They say drugs are bad for your brain, but watching an average of FIVE hours of television EVERY DAY is socially acceptable? It blows my mind. With all that time, you should be learning a language, or writing, or researching index funds, or commenting on my blog, or volunteering, or making art, or talking with a friend, or exercising, or actually making a tv show. Whatever it is, it's better than sitting around and passively being entertained by little pixels changing color.
But we as a species need some form of entertainment. Now that we have all of our basic primal needs taken care of (and then some), we have this new emotion called boredom. When often seen as a curse, boredom should be seen as a blessing. It means that you have fulfilled your duties of survival and now have ample time to use at your leisure. Unfortunately, this leisure time is often spent sitting motionless on a couch. How awful! Imagine reading your biography, "After eight hours of sitting in front of a computer at his successful tech job, he hurries home to sit in front of another screen for an additional five hours." Can't wait for the sequel where he buys a bigger tv and trains his kids how to watch tv.
Anyway, enough of my ranting; let's look for alternate forms of affordable entertainment that stimulate the brain in some way. For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on somewhat traditional forms of 'entertainment.' This won't include things like hiking, walking, kayaking, skiing, paintballing, and so on. We need to start these couch potatoes with something they can stomach. So without further ado - healthy braintertainment!
Elevate - Your Personal Brain Trainer
This app, available on iPhone and Android, helps keep your brain sharp while teaching you valuable skills. Some scientific studies have shown "brain training" to be more myth than fact, but Elevate has some concrete teaching methods that actually do improve your smarts. In the app, you complete brief challenges that put certain parts of your brain to the test. In one minigame, you're given a brief definition, such as "defeat an enemy," followed by a number of blanks and a series of random letters [yrotcirsv]. From the letters, you have to spell out the word, in this case, "victory." In other games, they test your name/face recognition, math estimation, grammar, sentence flow, reading comprehension, and much more. On top of all that, they also keep adding content to the app/game on a regular basis. The app is free, allowing three games per day. There is also a pro version that unlocks unlimited access to everything.
Arguably a form of entertainment, but good for the mind nonetheless, meditation can give you access to parts of your mind that you never thought possible. Two years ago, I had my first real meditation experience. I was in desperate need of some life direction so I went home in the early afternoon, sat on my couch, and closed my eyes. I started by asking myself questions that I wanted answered. I would ask the question then think about every possible answer. Every reason. Then more questions would come. And more. Eventually I started finding some clarity in the fog. But then things took a turn for the weird and I stopped thinking with words or language. I started feeling pure, raw emotion. Happiness mixed with sadness. Darkness and light. Then, with my eyes still closed, it felt like the room started spinning. First it was a slow, gentle pace, but after a few minutes it ramped up to a wild tornado or dizziness. At this point I was balling loudly, but couldn't leave this sacred place I had found. I knew I could open my eyes at any point, but I didn't. I had to stay here as long as possible to get what I needed. After some time, I slowly ascended out of this deep cavern and returned to the living room.
Now that you know about my most visceral meditation experience ever, you might see some intrigue in trying meditation out on a more serious level. To get started, I have a couple simple tips: Sit down somewhere comfortable where you can let your body go limp. Turn off all music, tv, phones, etc; basically make it as quiet as possible. Leave some lights on, otherwise you might fall asleep. Then just close your eyes, breathe, and start thinking about life. Try not to think about fluffy things like deadlines, laundry, or Game of Thrones. Focus on deeper things that reach all corners of your life. Ask yourself questions. Philosophize about yourself.
If language learning is at all an interest to you, Duolingo is a must-try. It's a free lightweight app/service that slowly teaches you any number of languages while rewarding you for your progress. You gain experience and go up in levels as you improve. There is a very real feeling of progression as you get deeper into it. Be warned, though, that this probably won't be enough to become totally fluent. If you're aiming for that, talking to a real person in that language will take you the rest of the way.
Movies That Actually Stimulate
I know, I know, at the beginning of this post I was ranting on mindless tv watching, but some movies introduce mind-bending concepts that deserve two hours of your day. If you ever finish a movie and think about it for the rest of the day, or discuss it with the people you watched it with, then it was worth watching.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- The Illusionist
- The Prestige
- The Truman Show
- Being John Malkovich
- Requiem for a Dream
- Fight Club
- Donnie Darko
What if? is a sort of philosophical blog science experiment in thought processes and math. Confusing as that may sound, it's one of the most brilliant pieces of writing you can find online. The author, Randall Munroe (of xkcd), takes questions from readers and answers them. The questions are usually an extreme of some sort that pushed physics to the limit. For instance, the most recent question is, "Would it be possible for two teams in a tug-o-war to overcome the ultimate tensile strength of an iron rod and pull it apart? How big would the teams have to be?" Randall then goes into extreme detail, hypothesising what it would take to answer the question, along with brilliant stick-figure comics.
Talking to a Human
As uncomfortable as it may be, talking to another human being is one of the best ways to keep your mind sharp. Engaging in conversation is a complex and unpredictable phenomenon. Each member of the conversation has to take their entire life's worth of experience to properly time their replies, use proper timbre to convey different emotions, and process stories while thinking of relevant personal life experience to supplement into the conversation. To really get the most out of this exercise, find someone who is just a bit more well-read than you. Maybe they have a masters in sociology. Or an MBA in...business. Whatever it is, push them to divulge their massive library of knowledge so you can absorb these new concepts.
The Minimal Minute
Wait a second, you're already here reading The Minimal Minute! Congratulations! You rock. But seriously, my writings are aimed to help keep us agile and efficient. I will try to push you out of your comfort zones, applying new workflows to your life. Keep reading and engaging with the content. It will only go up from here! And if you want to win like 300 brownie points (and a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card!), make sure to subscribe to weekly mind-opening update! I send just one email every week. One email full of juicy life candy.
Mmm, Catch Phrase. My all-time favorite party game. The game is simple, you hold a round device that shows you a word. Without saying any part of the word, you have to get your team to guess what it is. The timer is going as the device gets passed around the circle. When the buzzer sounds, the team that's not holding it gets a point. This game really forces you to think in different ways. For instance, sometimes there may be a name that you don't know, but you could get people to guess the first and last name separately by giving different sets of clues.
The game that needs no introduction. Chess is a game that's somewhat easy to learn, but very difficult to master. The number of combinations of moves that you can perform at any given moment forces you to flex your brain in all sorts of awkward positions. The more often you play, the better you get. And nothing feels better than being way behind to then trick your opponent into a checkmate. Mmm, sweet sweet victory.
Read a Book
Woah! Sorry to blow your mind. For all you avid readers out there, this is an easy one. But with so much ADD entertainment and internet to keep our minds buzzing all day, sometimes it's hard to sit down for hours at a time and read. I find it pretty hard to sit down with a novel and get all the way through it. My mind wanders or I just have too many other things to do, like write this post! But I have recently found much pleasure in self-help books. I'm not a fan of the name of the genre, though. We'll call them "Becoming Badass" books. As you have no-doubt already seen, I am a huge fan of Timothy Ferriss. He writes about tons of different experiments he's done on himself for the benefit of the readers. I highly recommend all three of his book:
The 4-Hour Workweek is the book that eventually led me to pursue more entrepreneurial endeavors like starting this blog and designing an iPhone app (which is still in the works).