Meditation may not be for everybody, but cognitive exercise is. I say this because I’ve talked to many people who cringe at the idea of meditating, making valid points that it seems too abstract or spiritual. The problem with “meditation” is the variation in definition and nuance across different cultures and religions, due to its long history. The various definitions of meditation do not encompass the various techniques people use to achieve mental health and happiness. This is why I’d like to highlight the term cognitive exercise, a much broader concept that encompasses activities including meditation, self-hypnosis, diary-keeping, nightly prayers, and more. Cognitive exercise happens, to some degree, when we do anything that uses our brain.
Viewing activities such as meditation and nightly prayers as cognitive exercise strips away all spiritual or religious context and focuses on the benefit to the individuals’ mental health and happiness. The purpose isn’t to neglect the benefits of religious or spiritual activities, rather to help us understand the benefits of religion and spirituality by using more academically accepted frameworks, such as neuroscience and psychology.
Studying cognitive exercises will help you identify similarities between various religions, cultures, and even academic fields of study. For example, the activity of saying prayers at night is often viewed as a pointless activity from atheists, however, once you strip away the religious context, nightly prayers become a routine exercise to identify what you desire most each night and to structure those desires into coherent sentences. A similar self-hypnosis technique is to take a moment to clearly define your goals and to spend fifteen minutes imagining yourself having achieved those goals. It’s no coincidence that superstar entrepreneur’s such as Guy Kawasaki also highlight the importance of knowing where you want to be ten years from now or that The Secret, a book about the importance of knowing what you want, was a best seller. Finding similarities in cognitive exercises and advice from seemingly unrelated influencers provides us with a clear sense of what our society has discovered to be truly important; in this case, the value of taking the time to contemplate what you truly desire.
While I hope to eventually share with you an abundance of cognitive exercises, some original and some borrowed from others, I hope that, in the mean time, you find some cognitive exercises that you already engage in and increase the effectiveness by trying to really understand how it benefits you.