Using Cognitive Enhancement Training to Better Our Lives
From a very young age, we are taught to keep ourselves healthy. This is mainly taught through healthy eating and regular bouts of exercise to keep physically fit. However, not as much attention has been paid to keeping our brains healthy and active. In the past few decades, technological advancement and a wider understanding of mental health has given cognitive enhancement or rather brain training, a boost in popularity. With “more than 50 studies” (Doraiswamy and Argonin) done on the benefits of brain training, there have been some encouraging results on how cognitive behavioral training and neurofeedback can enhance our performance in core functions such as memory, task switching and response inhibition (Enriquez-Geppert, Huster and Herrmann). When these areas are enhanced, certain tasks such as remembering our shopping lists, speeding up our ability to process sensory information, or reducing how stress affects us, can increase our quality of life and allow us to live our very best lives.
How Does Cognitive Behavioral Training Change Our Brains?
First and foremost, cognitive behavioral training looks at changing our patterns of thinking. It can be applied to a wide range of issues, from sleeping difficulties to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, to attitude and relationship problems. This type of training is short-term and is goal-oriented. The importance of the training is that it looks at how problems stem from our interpretation rather than the situations that bring them on.
When unhelpful or negative pathways of thinking are solidified in the brain, they allow individuals to believe untrue thoughts because of how the thoughts make them feel. This is called emotional reasoning and commonly creates error resulting in negative cycles of thought ("Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Really Change Our Brains?"). For instance, if someone walks by that you know and they do not say hello to you, this may make you feel rejected. If this has happened before, you may be tempted to avoid that person altogether and it may make you believe that they do not like you. If this happens with enough people, you may withdraw completely due to believing that you are an unlikable person. However, this is most likely not true and is only believed to be true because of the feelings that reinforce the idea. Another example of this would be a fear of spiders as a diagnosed phobia. When you avoid spiders, it relieves you of stress, but it reinforces your fear. This will lead a person to always believing that they are afraid of spiders and contribute to the stress associated with coming face to face with one. By using therapy to gradually tackle the fear, the individual learns that the problem stems from their anxious thoughts about spiders rather than their actual interaction with them.
The reason that cognitive behavioral training is brought about as an enhancement technique when discussing brain training exercises, is because it can actually change the prefrontal cortex of the brain. According to BBC Science, the amygdala and the hippocampus, two regions of the limbic system that process emotion and traumatic memories, have shown to be overactive in those with mental health conditions such as phobias. However, studies show that cognitive behavioral training can reduce the “over-activity in these two regions to normal rates after a course of CBT” ("Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Really Change Our Brains?").
Utilizing Neurofeedback to Directly Exercise and Train the Brain
Neurofeedback, on the other hand, is a form of biofeedback that measures brainwave patterns. Your brain cells produce electricity to communicate with your body, which creates electrical activity in the form of patterns. These brainwaves can be measured with an EEG or electroencephalography, where sensors are placed on the scalp. The activity is then picked up and relayed to a computer screen, where a therapist can then set training criteria for the individual to complete. Often this is done in the form of music notes, animation or a video game. This feedback is of the brain’s own “moment-to-moment” status. Throughout multiple sessions, the brain will consolidate what it learns from the training, shifting itself into a better-regulated pattern. This process helps the brain normalize its own brainwave patterns which then allows the brain to enhance performance and correct cognitive deficits. Eventually, feedback will no longer be required as the brain will be able to produce the trained configuration on its own.
This type of brain exercise can help multiple conditions including sleep disorders, headaches, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, anxiety-depression spectrum and help those with brain injuries. However, it is wildly used to enhance language comprehension, boost memory and improve visual and auditory processing power.
Useful Tools For Enhancing Your Daily Life: Neurobics and Handheld Devices!
With cognitive therapy and neurofeedback in mind, there are several useful tools that you can use at home to help train your brain for the better.
- Try using neurofeedback handheld devices. The EmWave2 and the Muse are two devices that can help you improve your mood, improve your cognitive performance and manage your brainwaves. The Muse is a headband that allows you to work with your own brainwaves and become more aware of how to control them. The EmWave2 trains you in recognizing whether you are in an incoherent (red light) or coherent state (green light). The device is about the size of an iPod and tells you with light signals, whether you are in a negative state or not. This allows you to become more aware of negative thought cycles brought on by stress and anxiety and can actually help you become more mentally fit through consistent use.
- Try new experiences, like sitting in a different chair at the dinner table or brushing your teeth with the opposite hand. When you force your brain to take on new experiences, you are better able to expand how well your brain processes tactile information. When you stick with your regular routine, your brain doesn’t get stimulated because the tasks or choices have become second nature.
- If you have a mental health condition, try brain training games. Although there is a lot of controversy around these, they have been shown to increase brain performance more-so in individuals who are suffering in their emotional and mental health states. The important thing to remember with these is to do them consistently and to change them up so you don’t become adjusted to them.
- Other options include getting enough sleep, engaging all of your senses at the same time, learning to dance, meditating, taking up a creative hobby and getting enough physical exercise. In the end, as long as your brain is getting stimulated and establishing new neural pathways (neurobics), you can increase how quickly it can process and work.
So the next time you forget something or want to be able to think quicker on your feet, think about the small changes you can make in your daily life to train your brain. By participating in cognitive brain exercises, you can sharpen your mind for the better. In order to live your best life every day, you need to make sure you are putting in the work, both physically and mentally.
"Can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Really Change Our Brains?”. BBC Science. N.p., 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.
Doraiswamy, P., and Marc Argonin. “Brain Games: Do They Really Work?”. Scientific American. N.p., 2009. Web Apr 13. 2017.
Enriquez-Geppert, S, RJ Huster, and CS Herrmann. “Boosting Brain Functions: Improving Executive Functions With Behavioral Training, Neurostimulation, and Neurofeedback. - Pubmed – NCBI.” Pub Med. N.p., 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.