Mind Works: Brain Training: Saving Cognitive Capital

The average person has about 70 thousand thoughts per day. That's a lot of information for the brain to process, but what if you could make your brain more efficient?

It controls our thoughts, stores our memories, and drives our emotions. Without your brain, you wouldn't be you!

"There's not a single asset that you have that's more important than your brain," Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, Founder and Chief Director, Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas, told Ivanhoe.

However, Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman says our brains are overloaded with information.

"We are exposed to more information in a week than people in the early 1900s were in their whole lifetime," Dr. Chapman said.

Researcher Jennifer Zientz helps people learn to process information with a brain-building program—called SMART training.

"Our brain wasn't built to store every single piece of information we have; so you really have to have a filtering system," Jennifer Zientz, MS, CCC/SLP, Head of Clinical Services, Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas, told Ivanhoe.

She says it's all about saving your cognitive capital. It's like a savings account for your brain.

"Over your life, you use your brain in certain ways that has built up a reserve," Zientz said.

Zientz teaches patients three simple strategies: integration is breaking down and summarizing information; innovation is coming up with solutions to problems; and strategic attention means blocking out useless details.

"So you can save your cognitive capital for thinking about things that really matter," Zientz said.

Dr. Sina Aslan studied the brains of people who completed the SMART training program.

"One individual's brain blood flow improved as a whole by about 12.6 percent," Sina Aslan, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas, told Ivanhoe.

Most of the patients also increased the speed of communications across brain networks by 30 percent.

"30 percent faster speed is like regaining 20 years of brain function," Dr. Chapman said.

Attorney and business owner Chad West had four weeks of brain training in hopes of improving his efficiency at work.

"I would go through an entire day, sometimes a week, and feel like I had not accomplished anything. This training actually has completely changed my way of thinking," Chad West told Ivanhoe.

West learned the "two-one-and-none" technique. He performs the two most important tasks that require the highest level of thinking first.

"No matter what happens in that day, I am going to knock those two things off my list," West said.

He focuses on one thing at a time. None means he thinks about nothing five minutes, five times a day to clear his brain.

"It's helped my brain come up with new ideas, creative ideas. It's helped me feel more relaxed," West said.

Another brain training tip is to stop multitasking. Your brain can't think deeply when you focus on two different tasks, so get rid of distractions.

"You're going to get better brain power, better product, and you're going to be able to accomplish your task much quicker," Zientz said.

It's training for your brain that could mean a sharper, more focused you!

Dr. Chapman says researchers can actually see brain changes after just twelve hours of training, but it isn't a permanent fix. Just like our bodies, you have to keep working out your brain to see the results.

BACKGROUND: The brain is often called the most complex object in the universe.  The average human brain weighs three pounds, has a texture similar to firm jelly, and is 75 percent water.  There are 100 billion nerve cells, neurons, in the brain, but they make up only ten percent of the organ.  These neurons branch out to 100 trillion-plus trigger points.  There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in the brain.   The average number of thoughts a person has every day is 70,000.  Also, it is normal for your mind to wander.  A joint study at Harvard University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland found the parts of the brain that control "task-unrelated thought" (like daydreaming) are almost always active when the brain is at rest.  (Source: heathwatchmd.com and npr.org)


SMART:  The Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training, also called SMART, program is based on cognitive neuroscience principles of how to best engage the rapidly developing frontal brain networks to build strategic thinking, advanced reasoning, and innovative problem solving skills. SMART is different than other training approaches.  The program focuses on top-down processing of information, rather than bottom-up learning.  The research behind the SMART program indicates that top-down, generalized meanings are more vigorously stored and retrieved as compared to a rapid loss of specific details.  The program trains people to maximize their brain power, think strategically, and engage their imagination.  SMART addresses the three pivotal brain processes that ensure mental productivity: strategic attention, integrations, and mental flexibility. (Source: http://www.brainhealth.utdallas.edu/research/research_topic/strategic-memory-advanced-reasoning-training-smart)


STRATEGIC ATTENTION: The brain can process 400 billion pieces of information a minute.  However, that does not mean it should.  Multitasking and information overload has greatly impaired strategic attention.   It makes it more difficult to sift through information and block what is irrelevant.  With the SMART program, people learn how to focus with precision on the tasks and decisions that matter, better understand root issues, and separate extraneous and relevant information. (Source: http://www.brainhealth.utdallas.edu/research/research_topic/strategic-memory-advanced-reasoning-training-smart)


INTEGRATION:  To synthesize large amounts of facts and opinions to get at the core ideas, it requires dynamically shifting from the facts at hand to the global view.  This process of zooming in and zooming out allows participants to reach beyond the tangible to the global picture.  SMART teaches people to extract meaning from various sources, develop abstract ideas, and engage in futuristic thinking. (Source: http://www.brainhealth.utdallas.edu/research/research_topic/strategic-memory-advanced-reasoning-training-smart)


MENTAL FLEXIBILITY:  Many people are good at storing and reproducing massive amounts of information, but not so good at identifying and solving problems.  Our brains need to be flexible in how to use information to create new solutions.  The SMART program teaches individuals how to maximize their brain power at all stages of life.  They learn how to construct insightful interpretations, imagine potential problems, identify multiple solutions, create novel directions, and view issues from diverse perspectives. (Source: http://www.brainhealth.utdallas.edu/research/research_topic/strategic-memory-advanced-reasoning-training-smart)


* For More Information, Contact:


Shelly Kirkland

Public Relations Director

Center for BrainHealth

The University of Texas at Dallas