Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eye-Q: Speed Reading Update

Hey everyone,

I thought I'd give you an update about my experience with EyeQ.  So far, the product has done what it claims to do.  I'm happy about that, as I don't look forward to giving less than stellar reviews of something, although I'm sure that day will come.

In any event, I am reading at about 500 words per minute now.  I say "about," because I've been testing myself with different reading material.  A graphic novel is by far the easiest thing for me to read very quickly (626 words per minute), and a college textbook is the slowest (391 words per minute).  I also read a nonfiction novel (506 words per minute) and a fiction novel (509 words per minute).  I should emphasize that these speeds are as fast as I can go and still 100% understand what I'm reading.  I can go a bit faster, in the 600's for the novels, but I start missing details about 40% of the time, and have to guess about what is written quite a bit.  I'm usually right, but it's still guessing or deducing, rather than knowing what it is I read.  

I'm a little more than half way through the main series of twelve exercises.  You're supposed to only use the program every other day, in order to give your eyes a rest.  About five years ago, my grandmother tried this course, but was gung ho about it, and did it every day.  She soon began complaining of having headaches.  At the time I thought it was due to her age, but now that I'm doing the EyeQ program myself I realize that she, much like many people's first day in a gym, over did it.  In some ways EyeQ is a gym for your eye muscles.  Like all striated muscles, they need alternating off days. 

To my surprise, the EyeQ program that I have comes with a vocabulary builder, which came in handy for my cousin Ronald (remember he's studying for the SAT).  His results have been positive, but not as good as mine.  Then again, he is 17 and hasn't been as completely focused on the training as I have been (girls).  I guess this just goes to show what you put in to your training is what you get out of it.  But what I did notice was while Ronald wasn't going to be choosing EyeQ over girls any time soon, he did actually like doing the video game-exercises.  They weren't a chore to him. 

My only criticisms with the EyeQ program are small ones:
1) The image on their website about the brain activity is a bit misleading.  When you become really good at something, you tend to use less brainpower to do it, not more!
2) There doesn't seem to be any strategies offered for handling different sized text.  For me, I had to tailor my own techniques from their general principles for handling very small and very large print. 

But these two issues are very minor ones indeed, in comparison to everything that actually is good about this product.  In my case, there was even a bonus benefit.  All of the effort of learning to quickly see images has helped me in my lucid dreaming activities.  For the past few days, I've had a much easier time being aware of the brief hypnagogic imagery that comes before and after sleeping.

Overall, I give EyeQ 4.5/5 stars.   If you're looking for a last minute Christmas gift for someone who likes to read (like me), struggles with reading (like Ronald), or who looks forward to getting reading assignments out of the way (like both Ronald and me) then EyeQ may be it.  It's a video game and a brain skills tool.

And as a Christmas gift to my readers:  If you do decide to buy EyeQ, just mention this blog, Mentathlete, and get $50 taken off of the price!

 Well I'm calling it a night, everybody.  Happy Holidays from Nth. 

--Nathan (Nth)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Speed Reading: Day 1 the EyeQ review.

So the Mentathlete blog is all about acquiring brain-skills, one of which includes speed-reading.  Right now the hottest brain enhancement product on the market for rapid reading is EyeQ from the Infinite Mind company.  According to their website, their product currently goes for about $265.  I didn't pay that.  To be honest, I didn't pay anything for the EyeQ program laying next to my keyboard.  I found it in my uncle's garage.  But if you are thinking about buying EyeQ, then perhaps it's best to first let me try it out for you, then give you my opinion of it.

The company makes a few claims. The ones I'll be testing are:
  • "Skills and tools to manage information overload"

Ought to be good.  
  • "Read 2 to 10 times faster"
I read through the accompanying pamphlet, and I'm supposed to do one of their exercises every other day, and it's only after day (exercise) 6 that I am supposed start focusing on actually increasing my reading speed.  I just tested my reading rate here, and clocked in at a amazingly average 256 words per minute.  We'll see if after two weeks I'll be able to efficiently read at 512 words per minute or more.

  • "Improve scanning ability"
We'll see.

  • "Increase comprehension"
Hmmm...This may be hard for me to personally evaluate.  I tend to max out on reading comprehension tests already.  Not to fear, I've enrolled my 18-year old cousin Ronald into this vital  investigation.  He has to take the ACT, SAT, etc. for college.  It will be rather easy to test his reading comprehension before and after taking this course.  

  • "Process information faster"
Ronald's our guinea pig for this too. 

  • "Immediate, dramatic and measurable results"
"Immediate" and "dramatic" are rather subjective words, but I'll just report my and Ronald's experiences and let you decide for yourself. 

We'll see how this goes,

--Nathan (Nth)

Mnemonics and the Miller Analogies Test results

Hey all,

So I took the Miller Analogies Test earlier today, and according to the preliminary report, I did very well.  I've read and heard other people mention their exact scores, and it usually comes across as bragging to me unless there is some purpose for mentioning it, and I don't want to do that.  But you probably need to know the actual number in order to decide if mnemonics is something for you. I scored 481 out of 600.  For my purpose, that means I should do well in scholarship competitions, and for the blog's purposes, it does suggest mnemonics can greatly help a person "cram" if they have to (which I did in order to meet the deadline for this scholarship).  Believe me, I am not naturally capable of doing so well on such tests, especially under such short notice.  I'm probably naturally below in aptitude in comparison to most people reading this blog.  The difference is I train wisely, and consequently my mind rarely performs poorly, even if it doesn't always perform as well as I would like. 

Remember that I started studying for the MAT less than two weeks ago.  I'd be curious to see how a person would do if they used the peg system, Russian doll system, and loci method I advocate using a month or two...or three before taking the test or any similar exam like the MCAT or GRE.  

But in all fairness, I didn't just read, read, read and memorize, memorize, memorize.  In fact, after a friend of mine who scored 517 out of 600 on the Miller Analogies Test suggested I give my work schedule a significant rest, I did (wise training I mentioned earlier). Remaining calm helped a lot during the testing session.  In my case, it also helped that I was the only person in the room and could therefore think aloud.  Yes folks, I talk to myself.  But it turns out talking to oneself is actually a great problem-solving tool.

My only beef the test was that two questions on mine specifically could have multiple answers that were logical, in my opinion.  I don't want to get in trouble for sharing questions on the test, so I'll change around one of the questions in question a little.  It went like so:

Poseidon: Neptune :: Zeus : (a. Jupiter, b. Venus, c. Aphrodite, d. Saturn)

Now before all of my studying, I would have automatically selected  "A." Neptune is the Roman equivalent to Poseidon the way Jupiter is the Roman equivalent to Zeus.  However, after all of the memorizing I did, I now knew that Poseidon is the Father of Neptune, as is Zeus is the father to Aphrodite.   I also started seeing too many patterns in the question.  "Poseidon" ends in the letter "n"  and "Neptune" begins with it.  Similarly Zeus ends in the letter "s" and "Saturn" begins with it.  While all of this is true, the test-makers probably wanted the more superficial reply of "A."  But instead I picked "D."  It may sound counterintuitive, but I probably would have done better if I "dumbed down" my answers. Actually, a better description is give them the answer they think is right, rather than the answer you think is right.     Depending on what and how you do on the practice tests, this may be a strategy you also have to incorporate.

There is a lot more I want to say, and I may say it later, but right now it's time to call it a night.  Tomorrow I return to editing and then marketing my books, though I doubt I'll rarely mention the work on this blog.  I will, however, cover the speed-reading program Eye-Q tomorrow.  I was going through my uncle's garage a few days ago, and found his copy of it there.

A review of Brainetics is also coming soon!  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Testing Intuition and Intuiting the Test

Hey everyone,

So Day 3 of studying for the MAT next Tuesday continues.  I received a surprise gift from someone to help me prepare for the Miller Analogies Test, a 100-page synopsis of the topics most commonly tested on the MAT.  This study guide has helped me cut down my study time tremendously, and gave me an opportunity to play-around, so to speak.  

Today I decided to take another MAT practice test, but this time if I was uncertain about an answer to a question, I'd go with my very first instinct, the answer that "popped out" at me, my intuition.  Now, the "I" word means different things to different people, so I'll clarify that I'm talking about the kind of intuition that can be described as nonlinear intelligence capable of making flashes insights without consciously thinking about the data.  I'm not talking about psychic intuition, per se--that's a topic for later down the road.  I'm talking about times when the brain puts the disjointed pieces of information together faster than your logical step-by-step mind can. 

In any event, of the 100 problems on my practice test, I had to resort to intuition on 22 of them.  Of those 22 intuitive or gut-reaction replies, 17 were right and 5 were wrong.  That makes my intuitive ability--at least for general knowledge presented in a multiple-choice format of four options--a little over 77% accurate.  That's pretty interesting to me.  I take it to mean that the recesses of my mind (and by extension, human minds in general) have an awareness of much more information than the conscious part does.  If I was just totally guessing, then I should have only gotten 25% of those questions right (you have four options, you have to pick one, ergo 1/4=25%), but my intuition was over 3 times better than guessing, and I'm sure yours is as well, if not better.

I have to be honest, I didn't figure I'd be turning the MAT into a game of intuition, but that is exactly what it was for me.  At least the problems that I didn't know the answer to were.  I look forward to testing my intuition again, and seeing if I can make it even more accurate.  I can tell you that of the 22 intuitive guesses, there were a couple where I second-guessed, and both were costly mistakes.

Intuition is rarely offered as a test-taking cool, but I think it is a wonderful adjunct to the more formal test-taking strategies.  Sometimes it's worth guessing, but if my personal experience is any indication, the "guess" may be a little less wild ass than we think. 

I certainly wouldn't use my intuition as the primary test-taking strategy for the MAT or similar tests.  Afterall, while my intuitive guessing was 17/22 (77%), my accessible knowledge and know-how was 67/78 (86%). So in my case, formally acquired knowledge trumps intuition when going head-to-head.

Of course there are times when my conscious mind will truly lack the knowledge to solve the given-problem.  In those cases, I think it's great to have a well-honed backup brain-skill.

That's about all for me today.

Until next time,

Nathan (Nth)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Memory Training and the MAT Part 2--GW Bush at Bat.

Good evening, Everyone.

So memorizing a large amount of information in a small amount of time is what I found myself doing today, and I will likely continue doing this until the 12th or 13th of this month, depending on my mood.  I'm of course doing this to prepare for my Miller Analogies Test, and figured I could use the exercise to cover some of the basics of how to memorize voluminous information.

Today was all about the US Presidents and world leaders,  Shakespearean characters, philosophy/philosophers, film/filmmakers, and vehicles. I chose these five topics after taking an MAT practice test that can be found here on page 77, and having to guess on problems involving these topics (whether I got them right or wrong is another topic for tomorrow).

So, I'm embarrassed to say I am like many Americans and couldn't name half of the U.S. presidents, much less even a minor fraction of famous world leaders. Until today.  Here's how I remedied that, and if you ever need to memorize a list (in order or as a free set) a way you could do it too.

Mnemonists have developed a variety of mnemonic techniques, sort of like how a wizard may have a variety of potions at his or her disposal. Different ones for different occasions in the case of both the memorizer and the thaumaturge.  A great mnemonic technique for remembering a list when order is important is the peg system.   A brief description of the peg system would be assigning items to be remembered to images that represent numbers.  It does take a bit of prearrangement to form an image for a number that is significant to you.  One person may think an image of a ladybug should represent the number 6 (six legs), while another thinks a gambling die would be better (six sides).  Whatever works for you. 

In my case, the number images I use are mainly the ones Andi Bell mentions in his highly recommended book about mnemonics. I changed some of them to fit me, and did so many years ago, so they're second-nature for me. For numbers 44-40 they are as follows:

44--India Arie (long story...)
43--Baseball bat ( "6-4-3" baseball card)
42--Streetlight (42nd Street)
41--Mozart (Symphony #41)
40--Champagne (something you may drink on your 40th birthday)

I started with #44, because the USA is currently on its 44th POTUS and it's easier for me to start from Obama to Washington rather than the other way around.

So as I previously mentioned, the peg system works by associating the desired thing to remember to the numerical symbols that you know by heart.  The thing is, if you want to remember them for a relatively long time, you have to make the association outrageous, surprising, exotic...even illogical.   It's the best way to ensure the information will "stick" in the minds of us who are not blessed with a natural eidetic memory.

If I want to remember Obama is the 44th President, I don't envision him shaking hands with India Arie (she's #44 for me, remember).  That's too easy to eventually forget.  No, I picture him getting busted in a hotel room (Room #44, of course) in India with India Arie by the TV show Cheaters.  That's an image I'm not going to forget! 

The same goes for our 43rd President, George W. Bush.  It's tempting to just unimaginatively see him swing a bat at the World Series. But it's even more memorable to see him swinging a bat at the shoes this guy "pitches" to him:

I did this type of memorizing for all 44 Presidents (43, if you don't count Grover Cleveland twice).  Along the way, I went here and made the Presidents more "human" by reading a variety of facts about them.  Because I had their names anchored in my head thanks to the peg system, it was easier to devote time to remembering the trivia in a casual and leisurely way.  I figure what sticks will stick, and I'll likely remember more of the tangential information than I think I would.  I'll discuss why tomorrow when I talk about test-taking and intuition. 

Good night, guys. 

--Nathan (Nth)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Memory Training and the Miller Analogies Test Part 1

Hey Everyone,

The NaNoWriMo project was a blast (well, not an actual blast. "Fun," I mean).  A huge relief to actually write the novel by that deadline.  Granted, editing the novel will take a while, but the steepest hill has been climbed!

And with precious little time to appreciate that accomplishment, I'm already working on my next topic, mnemonics.  I guess it's strange that I have yet to write a post specifically about memory training, as I'm more of a mnemonist than any other type of mentathlete.  I can't think of a better time to remedy that than now.

You can find a nice free online resource entitled "How to Remember Anything" here. It's a great introduction to mnemonics.  I'm presently putting some of these techniques into action in the real-world.  You see, I've signed up to take a graduate school admissions exam called the Miller Analogies Test. I take it on the 14th of this month.

The MAT is a rather difficult test to do very well on. By "very well," I mean getting at least 90% of the questions right.  The maximum score you can attain on the MAT is 600/600, but of the 60,000 students who take it annually, perhaps the highest scores in any given year are in the 520's, and I understand it's only two or so who accomplish even that.  I don't believe anyone has ever scored perfect on the new version of the test.   If I do well enough, then in addition to my GPA and other accomplishments, I will hopefully earn enough financial aid to pay for my enrollment into this Texas A & M statistics online program.   I like statistics and I'm good at it, so why not make a career of it?  I confess to being a bit of a scanner, so I'll likely always be doing a number of things, but you (2nd person) do sorta need some stable way to support yourself and your other "hobbies."  I think a career as an applied mathematician or data analyst is the "security job" for me. 

So how exactly is mnemonics going to help me with preparing for the MAT?  Well, even though the test is primarily an exercise of your reasoning abilities, the more general knowledge you have, the more likely you can do your personal best on the MAT.  Sadly, there is a lot of information for me to re-learn or learn in the first place. How much? According to the test's own description, analogies on the MAT cover terminology, references, and concepts from life experience, pop culture, work, comparative religion, ethics, history, literature, modern & classical languages...algebra, arithmetic, finance...geography, anthropology, civics...public health, and sociology." They mentioned 41 different subjects in all.  That's quite a bit of information to touch upon in such a short amount of time, and they can cover some rather obscure items within these topics. If you don't believe me, here are a few examples of the harder questions:

1. MEATUS : (a. body  b. river  c. impetuous  d. contumelious) :: STRAIT : WATER
2. FABACEOUS : (a. plant  b.seed  c. shrub  d. bean) :: AQUILINE : EAGLE
3. TIFFANY : GLASS :: CHRISTO JAVACHEF : (a. islands  b. sculpture  c. found objects  d. paining)
4. TIZANO VECELLIO : TITIAN :: DOMENIKOS THEOTOKOPOULAS : (a. Domenik  b. El Greco  c. Theo  d. Poulous)
5. ASSOCIATIONS : (a. celestial sphere  b. cosmic rays  c. binary stars  d. cardinal points) :: SCATTERED : BOUND
6. OEDIPUS : (Clymaenestra  b. Jocasta  c. Antigone  d. Cassandra) : CLAUDIUS : GERTRUDE
7. NORSE : JUDEO-CHRISTIAN :: (a. Bragi  b. Balder  c. Buri  d. Ask) : ADAM
8. TONI MORRISON : BELOVED :: (a. Jane Smiley  b. John Updike  c. Norman Mailer  d. Alice Walker)  : RABBIT AT REST
9. STEVENSON : EISENHOWER :: (a. Wilke  b. Dewey  c. Landon  d. Davis)  : COOLIDGE

Yeah... I don't know about your childhood, but my family definitely did not discuss the consequences of a fabaceous diet, and John Updike's *Rabbit at Rest* around the dinner table.

I know completely what they're talking about in those particular analogies in perhaps 4 of the 9.  I know the words, but not what they're getting at in 1. There are 2 that I honestly never heard of half the words, but can figure out what they probably mean. But that's still 22% of the analogies that are totally gibberish to me.  A lack of a broad enough knowledge-set is evidently a challenge--to varying degrees-- for everyone who takes this test.  People may have prior knowledge of on the average 1/3 of the questions (not necessarily the same third), but are totally in the dark about the rest.   Suffice to say I have a lot of subjects to learn at least the basics about.
It's tempting to complain about the test's obvious cultural bias, but that's hardly proactive. A good mental athlete can adopt a winning attitude when he or she has to, so that's what I'll do here.  Besides, there's evidence that cultural bias or no, the MAT is actually a better predictor of graduate school success than is the GRE and that analogies are excellent ways to assess a person's powers of abstract reasoning.  Furthermore, analogies are all about finding patterns and relationships, which is also what statistics is supposed to be about--though in a different way.  So if I'd like to think I'd make for a stellar statistician, then this test should be a cakewalk!  Hey, the attitude adjustment is already working!

So here's the plan:  There are about 36 of the 41 subjects the MAT covers that I really am totally ignorant about that I need to memorize at least the basics.  I have eight days (I'm not including the 14th, as I've learned it's a mistake to study the day of a test. Instead I meditate and stay in a relaxed state the morning of the exam) to cover these subjects.  That's about 4-5 subjects per day.

I think what I'm going to do is post which 4 or five subjects I memorize each day, and then post which websites I found the most useful.  Perhaps I can help someone in the future who has to take the MAT.  This ought to be interesting.  Wish me luck!

Alrighty then,

-Nathan (Nth)

P.S.  Here is a pretty cool mnemonic device for remembering the countries of the world


Monday, November 1, 2010

Schedule for the month..maybe longer.

Hey all,

So today is the first day of the NaNoWriMo project.  I already have my outline ready, which saves on both time and sanity.  There is one little hitch, though.  I decided to polish up an old superhero-fiction story I wrote a few years ago called _Godchildren_, so _Complex_ will have to wait a while.  I had a few pieces of the Godchildren piece published here and there, but it's for the most part incomplete.  Only 6,000 words written.  My goal is to have it completely written and edited by November 30th, self-publish through Amazon, then spend the month of December marketing and advertising my opus, so I can make some money.   Promoting a book on one's own should be an exercise in practical creativity if ever there was one.  Oh, and to be fair, instead of writing 50,000 words, I'm aiming for at least 56,000 given that I coming into NaNoWriMo this year with extra junk in the literary trunk than I should. 

But glutton for punishment that I am, writing is not the only thing on my agenda.  March will be here before you know it, which means it's time for Nth to start re-training for the U.S.A. Memory Championship, American Crossword Puzzles Tournament, and for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.  Trivia, word games, and memory.  All in March and all in New York.  Piece of cake [no matter what the little inner-voice of skepticism chants]

So my daily brain-training schedule for November is going to look like so:

1. Work on my novel.  (1 hour)
2. Revisit my old stomping ground, the School of Phenomenal Memory, refresh myself on the techniques taught there, and integrate them into my own memory training (1 hour).
3. Use this website as a starting point for trivia training.  Oh, and this one.  (1 hour)
4. Work on a crossword puzzles daily from here. (1 hours).
5. Do a weight-free workout regimen daily, because Nth is starting to get a little puffy around the midsection...and it turns out exercise is great for your cognition.  (2 hours)

I'm looking at about 6 hours a of training a day.  That with 8-hours working, and 8ish hours of sleep, leaves me with two hours of daily play.  Sadly there are no clubs or anything of the sort where I'm currently living, but I'll work fun into the daily routine, as God's my witness!  Who am I kidding, I'll probably just veg out and watch retro short lived TV shows on Youtube for those two hours. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Getting the Creative Juices Flowing.

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the multi-week delay in posting.  Life has been incredibly busy, both in a good and bad way.  But good ole' Nth is back in the swing of things!  Today, I thought I'd talk about creativity, and how to enhance it. Creativity is one of those things we struggle to define, but readily know it when we see it.  Where we tend to run into roadblocks is in attempting to measure it and enhance it.  Well, I can't address the first task too competently, but when it comes to enhancing creativity, I believe I may know a useful thing or two that you may find interesting. 

Aside from getting a good night's rest  and putting some distance between you and your problems by daydreaming,  you can also:

1)Throw a little spontaneity in your life. 

The Odyssey of the Mind is an annual creative thinking tournament that I sadly never had the chance to participate in.  They have a number of practice problems and spontaneous problems that you can try on your own time.  Now, we adults are fully aware that real-life often throws us enough spontaneous problems to contend with. Like, "What do you mean I'm being audited?'"  Or, "What do you mean you hid cocaine in my car?" Yes, I feel you. Undoubtedly the very thought of actually looking for more surprises to solve in your everyday life makes the blood pressure rise while you utter, "Adding more grease to my fire?  No thank you." 

 Spontaneous problem-solving isn't for everyone,  and we at Mentathlete understand that.  For others looking to tap into their creativity well, there is

2)  Neurobics (Neural aerobics)

Getting yourself out of your comfort zone, and having to make adjustments is something you should welcome a little more often.  It turns out little things like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or trying a new restaurant can actually help your brain form new neuronal connections which is great for mental flexibility and agility.  Symbolically enough, creativity itself is often about forcing two things to connect that at first glance seem unconnected.  Another way to make connections--conceptual, neuronal, and social-- is to

3) Do some creative writing. 

One of the best ways I personally get the innovative juices flowing is too start writing.  Poetically enough, November starts the National Novel Writing Month project, better known as NaNoWriMo.  From their website:

"National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down."

I actually did the NaNoWriMo challenge for the first time last year; talk about a head rush.  I did it with a couple of friends who were NaNo veterans, which made it more memorable and energizing.  There's something about knowing your friends are also working on their own creative projects with you.   And if you're looking for a mind-stretching, creativity nurturing exercise, then writing a novel in a month (or at least trying to) would be it. 

I strongly encourage you to sign up for the NaNoWriMo project for next month.  You'll find your imagination being forced to make connections and clever shortcuts as you attempt to put novelty into your novel.  But you probably want to start on an outline and general concept for your opus right now.  I've already began the outline for mine.  It's a novel put to rhyme.  The title is "Complex."  I'll share it with you at the end of November.  Hopefully I'll get to read yours as well.  

Until next time.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mirror Writing and Neurobics

This entry was a tough one to write.  A friend of mine asked me to investigate mirror writing, the ability to write backwards or inverted from what is the cultural standard.  I was excited to do so, as I am a lefty who used to write backwards and/or upside down as a kid (hey, it looked "right" to me). So before I started  investigating the science behind this, I had preconceived notions that research would have only positive things to say about this topic.  I was wrong.

I'll get the bad news out of the way first.  If you suddenly start mirror-writing out of the blue and unintentionally, you may want to talk to your doctor rather than show off the ability to your friends.  Spontaneous acquired mirror-writing may be a sign of a serious neurological problem. On top of that, even if you are an adult and naturally a mirror-writer, some researchers have concerns. It's not regarded as a real issue if small children mirror-write, as their brains are more flexible or neuroplastic than are adult ones. For them it's perfectly natural if they do it (or if they don't).

At four years of age, the presence of mirror writing is generally nothing to be concerned about. To understand why, it's important to know how the ability to write from left to right emerges in a young child. A young child first develops what's called laterality. This is an awareness of "leftness" and "rightness," or at least that the body has two sides. This internal awareness then matures into what's called directionality, which is the recognition and appreciation of right-left, up-down, forward-backward, etc.

By now you're probably wondering why on Earth would I think mirror-writing is something I suggest you try.  Didn't I just mention it being a feat connected to cognitive processing errors and dissociative disorders.  Well, yes.  But only if it is unintentional.  If you're doing this intentionally, then we're talking about a totally different matter, and it happens to be a good one.  

It turns out that mirror-writing is a very useful (and fun) neurological exercise. As we become adults, our brains make less and less neural connections, instead relying on the old tried-and-true ones it already has established. While this makes you crystallized in what you already know (do you really want to re-learn how to drive a car every time you get behind the wheel?), it can become challenging to learn new things.  
Much like a muscle, the brain needs to be exercised and exposed to new exercises. And mirror-writing is a great one.

You see, mirror-writing tends to correlate with having a thicker corpus callosum, and that is the part of the brain that enables the right and left hemisphere to communicate with each other.  Furthermore, there is some evidence that mirror-writers have bilateral language centers.  With the brain, two isn't always better than one, but in the case of language centers it is. Second-language acquisition comes easier to those with two active language centers, and word play probably does as well.

So give this exercise a try!  Start making new neural pathways and cognitive connections. Maybe you'll find learning a new language easier later on.

I should note to parents who want to give their tyke a cognitive boost that I wouldn't force mirror-writing on a small child.  Forcing a child to mirror-write is tantamount to forcing a lefthanded child to write with her or his right hand, which science now says is not so great.

For everyone else, here are a few videos to see what mirror-writing looks like. The first video is the only way I can mirror-write now.

Some other interesting facts about mirror-writing

  • Mirror writing is likely genetic. So if you are a natural mirror-writer, you can thank your mom or someone from your uterine family line!
  • Roughly 1 person in 6,500 is estimated to be a natural mirror-writer. 

"As with all entries in Mentathlete, this entry is not to be taken as medical advice.  Always consult your physician before pursuing any activity involving your health." 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Autogenics: The brain skill that can save your life.

 Autogenics is great for any stress-related issue. Just some of these include: insomnia, incontinence, hives, high-blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, eczema, and heart issues.  If you or someone you know may be struggling with a stress-related issue, this entry is for you. 

 Lucky me.  I was born with a electrical heart disorder called WPW. Occasionally my heart would seemingly lose its rhythm and take off as though I was in a race...for my life.  At one point my ticker went as fast as 200 beats per minute.  Not good. So why would I consider such a "defect" to be good fortune?  Well, I probably wouldn't have ever discovered autogenic training without the issue.  I know it sounds like a lemonade out of lemons story, but bear with me.

I didn't know I had a heart disorder until I was an adult.  I knew my bio-pumper would occasionally flutter, but I thought everybody's heart did that.  It never ceases to amaze me about life when you're little.  You assume if "X" happens to you, "X" happens to everyone. Or if you can do something, everyone can do it. But I digress.
I had some surgeries to fix my heart issue, and took beta-blockers prescribed to me to assist with the occasional palpitation thereafter. However, I later discovered that beta-blockers are not ideal for those with a higher risk of diabetes, like (gulp) African-Americans, so I just stopped taking mine. Arguably not my smartest moment, but I think being forthcoming is a worthwhile policy, even when it's unflattering.

Now most people can probably guess what happened next: I had a serious tachycardic episode one night.  This was about two and a half years ago, and I remember being terrified that I  was going to die. I've certainly had a few close calls in everyday life, just like everyone who has lived long enough, but this one felt ominously different.   I probably hadn't been in a church in at least four years before that night, but let me tell you, I prayed like a mantis not to die! To my surprise, my heart did regulate itself.  When I left the hospital that night and my heart would go erratic again, I would do a quick prayer as a remedy for each episode. 

You would imagine that I would have become a religious zealot from then on, but instead I wondered if I really had to resort to orisons in order to preclude an episode.  So the next time a palpitation happened, I just said "Stop" instead of appealing to the divine.  My heart "behaved itself" in response.   I no longer had  to call upon divine intervention for the heart issue any more than I needed to to scratch my nose.  This event made me even more curious, as it seemed to me that what I began doing was a healthy version of psychosomatics, the mind influencing the body in a good way.  After a bit of research, I discovered the name for it, a type of psychophysiological self-regulation called autogenic training. Lucky me.   

I had to admit, I was a bit disappointed to discover that what I could now do--speed up or slow down my heart through my emotions--could not be branded as a superpower, but in fact quite ordinary!  Medicine has known about this ability for a loooong time.  Yoga, biofeedback, progressive relaxation techniques, and autogenics are all disciplines that can lead to the ability to control involuntary aspects of your physiology, like your brain-waves, blood pressure, and heart rate. And I did indeed later learn how to control all of these things about myself.   I hesitate to use absolutes, like "always" and "everyone" but autogenics evidently is something that practically anyone can do.

I wondered why aren't people prescribed autogenic training rather than surgery  and/or drugs for certain health issues.  It's cheaper (my old beta-blockers cost about $40/month. My surgery bill soared into the thousands. On the other hand, autogenics--once you learn it--is free to use.) and always at your beck and call to utilize. And you can't forget to bring it with you, like you may with a bottle of pills. But the question of why autogenics and its variants are not more commonly prescribed is a question for another day.  I hope that one of the physicians I contacted will answer this question. If and when one does, I'll post the Q&A here.     

Of course in the meantime, you may want to try autogenics yourself. It's one of those things that you can go to a trainer to learn, or try to learn on your own.  I personally did a mixture of both.  Because of my circumstances, I learned heart control--which is considered one of the more advanced feats-- on my own before I learned the supposedly simpler ones like mentally erasing a tension headache via formal training.  Formal training helped me "fill in the blanks."

You can click here for a very thorough six step-plan for learning autogenics.  It typically takes 90 days to master, but people's learning curves vary, and you can expect some results in about 3 weeks, if you do the exercises daily.

--Nathan (Nth)

"As with all entries in Mentathlete, this entry is not to be taken as medical advice.  Always consult your physician before pursuing any activity involving your health."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

First entry

Hello Everyone:

Thank you for stopping by my blog about honing various mind skills and applying them to everyday life.  My name is Nathan Fields, but I go by Nth BarFields.*  I'm a mnemonist returning to competition, training to be an exponentially better mentathlete than I was in my first foray into mind sports. Other than that, I'm an online tutor and aspiring writer, formerly an autogenics trainer/biofeedback therapist, and I do volunteer work for a missing persons group called Find Me.

I am very much interested in mind sports.  So what exactly are mind sports, you may ask?  Great question.  They are mental skills tests, or games of skill.  We're talking about events like memory competitions and chess tournaments.  My own personal take is that mind sports fall into two categories:

1) Games of strategy.
    Some examples include backgammon, checkers, go, othello, scrabble, and poker.

2) Cognitive skills.
    Some examples include mental calculation, IQ, speed reading, creativity tournaments, and spatial puzzles,
    and word puzzles. 

Undoubtedly there will be some "mind sports" that will in the future blur the lines between the categories, and even between mental and physical sports.  Biofeedback tournaments like the proposed Brainball comes to mind. 

Anywho, as I previously mentioned,  come 2011 I hope to win a multiple number of mind sports events.  This blog will help me to stay focused on this goal. This time around I plan on competing in the following type of tournaments:

01) Backgammon
02) Creativity
03) ESP
04) Memory
05) Mental Calculation
06) Mind Mapping
07) Reasoning & Spatial Puzzles (IQ)
08) Speed Reading
09) Trivia
10) Word Games

If I return to college, then I may also compete in academic competitions like the Rudolf Ortvay International Competition in Physics.I'll likely compete in competitions open to the public, like short story competitions.

I'll post my strategies for how I plan to accomplish champion level scores in these different fields, and how I apply the skills to everyday life.  I gladly appreciate your feedback and additional suggestions.

I have seven months to get ready for the first two mind sporting events on my agenda, the USA Memory Championship and the American Crossword Puzzles Tournament. They are both in March and in New York.  I also plan on making it to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in the same month, for a nice trifecta.  

* My 2009 five minute digit stats were actually 78 numbers, not 5.