Intellectual Wellness: Are you exercising your brain?

Hey there friends,

As a kid and a type A student, I never had a problem with school. It was rewarding for me to learn and get praised for doing it. There was a visceral positive feeling that made me ignite when I would set my mind on a goal and succeed in accomplishing it. So I tried hard, reached many of my goals and was satisfied with my ability to do it.

But when my school years ended, I found that I lacked motivation to continue learning the same way I did when there were no teachers or coaches around.

At the same time, I longed for that same mental stimulation, and for a good reason…

With billions of nerve fibers, the human brain is more complex than any other structure in the universe. There are other mammals that have even larger brain than us, such as dolphins, elephants and whales, but the thing that makes us human and the most intelligent species on the planet, is the development of our cerebrum, the largest part of the brain.

Anatomically, the cerebrum can be broken vertically down the center into two hemispheres, and further broken down into four lobes where we process speech, thought, learning, emotion, movement, touch, temperature, pain, vision, hearing and memory.

 Just as our muscles need to be exercised in order to stay strong and support the structure of our body, our brain needs to be challenged and exercised in order to stay sharp. By challenging and stimulating the cerebrum part of the brain we attune to our Intellectual Wellness.

For most children growing up, it is governmentally regulated that we go through a proper school system until we reach the legal adult age of 18. During this time, we have structured days, 10 months out of the year, where we are taken by the hand and guided toward a deeper understanding of the way the world works and how we play a part in it.

Some choose to extend their time in the classroom by seeking a higher education, while others decide to put their skills to work. Either way, we get to decide how we want to expand our knowledge. 

The problem is, for most of us, once we aren’t under the guidance of an instructor, once we are free from the looming threat of failing or not continuing to the next grade with our peers, we think we’re off the hook.

But that doesn’t mean it becomes any less important to learn new things and challenge our brains.

Throughout my high school years, I was a big runner, or “trackie” as some would call us. Like any other high school sports team, you could pick the Cross Country and Track kids out of a crowd. We were super focused, long, gangly and kind of weird. We also had to be highly vigilant of what we ate and drank throughout the day, based on what workout we had planned for the afternoon, and especially if we had a race that day.

Since we were individual sports players and oddly competitive, of course the whole water drinking thing had to turn into a [not so] secret competition.

During warmups our coach would ask us how much water everyone has had to drink that day, and if you couldn’t honestly reply with anywhere between 8-10 1 liter water bottles, you should probably just not respond.

Suddenly, drinking water became a chore, just like cleaning my room or studying before a test.

So what did I do once I stopped running competitively? You guessed it, I stopped drinking water. Simply because no one was watching, no one was holding me accountable and no one was telling me I had to.

But it goes without saying, this is not the most life affirming decision I could make. In my earlier blog about Physical Wellness I describe how this life choice ultimately gave me a life lesson about the importance of taking care of my physiological needs as a living, breathing human body.

The underlying life lesson is that we need to hold ourselves accountable for our wellness. All areas.

As I stated earlier, I was good at school, and I was great at track, because I was being recognized and rewarded for my accomplishments. But once the awards, gold stars and medals were gone, it was up to me to continue for myself. For my own, personal quality of life.

In school, whether you were aware of it or not, you were stimulating every part of your brain and caring for your Intellectual Wellness. The education system is designed this way.

You go to math and science to stimulate the left brain, or analytical and methodical side of your brain. And you go to art and creative writing to stimulate the right side, or creative and artistic side.

In gym we work on our ability to move, coordinate and balance our physical body. And in history we learn about past events to challenge our memory.

We give presentations to work on our speech and clarity with our words. And we take fun electives like band to get lost in sound and to align that sound with rhythm and a larger group of instruments.

It was a full day of constant and consistent brain stimulation.

And without that stimulation the brain starves and weakens, just like the body when it lacks food and water.

Think of a time you learned a new fact, skill, culture or place. Maybe it was finally playing a full song with complete fluidity on the guitar. Or speaking with someone of a different language and noticing that you picked up everything they said. Maybe its taking out a sketch pad and getting lost in your work for hours, not even noticing the time pass.

Just as our bodies and muscles seek movement, these types of mental stimulations  grow our brain and release chemical endorphins making the brain stronger, more responsive and active for a longer, healthier, more fulfilling life.

Mental stimulation is not about getting an A in class or receiving an award, its about exploring your curiosity, building your confidence and becoming your best self.

As with all of our Wellness Dimensions, it deserves the same amount of attention as anything else. And it doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, it should be fun.

Join a pottery class, take up Salsa dancing, learn about a new culture or a new language! It can be anything, but never stop exploring your capacity to learn. Education is empowering and we all deserve to feel that way.

My question for you is, how will you care for your Intellectual Wellness this week and stick with it throughout your life? The time you spend on self care and self love is never time wasted.

Lot’s of love, Chicks.





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