VIVAN PATEL decided it was time to build cognitive reserve in his brain by doing a few simple tasks. The results speak for themselves: he became much more aware instead of functioning on autopilot.
In order to build and retain cognitive reserve, our brain needs fresh challenges almost on a daily basis to keep our neural pathways open and maintain a healthy central nervous system. I decided to take up this challenge by practicing a few simple exercises I learned in the Brighter Minds Restart program for adults.
One of the things I took up first was to take a different route to work and try to take only left turns to get to the office and … well, it’s not always possible! I was able to make it eventually but I had to get quite creative and think of different options while I was driving. I was fully aware rather than operating like we normally do from the subconscious mind and following our habitual patterns.
In order to build and
retain cognitive reserve, our brain needs
fresh challenges almost
on a daily basis to keep our neural pathways open
and maintain a healthy
central nervous system.
The other thing I tried was cycling to work, which is actually quite amazing because I was able to observe things minutely as well as engage all the senses. For instance, cycling behind a fruit vendor’s cart I could actually smell the bananas. Curiously, depending on how ripe the bananas were, I could perceive different smells on different days – I began to understand the different stages of ripening and whether they were ready to eat simply by cycling in their wake!
The olfactory experience is really something you cannot ignore when you’re on a bike. I would pass by some popup shops and street vendors, each selling a different snack with its telltale aromas. I learned about other people’s eating habits on a working day and, more interestingly, how the different vendors engage with their clientele. I missed all this from the car with the windows rolled up and the AC on. I became more observant of the faces of these vendors as I passed by, noting their expressions. When you do this for a few days, they start smiling at you because they see you every day, and you form a connection by this gesture of acknowledgment!
You see, and you can hear the birds, especially early in the morning, something that you miss out on completely while driving. I observed that some birds had a preference for certain trees – some trees were teeming with them and others not as popular. Maybe it was the berries or fruit that attracted them.
At the same time, I began to appreciate the difficulties that cyclists face. One of the biggest disturbances I found was the constant honking of vehicles. In a car you are insulated from even your own honking, because cars nowadays are so well sound insulated. It’s actually very irritating for other people out there, cyclists and pedestrians. Another appalling discovery was how some people don’t take cyclists into consideration, and instead tend to “nudge” them aside and not give way. It actually felt somewhat disconcerting to be riding a bicycle in peak hour in the hurtling traffic.
The other activity I took up while cycling was alternating finger exercises with my hands on the handlebar. I could only do this when the road was empty, as I didn’t want to risk running into something, ha ha! I rediscovered my neighborhood by noticing different signs, even the little ones stuck on trees by vendors, for example someone selling coconuts or an advertisement for after-school tuition.
Another challenging thing I did is to use my less dominant hand to do the daily tasks. I used my left hand to brush my teeth, shave, and eat my food. I would walk backward whenever I had the opportunity, especially when going up stairs. I would wake up to a different alarm tone, and this would surprise me awake rather than make me groan. Something fun we tried as a family is eating a meal in silence, using only visual clues. Another was trying to use the mobile phone upside down – this was frustrating and hilarious at the same time.
All this made me more mindful, aware of every activity. I didn’t operate on autopilot in a habitual manner. Instead, thought went into every moment. Just this recalibration stimulated my neural pathways!