Go On An Adventure...
Without Leaving Home
You can certainly create adventuresome circumstances that stimulate your brain without traveling to another continent. In my live presentations on stage, I challenge my audiences to engage in some simple exercises that will grow their brains without leaving home. For example:
Push Your SEEK Button
Odds are that you've programmed your car radio for just a couple of your favorite stations. You probably have one for news and traffic, another for your preferred style of music, and perhaps my favorite: PBS. But as long as you listen to those same stations again and again, you’re keeping your audio focus narrow and missing a great opportunity to broaden your mind.
This is where your "SEEK button" comes in. Try this little brain-stretching game: the next time you step into your car, turn on the radio and press the "SEEK" button. Your radio tuner will jump ahead to the next strong station. Make yourself listen to it! Oh, I know, you don't like that rap music. (I don't either) Or, maybe the next station which your seek button serves up plays country music classics, or heavy metal, or opera. Even though you don’t like that particular type of music, listen to it!
Imagine that your brain is having a conversation with you. Perhaps your usual preference in music is "classic rock 'n roll" and your brain is very comfortable handling the melodies and rhythms it's used to. But when you push your SEEK button, you end up hearing something unfamiliar. Perhaps there's a station dedicated to Chinese opera and your SEEK button happens to land on it. Yuck! You don't like it. To you, it sounds like high-pitched screeching that's not at all melodic.
But What Is Your Brain Saying?
"Yikes, this is not familiar. I've already carved some pretty efficient neural pathways that can handle U2 and Elton John tunes just fine. But they’re not going to work for these strange screeching Chinese opera sounds. Because I'm your brain and I'm not used to this combination of tones and rhythms, I'm going to have to create some new neural pathways to process the strange sounds."
In other words, your brain is challenged when it’s forced to process unfamiliar music. This is good. Your brain responds to this challenge by growing new synaptic connections between its neurons. That increases your brain's capacity for handling future, unfamiliar input. It stays more agile, and you broaden your repertoire of awareness.
Don't you think it's a good thing to know what other people listen to? Look, the station playing that strange screeching Chinese opera would not be on the air unless enough people listened to it to made it worthwhile for advertisers. Listening to what they hear gives you some insights about how others think.
There may be a whole realm of Chinese opera music you've never imagined, and fortunately, your SEEK button has delivered you to that realm, giving you the opportunity to hear things from a completely different point of view, grow your synaptic connections, and become a more interested and interesting person.
After a few minutes, it's okay to change stations. But don't go back to your usual, comfortable ones... press your SEEK button again.
Order By Number
I have a favorite Chinese restaurant just down the street from my office, “Yea’s Wok.” The lunch specials are terrific and I order them frequently. But I do it in an unusual way. Although I love their moo shu pork, I don't want to order it again and again even though I know I would enjoy it.
Instead, I ordered by date. If I go to Yea’s for lunch on March 17th, I'll simply tell my favorite waiter that I'd like to order Lunch Special Number 17.
(Actually, I don't need to say a thing. "Buck," my favorite waiter at Yea’s Wok, just looks at his watch when I walk in. He notes the date on his watch’s display and nods to me, silently signaling that he knows I want to try lunch special number 17, since it's the 17th of that month.)
But what if the menu at your restaurant has no numbers? Well, on March 17th, simply count down to the 17th item and order it.
Again, your brain's dialogue is similar to what I described happening in the "SEEK button" scenario. Your brain is used to the taste of moo shu pork, but when it encounters the unfamiliar entrée item that happens to be #17, perhaps it's “assorted mushrooms in oyster sauce,” it gets busy carving new neural pathways in order to process these unfamiliar flavors.
(I'm not entirely rigid with this strange ordering system. I'm pretty sure that if #17 is "braised calf liver" I'm going to detest it. If you're allergic to nuts, you certainly don't want #17 if it's "nut encrusted halibut.")
Maybe order the entrée just above or just below #17? At Yea’s Wok, for example, the luncheon menu lists 64 combinations. After months of ordering numbers 1 through 31 to correspond with the day of the month, I became curious about the remaining items on the bottom half of the menu, with numbers higher than 31. I figured out an almost perfect solution: In odd-numbered months; January, March, May, etc., I order the item that corresponds with that day's date. But in even numbered months: February, April, and June, etc., I order the date plus 31. So, on February 1st, I order #32. On December 31, I get to try #62! At least that gives me a chance to experience 62 different luncheon specials. One of these days, I may go completely wild and order #63 or #64, which I’ve not yet experienced.
Follow The “Brown Sign Oracle”
This brain building technique does require leaving home, but not by very far. All over the world, I've noticed that brown road signs lead you to points of interest. In the United States, for example, signs referring to historical markers, state parks, viewpoints, and so on, are always posted on brown colored signs. What I’ve found most interesting is that this holds true around the world. In Jordan, I've spotted brown signs that point to roads heading off across desert wastelands to remote archaeological sites. In Central America, brown signs may guide me to Mayan temples. In France, brown signs will guide me to particularly scenic hill villages.
Personally, I follow brown signs when I see them. Even though I may be in an unfamiliar country and have no guidebook pointing out tourist highlights, I've come to trust that most browns sign will lead me to something interesting. That's why I call it the "Brown Sign Oracle," as in Greek mythology. Brown signs are divinations; predictions of future outcomes. Follow them, and they’ll often lead you to something interesting.
Keep an eye out for those brown road signs. Perhaps there’s one on the road that you regularly travel to or from work. One of these days, follow it, even though it's a detour.
Some friends of mine in Southern California have an unusual last name. I had previously noticed, but not followed, a brown sign pointing to a regional park that has the same unusual name as their family name. So, for a fun outing, I invited them to come explore it with me. It was just an hour from their home. When we got there, we found a fascinating park with a wildlife nature trail that we would have never discovered had we not followed the brown sign.
So, here’s my challenge:
Go wherever a brown sign leads you.
It’ll flex your brain.
The GPS navigation system is one of the true technological miracles that I'm most grateful for. I'm totally amazed that the system "knows" wherever I am on the planet and can usually calculate the very best route when I have a specific destination in mind.
But one of the biggest advantages of the GPS system is that it helps you get lost. If you have one in your car, trust it as your safety backup and just go exploring.
I'm a big fan of random numbers that guide me to random encounters and experiences. You can use the day’s date to help you make new discoveries, with this safe assurance that your GPS will get you un-lost.
If it's January 7th, why not build a little extra time into your next errand or commute to work, and take the 7th exit from your usual freeway. Or make the 7th left turn on your town's main street. Just do something that's a deviation from your normal route. There's no telling what you’ll discover. Perhaps there's a street very near your home that you’ve never before driven on. Once you do, you may find that it leads to a very scenic little canyon, or an architecturally unusual structure, or even a shortcut to a store you enjoy patronizing.
Regardless of how you do it, whether pressing your radio’s SEEK button, or ordering a meal by number, or following a brown sign, or getting lost, stimulate your brain by giving it a diet of unfamiliar stimuli. You become a more interested and interesting person, which yields many benefits in your business and personal relationships.