Another year, another batch of the same old New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight. Hit the gym. Sign up for a yoga class. Those are great goals, to be sure, but they’re all about your body. What about your brain? It needs nourishment too.
So this January, resolve to exercise your mind, not just your abs. You can do that by leveraging modern technology, which makes it easy to connect with friends, consume engaging media, and learn new things – all excellent ways to show your brain some love. Make it happen with these tech-powered resolutions.
Read for pleasure
A few years back, neuroscientists discovered that reading a novel can improve brain function in a variety of ways: empathy, creativity, stress management, even quality of sleep. Fortunately, it’s ridiculously easy to keep books on hand for everyday moments of down time, like in line at the post office or riding the train to work. Just install an e-book app like Kindle on your favorite device. Or subscribe to an audiobook service like Audible to absorb a book while you walk, jog, or drive. Resolve to read a book a week – or just one per month – and you’ll be surprised how quickly you form an enjoyable habit.
Watch classic movies on the go
Why bother with old movies? So you can win at bar trivia, of course. But also because they’re part of our shared heritage. Watch Chaplin’s Modern Times, for example, to understand the desperation brought on by the Great Depression (and enjoy some belly laughs). Watch Casablanca for lessons in patriotism, nobility, and love. You get the idea. And for a really versatile mobile movie theater, watch on something like the HP Envy x360, which touts a 15.6-inch display and up to 9 hours of battery life.
Meditation offers so many benefits to the brain and body, you’d think doctors would write prescriptions for it. And if you’re thinking you need to go to an expensive studio and sit with some new-age guru, think again: Just grab a pair of noise-isolating headphones like Etymotic Research HF5, install a mindfulness-meditation app on your device (there are dozens of them, most priced under $10), and find a place where you can sit quietly for 5-10 minutes. And that’s it. Do this daily to reduce stress, improve concentration, and even increase your overall happiness.
Learn to play an instrument
Admit it: You’ve always wanted to learn guitar. Or piano. Or, heck, the ukulele always sounds so cheerful, doesn’t it? Guess what: You don’t have to learn to read music to learn a musical instrument, and you don’t need to spend a fortune on lessons. Instead, you can find an endless supply of online video courses at sites like Lessonface, Takelessons, and even YouTube; many of them free or very inexpensive. What’s more, sessions like these let you learn at your own pace, on your schedule.
For the best a-la-mode music experience, make sure you have a large enough display, one that makes it easy to see fingering and other important details. Likewise, a touchscreen makes it easier to start and stop videos and rewind to the parts you need to see again. As the hub of your new music studio, it would be hard to beat the Dell Inspiron 15 – an affordable 2-in-1 with a full HD 15-inch display.
Improve your sleep
If there’s one thing your brain definitely needs more of, it’s rest. But many adults have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Tech to the rescue! For starters, consider a white-noise app for your favorite device, one that helps you nod off to the sounds of rain or waves. Most of these apps cost only a few dollars, and might be just the thing you need to combat bedtime stress.
To really kick it up a notch, though, look to gadgets designed expressly for slumber assistance. The $129 Sense is a cute little white ball that sits on your nightstand, playing ambient sounds to help you fall asleep, monitoring your sleep to help determine the optimal time for you to wake up, then waking you with a smart alarm based on that data. It even looks at things like light, humidity, and room temperature, then offers suggestions to help you improve your quality of sleep.
Learn a new language
Not only is learning a new language impressive on a resume and useful for frequent travelers, it can also give you a whole new perspective on the world. And you don’t need four more years of high-school or expensive classes, just the right software. Start with Duolingo, a free smartphone app that teaches over a dozen different languages by turning lessons into mini-games. For more robust learning, look to Rosetta Stone’s PC software, which incorporates speech-recognition technology to evaluate your voice. Even if you just work at it for a few minutes at a time throughout the day – on the bus, on your break, before bed – you’ll make significant progress in a few weeks. That’ll be that much easier if you install it on a supremely portable device like the Lenovo Yoga 900; it measures just 15mm thick, weighs around 2.8 pounds, and powers up in moments.
Explore informative podcasts
Welcome to the golden age of podcasting, where you can venture beyond well-known storytelling shows like This American Life and Serial into podcasts designed to teach while they entertain.
Each episode of RadioLab, for example, explores a different area of science, philosophy, or the human experience. Then there’s Science Vs., which tackles topics like fracking, organic food, and hypnosis, impartially sharing all the current science to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction. You can find more brain food in shows like Good Job Brain, Challenge of the Week, Stuff You Should Know, 99% Invisible, and public radio staple Science Friday.