Cognitive Training: Do These Mental Exercises Really Improve Your Brain?

| Learning, Memory

cognitive training benefits feature image of an older woman at a computerYou’ve probably heard about cognitive training apps and come across some controversial claims about them.

Corporations love quoting scientific studies, for example.

But do the fat-cat CEOs and their teams really understand what cognitive skill training is really all about?

And is it really possible for online brain training games to improve your memory and how fast you can learn?

After all, they’re often packed with ads and so many strange activities, I can’t blame you for being skeptical.

Well, on this page, I’ll explain what cognitive training actually is.

I’ll share some legit sources and how to use them properly.

That way, you can have fun while growing your cognitive skills and improving your memory.

Sound good?

Let’s dive in!

Disclaimer: Do You Need Cognitive Training?

Let’s start with a public service announcement:

You might not need cognitive training.

See, often people who struggle with brain fog actually have dietary issues. It’s not brain training they need, but a break from foods that harm the brain.

Or it could be that they’re dealing with a variety of stresses or anxieties that lead to thought blocking.

If you have any concerns about these issues, please see a doctor. Although my blog contains information about recovering memory after a stroke, it’s far better for you to avoid having one in the first place.

And that’s not to mention a whole host of problems only a trained medical professional can help you sort out.

But if you’ve been told by a doctor that you need to look up some examples of cognitive training to give your brain a boost, then cool. Let’s carry on.

What Is Cognitive Training?

As I explained in my post on spaced repetition, cognitive skill training was first studied by scientists in the late 19th century.

In brief, Hermann Ebbinghaus trained himself to memorize over 2000 nonsense syllables. Then he tracked how long he was able to remember them.

Hermann Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve related to spaced repetition

Learning to use spaced repetition to defeat the Forgetting Curve started in earnest with the research of Hermann Ebbinghaus.

His experiments led to great interest in what scientists call learning potential. There are entire books on how to assess it and even attractive university scholarships for people interested in studying it.

In a phrase, the definition of cognitive training boils down to brain plasticity. It’s the idea that certain activities can make your brain better.

These activities can involve everything from neurobics to brain games and memory games. Or you can perform concentration meditations or even just read more to improve your mind and memory.

Does Cognitive Training Really Work?

Yes. But there’s a catch.

For the “training” part to be meaningful, it’s important that you’re consistent. Sadly, consistency to their chosen source of mental stimulation is a step many people miss.

As Dr. Christine Till discovered while researching the cognitive training software called Cogmed, people only received substantial results when they paired the software experience with personal coaching sessions.

Please consider this before spending even a minute with any of the brain training games out there. They might be entertaining, but they’re also potentially empty.

Cognitive Training Benefits

Now, provided that the activities you choose actually provide cognitive improvement, you stand to enjoy all kinds of benefits. These include:

Cognitive Training Downsides

Technically, there are no downsides. Using your mind is a wonderful thing to do.

However, self-deception is a problem. People wind up spending a lot of time on activities that don’t actually do much for them.

A stressed man pinches the bridge of his nose. High levels of stress are harmful to your memory.

For example, a lot of the brain training apps create what is called context dependent or state dependent benefits. These terms mean that although you might become more skilled in the environment of an online brain training game, the skills won’t transfer to real life.

Unlike using memory techniques discovered by people like myself and memory expert Lynne Kelly who wrote Memory Craft, most cognitive training apps do little or nothing to combat Alzheimer’s or dementia.

That said, there are some legit activities you can pursue. Let’s take a look.

5 Brain Training Examples

As we go through this list, start thinking about how you can incorporate one of two of these activities into your daily life.

Remember: It’s consistency that matters. It just simply isn’t “training” without at least 3-4 sessions per week.

One: Play Challenging Games

No, I’m not talking about crossword puzzles.


Because they let you cheat. It’s way too easy to look up the answers.

You need games that push you a little, such as these memory exercises you can play with on your own.

Other challenging games include live action role playing games. Sometimes I hold Memory Detective, for example, so please be sure to subscribe for notifications.

Although not technically a game, the mystery genre involves solving problems and puzzles. This is one reason why I wrote the novel Flyboy. It allows you to “play along” as a detective uses memory techniques to help him save the day and solve a crime.

Memory Detective Internal Game Guide

Or you can play games where you need to make decisions, games with dice, card games or even some of the games memory competitors play.

Memorizing a deck of cards and trying to beat your own record is a powerful cognitive training exercise, for example, and studies have shown it improves your brain.

Two: Take Courses

Getting out and meeting people is a benefit unto itself. But taking courses while meeting people is even better.

My wife and I took a painting course recently and it was fantastic. Not only did we exercise different aspects of our minds, but we got exercise and met interesting people we never would have encountered otherwise.

You can also take courses online, especially memory improvement courses. Just make sure that they are offered by authentic teachers who know that your brain needs a challenge, not just a bunch of meaningless activities.

Three: Pick Up A Language

Did you know that bilingualism can protect your brain?

Even better, learning new languages involves multiple levels of challenge because you need to read, write, speak and listen while exercising your working memory. Talk about an incredible mental fitness routine!

Four: Learn Music

Did you know that you don’t have to play an instrument to benefit from learning music?

Even just studying some music theory can give you cognitive training benefits.

music song lyrics

Or you can sing. As one study found, people who sing have the same or even better benefits than people who know about other ways to train their brains.

Singing also reduces stress, which is great because reduced stress helps you pay attention better. And that means you can learn and remember more.

Five: Become A Memory Master

Memory techniques have been around for a very long time. And for good reason.

For example, techniques like the Memory Palace can be used to help you learn a language faster.

They can also help you remember numbers, names and even long passages of scripture.

Don’t think you can do it?

I’ve had everyone from ten year olds to retirees master these techniques after going through the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass. I’m confident you can too.

And to help you get started, I’ve created this powerful free course:

Free Memory Improvement Course

Once you start using these techniques, you’ll discover what I believe is the ultimate cognitive skills training.

Not only does mastering memory techniques give your mind a powerful workout and great brain exercise.

It helps you reflect on the nature of what it means to have a mind.

And that leads to metacognitive cognition: the ability to think about how you think.

It just doesn’t get any better than that, especially since better memory makes it easy to learn and remember cool terms like “metacognition.”

In sum, cognitive training does really improve your brain, your memory and your ability focus.

You just need to make sure you rule out other issues, pick the activities that suit your desired goals and engage in those activities consistently.

So what do you say?

Are you ready to start enjoying true cognitive training?

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