You’ve taken your last final, settled back into your old room at your parents’ house and now you’re ready for three months of uninterrupted sleep and doing whatever you want. If your parents insist you get a summer job (come on, slacker!) maybe you’re headed back to whatever retail position you held in high school, where your clout is infinitely grander now that you’re a college student who has taken World Civ and survived an entire week on ketchup sandwiches when your meal plan ran out.
Maybe you can squeeze in a few vacations, a road trip with friends; maybe you’re just going to veg in the sunshine on a beach towel until you turn copper or perhaps take some online MBA finance classes. Regardless, you have planned on turning your brain off until the school year starts.
But consider this: going back in the fall will only be that much harder if you haven’t been methodically and actively challenging your brain for the previous three months. While that may sound like an unbearable chore, there are actually a number of exercises you can do to keep your mind fine-tuned and ready for re-engagement come late August. And the best part? You can do them from your bed, your couch or your butt-imprinted lounge chair by the pool.
Magazines and web content are reading materials, yes, but literature in book form insists that the reader commit to the complexities of vocabulary, plot and context, forcing the gears in your brain engine to work, even while you unknowingly enjoy the raunchy exploits of medieval dwarf politicians. Grab your mom’s old beat-up Stephen King novel or if you’re gadget-loving, pick up the latest e-reader, all of which can store hundreds of novels and enable you to carry your library wherever you go.
Puzzle It Out
Long-touted as beneficial to brain activity and warding off Alzheimer’s in the elderly, games such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku and Scrabble will keep your gray matter percolating. The key is to mix it up on a regular basis, the way athletes keep their bodies fit by changing up their work-outs when they get too routine. Described as “sustained bursts of cognitive effort,” you can grab yesterday’s paper out of the recycling heap before you head pool-side, keep a cheap newsstand Sudoku book in your car or download myriad apps onto your smart phone. Take a page from Alec Baldwin’s book and check out the wildly popular Words With Friends for a Scrabble-esque battle royale of vocabulary with your pals. Hey, there are worse things to bring on a plane!
If you’re a plugged-in 21st century twenty-something, chances are you use your laptop as a hub of social activity, even more so to keep in touch with college friends while you’re scattered in individual home towns. So since you’re going to be sitting there on Facebook anyway, open up a Word document and get down that story you’ve been kicking around since that intriguing encounter at the university library (you locked eyes…but then she disappeared). More likely than not it won’t be Faulkner, but taking a little time out of every day to write the next Great American Novel flexes your creativity as you formulate the perfect sentence…over and over. Watch out, “Great Gatsby.” “We Locked Eyes” is coming for you.
Draw, Paint, Design
Much like writing, drawing and painting stimulate your creative right brain and encourages you to push the boundaries of your imagination. Focusing on something long enough to realize an artistic vision takes discipline and ambition, both essential to keeping your brain in tip-top shape. You don’t have to set out to overtake Raphael as a great master, but believe it or not, the more you practice drawing and painting, the better you’ll get. If your ambition really asserts itself, get up off that the stool and take a beginner’s art class for professional instruction in a low-key environment.
Clean & Tidy
A great way of staying relaxed is to keep the environment around you, up to a high standard. Getting a cleaner to tidy up your area is a great way of doing this.
Play Video Games
Yes, you read that correctly. Gamers rejoice! While it wouldn’t hurt to limit your bouts of Gears of War to an hour a day, video games can encourage eye/hand coordination, strategic analysis and multitasking. Even better, a console like the Wii or Xbox Kinect give you all the same benefits of a stationary game system but with actual physical movement – even if it is while standing in one place.