Today’s guest post is by Nick Snapp. Nick is an engineer, podcaster, and recovering perfectionist. He is also in charge of innovation at Snappier, a platform designed to train you to become a Finisher. For Nick’s free, in-depth guide on how to test your next business idea without wasting time and money, go to Snappier.co/idea.
I won’t say that Dementia runs in my family, but I’ve seen my fair share of it. This condition absolutely terrifies me. Dementia is a brain disease that decreases a person’s ability to think and remember.
The one thing that makes me who I am, slipping away as I age? That’s just not acceptable. There has to be a way to combat this!
So I decided to carve out some time to figure out a productive way to address my fears.
What Research Says
Now let me preface by stating that I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a medical professional. However, I have done my research, and I’ve formed a somewhat educated opinion. The good news is I’m convinced there’s hope. And, for me, hope is all I need to take action.
Let’s start with your own personal experience with Dementia. Picture those people most affected by this horrible disease in your personal life. Did you see any life patterns? I sure did.
I saw a lack of activity: a lot of television watching, solitude, inactivity, and monotony. So if there’s a correlation between an inactive mind and brain disease, my first question is what can be done about it now?
Our Daily Routines
If something can be done to mitigate the risk of brain disease, it’s likely to have something to do with what we do every day. Routines work. You can theme your days, sleep and eat around the same time, and have other good habits. Yet, problems arise when routines become mundane or filled with minutia that people stop learning and developing.
It’s a serious issue we often don’t think about.
I’m a parent of three small boys, so I get it. Implementing a good routine is critical for getting things done around the house. You’ve got to be on point in all areas when you have a family. Even so, it’s scary how incredibly easy it is for the weeks and months to slip by. It can even be easy to stop learning.
I fell victim to unhealthy routines. I used to have it all figured out: I had a dedicated amount of time carved out every morning. I would read, take courses, listen to podcasts, I’d soak it all up before I did anything else. Before kids, there was a time in my life that I listened to so many audio courses I became conversational in three languages within a year.
Then, those sweet bundles of joy came around. Shortly after that, I left my corporate career to start a business. The pressure at home ensued. I felt like another American statistic, juggling the never-ending facets of a dual-income family with kids. As time passed, learning became less of a priority, and it eventually slipped away without me noticing.
When You Stop Learning
Once I stopped learning, a fog hovered over my consciousness. I’d have trouble thinking and coming up with original ideas. It was a little weird, even depressing. Brain disease in my mid-thirties? No way. Adult-ADD maybe?
Fortunately, a friend of mine to told me about synapse. He told me he’d been brushing his teeth with his left (non-dominant) hand. At first didn’t get it. I also thought it was a little extreme, but something inside told me to give it a shot.
Brushing my teeth in this way was painfully difficult at first, but I persisted. After about two weeks, it became really easy. I was amazed when I picked up the toothbrush with my left hand and started brushing without thinking about it…what happened?
From what I understand, I had strengthened my synapses. These are signal transmissions between neurons in my brain. Synapses are believed to be the underlying mechanisms responsible for learning and memory.
The cool thing about synapses is that studies show the brain is adaptive. When the brain is damaged by injury or disease, it can re-wire itself by building new neurons and synapse connections. That’s exactly what happened when I started brushing with my left hand. I felt clarity from this exercise. Ideas came more rapidly, and my mood lightened…I wanted more!
So I decided to take things to the next level.
Take on Something New
Here’s the challenge (and also the excuse) for most parents…you don’t have time.
I get that.
Your time is not your own when you’re a parent. But what if you could form new synapse connections while you parent our kids? Could you learn new things without alienating yourself from your family?
I was outside playing with my kids one afternoon and noticed we had three hacky sack balls. Then I remembered how I had taken the kids to an event earlier that year. A juggler put on an amazing show for about 30 minutes. Afterwards, he was selling hacky sack balls in packages of three. My kids just had to have them.
Juggling is something I’ve always been curious about, so I picked them up and gave it a try.
My kids watched as I tossed the items into the air and dropped them just as soon as they left my hands. I noticed that the kids were still playing calmly, and my juggling attempt didn’t hinder my ability to keep them safe.
So, I kept tossing.
Soon, my 16-month old was helping me pick the balls up off the ground and handing them back to me. It was pretty cool. There I was, a grown, late 30’s man learning to juggle while parenting like a champion!
I continued my efforts, any chance I had: when the kids were playing outside, while my wife was watching Netflix, whenever. I leveraged those little pieces of time found randomly in life: 30 seconds here and 10 minutes there. I tossed consistently for about 30 days using this approach. I was so horrible!
Then, something clicked…synapses were formed.
Practice Practice and More Practice
I started counting tosses, and I eventually hit 100. It was really invigorating, considering I hadn’t made any real sacrifices whatsoever to acquire this new skill.
There was a side benefit too. In 30 days, my kids saw their dad go from a complete beginning juggler to someone that could actually juggle. They saw me consistently putting in the work, and they even took an interest!
There came a time when the kids were juggling my hacky sack balls so much that I started missing my juggling time. Nevertheless, I was happy to let them take a crack at it because they were implementing something they learned from me. Here were my two kids spending over 30-minutes consistently tossing and dropping balls in the air with their newfound quest to juggle.
Multi-Tasking is a Myth…But Still
The fact that I was able to learn how to juggle, AND be an active parent to my kids was impressive to me. It even totally opened my eyes to other avenues for learning while parenting.
I see juggling and similar activities as a new way to take breaks while you’re in the middle of your day without taking you away from what’s important.
Don’t be fooled though. Not all of your “one day I’m going tos” will qualify for synapse growth at home. You can’t exactly pursue rock climbing in between potty training.
Home-Synapse Growth Activities (HSGA’s, as I like to call them) need to be accessible. Where’s that old guitar of yours these days? How about mounting it on the wall in the family room? You can practice some chords in between loads of laundry and your kids can see you rocking out.
Your kids will witness your newfound interests, and you’ll develop new, healthy habits. HSGA’s shouldn’t require much focus, and they need to be interruption-friendly. Here are some activities you can try:
- Learning an instrument
- Reading a book
- Card tricks
- Memory games
- Air squats
- Push-ups (yep, exercises count too)
There are so many possibilities here. It just takes a little conscious thought and some action. The best way to do this is to setup your environment to make it easy. My hacky sack balls were always within arm’s reach.
What have you always wanted to learn how to do? Think about your current schedule and whether you could get it done as an HSGA (that acronym will catch on, just you wait and see).