Friday, November 8, 2013

A fresh perspective for your brain

We regularly see stories about the benefits of bilingualism. It helps kids' brains, it staves off Alzheimer's, etc. I'm sure it does help in these areas. We're talking about exercise for the brain. It can't hurt.

We've also been told that learning to play a musical instrument opens doors in the mind. We've seen study after study that supports this notion. Kids that learn to play a musical instrument seem smarter. But I don't think that brain expansion begins and ends with these two activities (speaking another language and playing an instrument).

I think creative endeavors of all kinds should be included in this brain-stimulating category. Painting, writing, sculpting, designing -- all these interests have something in common with those already mentioned -- they move the brain's train off its usual tracks and push it in a new direction.

When you're creating, you're in a new land -- and you're designing the landscape itself. You're making a world. It could be a world of words, or a soundscape, or a peek into a new, colorful world of images. You're not doing the sorts of things that people do every day: heaving, bending, moving, running, yelling, influencing, etc. You're in a new place, one where you create the rules.

I think creating art or music or writing is even better for the brain than being bilingual, for language involves set rules. You're merely applying mental algorithms in prescribed ways. It's nice, it's refreshing and it's helpful for the brain. But creating something from scratch must be even more stimulating.

How many artists do you know who have Alzheimer's? I can't even think of one. What I know from my own experience is that when I'm writing, when I'm creating a world of my own by setting down the language that will become a book, I'm happier than at any other time in my life. It feels like there's electricity coursing through my veins. There is nothing in life that I've found to be more refreshing than writing fiction.

I hope you've got something like this in your life. If you don't, develop one. Draw a picture, write a story, redecorate your house. Anyone can do these things. You may not be able to sell your product for millions of dollars, but that was never the point. You're giving your brain exercise in a way that the mundane world can't duplicate. It's a human gift, this ability to create. Do it every day. You'll be a happier person.