people close to me before and those deaths were ‘expected’. Personally, I found them slightly easier to deal with. Not that an expected death is any less upsetting but you do have some time to mentally prepare yourself for when the time comes and to ‘say goodbye’. Even if you don’t say it out loud, inside you know that each time you leave them if could be the last. In a way, you had already begun to grieve so when the time of passing comes, it doesn’t come as a shock.

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Dad 1954 – 2011

With a sudden death like dad’s though, you don’t get that time to prepare yourself for when the time comes. I will never forget the moment I found out about dad’s death. I literally collapsed from shock. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact I would never see him again or hear his voice. As well as sadness, I felt angry that he had been robbed of his life at a relatively young age. How he would never see myself or my brother get married, never see his grandchildren and they would never meet their grandad. Bereavement is an experience that leads to all kinds of emotions and thoughts. Most of which aren’t pleasant.

My advice to anyone coping with the death of a loved one would be firstly, do not hide your feelings. Talk about how you feel. If you are not comfortable talking with family and friends, talk to your doctor or talk to a bereavement charity such as Cruse. Have a good cry, don’t bottle things up and try and ‘stay strong’. You are grieving, you don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed about getting upset and appearing like you are feeling ok if you’re not. Don’t neglect yourself, eat properly and rest. Take care of yourself and talk to your doctor if you have a health concern. And never turn to drugs, alcohol or smoke to excess. After my dad died, I dreamt about him and he said in the dream, ‘do not try and come here’ and I knew what that meant – your loved one’s life may be over but yours isn’t. And they wouldn’t want it to be so don’t do anything self destructive. Don’t make any big decisions while you are still grieving such as business or financial. You still need time to adjust to what has happened and time to think. I returned to work after my dad’s funeral and I found that to be very beneficial. I wasn’t pressured into returning to work so soon but having other things to think about and to do and the support of my colleagues helped with the grieving process.

Above all, remember that you will get through it and come out of it as a stronger person. It’s a cliche but it’s true. Losing a loved one is one of the most stressful experiences that we will go through in life. Take each day one at a time. You will experience a rollercoaster of emotions and you just have to let each one pass. Bereavement is a difficult journey and there will be days where you will hit rock bottom and wonder whether you will ever feel ok again. But it’s a journey that you will complete and yes, you will be ok. I am speaking from experience and I promise you, it will get easier. You will never forget them and there will be times when you will still get upset but you will adjust to life without them. When you think of your loved one, one day you will smile more than you cry. RIP Dad… you are still loved so very much and never forgotten.

My thoughts are with anyone who is experiencing or has experienced the death of someone they loved. Please feel free to share this with anyone who you feel that it may help.