Puzzles, exercises, and games are for people who can’t or don’t want to think. If you want to sharpen your mind, you need to think, think hard, think a lot, and think about everything.
You can solve games, puzzles, or exercises, but whether this translates directly to other mental skills is questionable. Obviously if you can do arithmetic very well, that will be useful. With something like tip or interest-calculating, you’re just learning a skill. To me, that doesn’t exactly fall under a more general mental sharpness idea.
Playing games and solving puzzles are great for relaxing the mind. If you enjoy playing something that requires a little mental skill but is completely different than the work you’re breaking from, that’s great and that will help. Taking breaks is a very good thing for efficient creativity and focus, and doing something fun will keep your conscious mind busy while you process the other heavy stuff you’ve been working on.
However, puzzles and exercises aren’t very helpful. The example of arithmetic is very fitting: you’ll get very good at arithmetic, but it’s not obvious that you will get better at anything else that isn’t like arithmetic. You can try to vary the kinds of puzzles you do, but then you run into a few problems. Some people feel like they should do these things, but aren’t exactly having fun with it. Others may falsely believe that they’re doing enough mental work by doing these puzzles, but that’s not good thing either. Of course it depends on what your goals are, but for general mental sharpness it won’t help very much.
Here’s a better way: ask a lot of questions. Think about a fact and ask yourself why that is. Get into the habit of doing that. Ramp it up to full volume if this sounds slightly familiar to you. If you’re not used to it, you should be totally fatigued by the end of the day. As in, if you think about another thing you’re going to want to hurl. But it’s like hitting the gym after a couple of months–it just takes time to get used to it. You’re expending a lot of energy with all that gray matter.
For those who love bulleted lists, here are some reasons why asking questions is much better than playing games or solving toy puzzles:
- You’re gaining knowledge (this is probably the best reason)
- Tackling practical problems that might become useful to you or someone else in the future
- You might find new interests that you weren’t aware of before
- You’re thinking about a broad spectrum of issues, not just simplified models
- The questions can get very complex once you go down the rabbit hole, so you have to think harder
- You’ll be smarter in general, which is just fantastic
It’s really like a lifestyle change, though primarily a mental one. Once you go down the path of seeking knowledge and understanding anywhere and everywhere, you will never go back because you won’t want to. The effect compounds on itself and you will always feel quick and prepared.
Knowledge is a drug, and once people feel that intellectual rush, they won’t want to let go.