Do the days feel as though they have been blending into one lately? Or perhaps you feel that you’re not quite as sharp as you once were? These are the hallmarks of finding yourself in a rut, and you wouldn’t be alone.
Even if you find yourself on a promising career path with a fulfilling home life, it’s easy to find yourself stagnating mentally, following the same routines, and carrying out the same tasks.
Luckily, there are some simple explanations for this phenomenon, and an easy way to regain a sense of sharpness and vitality: training your brain and developing your cognitive skills.
The Science Behind Brain Training
Before considering the ways in which you can address your cognition, it’s important to discuss the origin of “the rut”. We are creatures of habit, and our brains are wired to that effect.
We are excellent at finding patterns, and a part of our brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is designed specifically to apply the rules of past patterns to the present. The more of a pattern we see, the more of the same rules we use, and the less we need to think outside the box. As a result, we use our cognitive skills less.
There is a scientific term that describes the phenomenon behind that feeling of cognitive stagnation: neuroplasticity. Essentially, your brain is an adaptive organ, always developing, learning, and altering its pathways. But after a certain age, this neuroplasticity can decline.
This is inevitable, but the further decline can be attributed to environmental causes; think of the brain as a muscle, and a lack of exercise leading to atrophy.
Exercising that muscle – thinking outside the box, and utilising your cognitive skills more – builds more neural pathways, leading to a sharper mind and a new cognitive lease on life. So, how to break the rut? And how to develop your cognitive skills?
Back to Education
Many adults take the sense of stagnation as a sign to review their trajectory completely. They might realise that their line of work is not as rewarding as it was, and look to re-train in another field.
Others might realise their free time has become a repetitive routine of eating and watching television and seek to expand their knowledge with a new pursuit.
Whichever way, mature education has become a popular way for people to re-engage their brains, whether working towards a qualification in order to facilitate a career change or simply re-discovering a sense of curiosity in a subject about which they are passionate.
Ideas for Developing Your Cognitive Skills at Home
Of course, addressing a rut does not need to result in a major decision or drastic move; you might feel perfectly happy in your present situation, and merely wish to regain that mental spark.
There are simple measures you can take from the comfort of your own home to exercise your brain and rediscover your cognitive skills, starting with the humble puzzle section of your daily newspaper.
Daily Brain Teasers
Puzzle games like Sudoku and Kakuro are common to newspaper puzzle sections, and an accessible way to activate under-utilised parts of your brain.
Completing them requires the learning of an unfamiliar ruleset, and mastering them involves creating your own systems to solve them. If you find yourself completing these puzzles with ease, you can branch out into other kinds of puzzles, from logic grid puzzles to cryptograms.
The formation of systems and strategies is not an activity exclusive to brain teasers; card games such as blackjack and poker provide new ways for you to interrogate your cognitive skills and do not require a physical table to play.
Instead, you can make use of an ever-expanding list of new online casinos to play a range of games from your home. These online platforms are not only accessible, but diverse to boot, and the accessibility and range of table games on these platforms allow players to test new strategies and critical thinking skills from home.
A New Hobby
You can also leverage your free time to learn something new entirely – without committing to further education. Instead, you can take night classes in a subject of interest, or in aid of picking up a new hobby.
Learning about a subject beyond your existing expertise can expand your horizons, and re-engage the learning centre of your brain even after a lifetime of routine. You can even pick up a new hobby online, there are plenty of online courses and even YouTube tutorials that can help you engage with and master a new pastime.
Your brain is a marvellous thing and can re-adapt to new ideas and skills no matter the situation. With the right impetus and the right goal in mind, you can rediscover that mental spark and lift yourself from your rut.