A lot of time goes into physical conditioning for sports that has a positive effect on mental well-being, something that has been highlighted in recent years but can often be ignored in Ireland.
The world’s best athletes are given nutritionists and personal trainers, and as the knowledge of Sports Science develops, sports psychologists have also been introduced.
When you reach your new personal best in the gym, in overcoming difficulty the endorphins release a positive response to hard-won gains.
However, there are many ways to challenge your brain to perform at its best. In college, there is obviously a lot of reading, and not necessarily the kind that some people enjoy doing.
There are large tomes with clauses that never seem to end and sentences that suggest the writer is paid by the word, and while reading these books conditions your brain too, it can often become tedious and stagnation often develops stress.
In order to break this monotony, it is important to break the routine every now and then with something you enjoy and something that pushes you.
Here are some ideas to give your brain the workout it needs.
Rock climbing, which is popular with engineering students and other maths based students is a happy medium between the physical and the mental activity – not unlike maths problems which offer various approaches and patterns to solving routes and vary in degrees of difficulty.
Many colleges and universities have rock climbing gyms and if not, gyms such as Awesome Walls and the Gravity Climbing Centre in Dublin are there to help.
When you are off the ground with your toes keeping you up on inches of rock and your hands searching for some small purchase so you can advance, one sequence after the other, the entire moment shrinks to the wall and you forget about what is going on below you: the exams, the bills, the worries.
Rock Climbing hones your focus to a single objective – to reach the top of the climb you are embarking on in that very moment, to execute a movement that you have pictured in your head and whether what you see will happen, to miss and re-evaluate and to repeat the attempt with a better idea of how to manage your resources.
Learning to play a musical instrument
This is something I did once when I was five and really should do again. Everyone has heard of the positive effects of music – even parents play classical music into the cribs of their babies in the first step to moulding their prodigies!
As you continue to practice, the score sheets become more demanding in their complexity and, at first, do not make much sense. Fine motor skills and reflexes are improved.
It is fun and relaxing to listen to music, but it can also be therapeutic to play and create your own music too.
Athletes use music to help them relax and focus. Just think – how many people have you seen at the gym with their ear muffs on while they did push-ups and curls and such?
Music has an emotive quality and both positive and negative emotions can be gleaned from listening to a particular sound.
Banding together to form a musical group also presents its own obstacles to overcome and benefit from as teamwork skills are utilised as band members learn to play in time with one another.
My Dad had always said fencing was a sport only for gentlemen, despite this, it is included in many university clubs lists and has a very competitive inter-varsity scene where the gear is often supplied by the clubs, as sabres and masks are often pricey if you want to pursue it outside of college.
Fencing requires sharp reflexes, hand eye coordination and great footwork considering how easy it can be to be hit when your opponent knows what they are doing.
Similarly, sword disciplines like Kendo incorporate matches like fencing, but also have an emphasis on meditation and the warrior spirit like many martial arts originating in Asia. This can also help to stimulate the mind.
Getting out and about
When all else fails, nothing can beat going for a good stroll. It’s cost effective, it can help clear your head and gets you out and back to basics so to speak.
The stress of doing something different and changing your surroundings and world view is great stress for the brain.
‘Flow State’, a term popularised by Steve Kotler’s book, The Rise of Superman springs to mind here. It is really up to you, these are just ideas to get you started, it is important to exercise the brain in multiple ways beyond just studying for exams.
So get creative, it is a good way to build and improve pre-existing skill sets and a chance to develop entirely new ones.