Sources of Stimulation

It’s an undeniable fact that growing older often means losing some of your capabilities. We generally recognize, however, that with hard work you can slow the loss of your physical attributes, such as strength, flexibility, and stamina.

But what most people don’t realize is that the same is true of retaining your mental capabilities, particularly agile thinking and creativity.

These are important traits to preserve because we live in a world of unbelievably rapid change, and the pace of change itself is increasing. If you keep thinking like you did a few years ago, if you fail to learn new things, you will inevitably fall behind.

It’s valuable, therefore, to take a few minutes to review some strategies for keeping your brainpower intact over the coming years. For example, you might want to:

Accept the Need for Change

This is the foundation that supports and facilitates mental acuity. If you believe you can continue to use your brain only in the ways you have in the past, you almost certainly will be limited just that way – and you’ll quickly lose ground to your competitors.

In some ways, this is the most difficult change to make, because we grow comfortable with our familiar approaches to life and to the thought patterns that have brought us so much happiness and success. We’re naturally afraid of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Accepting the need to change the way you think, however, is the key that unlocks all the other possibilities for maintaining and updating your mental processes.

Trust me on this: you won’t suffer from accepting the need for change. In fact, you’ll definitely feel better about yourself and your future – and with good reason.

Embrace Anxiety

We naturally and automatically spend most of our lives avoiding and deflecting anxiety. We prefer to feel safe and comfortable, mentally as well as physically.

But while safety and comfort make sense in the physical world of our bodies, they weaken and ultimately harm us in the world of thoughts, ideas, creativity, and problem solving.

The better approach to mental growth is to edge up carefully to some of the people, places, and things that wrench our guts. Why? Because with practice we can mine that space for new ideas and new possibilities that will enhance and improve our ability to cope with the world.

I happened to see a billboard today with the advice: “Figure out what you are afraid of and go live there.” There is some truth in that.

Anxiety may have originally evolved as a warning sign of danger, but in today’s world it also works a directional arrow pointing toward ideas, methods, and approaches that may serve us better in the future.

Sidling up to whatever makes us anxious opens up greater possibilities for mental changes that can lead to personal and productivity improvement.

Take on the Difficult

People are inherently interested in finding easier ways of working and living. But sticking with what’s easy can limit you to tried-and-true ideas, methods, and approaches that – at least potentially – are on their way out.

By consciously attempting to do what you find difficult, you open yourself to learning new ways – some of which may ultimately prove better for you.

This does not mean you must always try to do things the most difficult way you can find. It merely means that you should consciously recognize your tendency to shy away from difficulty, and – when appropriate – make a special effort just to see if there’s any value in that more demanding course of action.

Get Distracted

I’m as guilty as the next person of advising you to avoid distractions and focus on your most important tasks, projects, and goals. I still stand by that advice.

But I’m also suggesting that distractions inevitablyl happen, and when they do, they may contain the seeds of a better idea, method, or approach: some possibility for additional productivity and success in your work and your life.

The idea here is to be open to exploring the world around you, and to mixing and matching seemingly disparate ideas, methods, and approaches. Taking inspiration from a distraction may lead to a new and better way of handling whatever tasks, projects, or goals on which you’re primarily focused.

Collaborate with Opponents

This may be entirely counter-intuitive, but collaborating with your opponents can sometimes lead to synergies you won’t find anywhere else.

That’s because people who have opposing ideas, points of view, values, or strengths can trigger helpful self-appraisals and insights regarding your otherwise unexamined areas of comfort. They can challenge your basic assumptions and question your interpretations of data, yielding new perspectives that would otherwise remain invisible to you.

What’s more, the conflict that’s likely to arise when you collaborate with your opponents tends to raise your energy and motivational level. You are likely to ruminate and fume for hours on end because of exasperation or frustration. The result may be fresh, valuable ideas and insights you can fruitfully apply to your existing – possibly tired out – ideas, methods, and approaches.

It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks. And doing so tends to keep the old dog younger and more vibrant far longer than s/he otherwise would be.

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