In July 2014, when Tenley and I were in NYC, we were discussing how to get to Dylan’s Candy Bar, which is located at 3rd Avenue and 60th Street in NYC. Because we had to figure out where to get off of the bus, we had already discussed the cross street once while we were planning our day, within an hour of when we were discussing it again. I said “which cross street again?” She looked at me incredulously and said “sometimes I worry about you.” I said “I do too.”
Memory is a Muscle
As I wrote in a recent post for Weaving Influence, when I read the book Deep Work, I was reminded that the mind is like a muscle. There are things I can try to do to keep it in shape. (I mean …. I want to be able to find the candy stores in this world after all!). I signed up for a year’s worth of Lumosity and got started.
Lumosity is an online tool that helps people train their core cognitive abilities (great explanation of core cognitive abilities here).
The five core cognitive abilities Lumosity focuses on are speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving.
- Speed – according to Cognifit, speed is “the time it takes a person to do a mental task” and is related to “the speed in which a person can understand and react to the information they receive.”
- Memory – according to The Human Memory, memory is “our ability to encode, store, retain and subsequently recall information and past experiences in the human brain.”
- Attention – Cognifit defines attention as “the cognitive process that allows us to concentrate on a stimuli or activity in order to process it more thoroughly later.”
- Flexibility – flexibility, an executive function, is “the capacity for quickly switching to the appropriate mental mode,” explains Cognifit.
- Problem Solving – another executive function, problem solving is “defining the problem in the right way to then generate solutions and pick the right one” according to Cognifit.
Lessons from Lumosity
As I have played the Lumosity games in an attempt to improve my cognitive abilities, I have improved my LPI (Lumosity Performance Index) from 624 to 1141 (yay!). Along the way, I have made the following observations:
Some Games Are Much More Likable Than Others
My least favorite game is Tidal Treasures, which exercises working memory. As the game progresses, you have to choose an item on a “beach” that you have not chosen before. It is the game that takes the longest to play and is so very hard to conquer (but I am experimenting with mind tricks to be better, which I guess is the point of it being an “exercise.”).
Although Lumosity gives me the option to change games when Tidal Treasures comes up, I don’t. This goes in the category of “you have to take on the big challenges to improve.”
You can’t get a perfect score every time.
After each game you are shown whether or not your score that time fit in the top five of your scores in that game. It is so tempting to keep retrying if it happens to be a day you didn’t score in the top five.
It’s short sighted to not just get on with your life when you can’t get perfection every time.
Things Go Better If You Take a Split Second to Get an Overview
One of the games, Train of Thought, addresses divided attention, the ability to simultaneously respond to multiple tasks or task demands. As you increase your level of play, there are more trains going more places, and some trains look very similar to other trains (like the green train that has a BLACK top, compared to the all-green train). I’ve learned to take a split second before re-routing tracks to try to figure out where all the stations are — it makes a difference.
It doesn’t work to start playing a game right away if you don’t take a moment to figure out what field you are on.
Don’t Make Things Harder on Yourself
In the game Speedpack, which exercises visualization, the ability to manipulate or imagine the interaction of objects in your mind, the player has to “move” a camera to a certain compartment of a suitcase and try to put it in a compartment that won’t be full once the suitcase is closed. It reminds me of how much I hated those “what shape will this paper be when it is folded?” kinds of exercises we had when we took the ASVAB back in high school (is the ASVAB still a thing?). Sometimes, I can sit there trying to figure out which compartment to put the camera in when there is a whole row empty that involves no hard decisions.
When an easy option presents itself, take it!
Some Distractions Have Nothing To Do With The Route You Should Take
In Pinball Recall, a working memory game, the goal is to figure out where a ball is going to go based on its starting point and various bumpers in the way. Newsflash: some of those bumpers can’t change the direction of your ball no matter what. They are just there to make things look more complicated than they are!
Don’t assume every barrier is actually going to get in your way.
Don’t Paralyze Yourself By Lack of Confidence
Every single boss I have ever had (that took the time and effort to evaluate me) has said “if only you were more confident in your decisions.” SIGHHHH. So true but trust me never has that been said to me that I then walked out of that office and proceeded to automatically exude more confidence. Lack of confidence is a pretty deeply ingrained challenge. Lumosity to the rescue! At least for the ten minutes I am playing every morning. Success at some games, especially the ones which work on speed, depend on quick reflexes. I can either just make the confidence choice or get a lower score because I questioned myself.
Confidence often pays off.
Everything in Your Field of Vision DOES Matter Sometimes
The Eagle Eye game tests “field of view” – the “area over which you can absorb visual information without moving your eyes.” (Quotes from Lumosity.) There is a piece of information in the center of the screen (like a number) and a “bird” elsewhere on the screen. The player has to remember the center item while recalling where the bird was.
This game always feels like life itself – you have to remember what is at the center and often be able to take care of important items “on the side.”
We Are Not Always The Best Judges of Our Strengths
I hate to admit this (and please don’t tell any future editing or otherwise communications-based clients) but “Word Bubbles Rising” is not (give me just a moment here ….) the game at which I score the best. It is a flexibility game and I score best at problem solving games. Hmmm.
In the same way that a 360 degree evaluation in the workplace gives you insight you don’t expect, opening yourself up to an evaluation of your brain capacity strengths and weaknesses can surprise you.
Mood and Sleep Matter
Every time I start playing, Lumosity asks first what kind of mood I am in and how much sleep I got. Chronic stress can create long-lasting brain changes and depression can contribute to memory problems (uh-oh). Sleep deprivation can lead to problems with memory, concentration, optimism (gasp!), sociability, creativity, and innovation. I can see why Lumosity asks, and having to “report in” every morning is making me think about how I can improve my mood and enhance my sleep hygiene.
Mental Fitness Is a Gift
I’ve been worried ever since I read Still Alice about early brain deterioration. Living with an in-law with short-term memory disorder leads me to be terrified, daily, of what the future might hold. Playing Lumosity may not be the key to staying supple in the brain forever, but hopefully it’s a step in the right direction.
Just like exercise may keep our physical bodies stronger, our brains deserve a chance too.