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Psychological Gifts You Can Give Yourself Over The Summer

Why summer offers special opportunities to boost your brain function

Before we know it, summer will be gone. And with it will go the many opportunities that it brings. The radiant sunlight, beautiful beaches and outdoor cooking are just some of the many awesome things about the summer. And underlying these elements are opportunities to boost the way we think and feel.

Below are some of summer's greatest mindset opportunities. Take a look at them to see if you have scheduled them adequately into your day.

1. Vitamin D dosing: Vitamin D is known as the "sunshine" vitamin. It is made by our skins when they are exposed to sunlight. Aside from its many benefits in preventing medical diseases such as cancer, heart disease, fractures and falls, autoimmune diseases, influenza, type-2 diabetes and even premature death, vitamin D can also help to prevent depression, dementia and anxiety. Despite its importance, approximately 50% of the world's population suffers from vitamin D deficiency.

Summer gift: To be less anxious and depressed and to say sharper, walk outside. This may sound obvious, but only 16% of U.S. adults have one walking trip a day. Walking outside will give your skin the opportunity to make vitamin D that will protect your mood and thinking. Most studies also show that normal sunscreen use does not result in vitamin D deficiency. So schedule your outside time today.

2. The long and winding road: It may sound like a chore, but there's an upside to walking on a long and winding road. As I explain in my new book, "Tinker Dabble Doodle Try", It will make you more creative than simply walking around the block. And your thinking will be more fluent, flexible and original too. Moreover, walking outside gives you an edge on creativity compared to walking on a treadmill. So while the treadmill may help you burn calories, it will not be as effective as walking on a meandering path outside to boost your creativity.

Summer gift: Twice a week, choose a meandering path to walk on, and just do it. Your body and mind are connected. And when your body follows unexpected paths, your mind follows suit too.

3. Choose a summer hobby: With some time on your hands, why not consider taking up pottery, knitting, a musical instrument, or collecting seashells. Whatever the hobby, studies show that engaging in a hobby allows you to age more healthily, and possibly even live longer. Also, engaging in hobbies for 1 or more hours every day might be protective against dementia in late life.

Summer gift: Choose a hobby now and engage in it an hour a day. It will sharpen your thinking and allow you to age with fewer health issues too.

4. Discover your brain's crystal ball: Find or create a hammock outside. Let your mind wander. When you do, you will activate the unfocus circuit in the brain, which in turn will turn your brain metaphorically into a crystal ball.

In "Tinker Dabble Doodle Try", I explain the following: In 2012, neuroscientist Julia Mossbridge and her colleagues analyzed the findings from twenty-six studies on “guessing”. They found that the human body can detect stimuli presented one to ten seconds in the future.

For example, if I show you a photograph of a violent scene or a neutral landscape, you will become anxious when the image you’re about to see is violent, or calm when it is serene. In that sense, you’re capable of guessing correctly, more often than not, what you’re about to see before you do.

While the precise mechanism for this is unknown, it is the unfocus circuits that are implicated here. Our brains can sense the future, and lying in a hammock will turn on prediction circuits that will integrate subtle information to make these predictions.

Summer gift: Find a hammock to lie on, or allow your mind to wander while waiting for food to cook on the grill or while gardening too. You might want to set an alarm for the grill but you start this by imagining something playful or wishful. This will activate the unfocus circuits and allow for more creative thinking as well as brain rejuvenation.

5. Build twin sandcastles: Build two sandcastles, but use the same materials for different purposes in each. For example, if you have a log, seaweed, rock or shell, each can have a different function in each sandcastle. Thinking of multiple uses activates the brain's unfocus circuit and make you more creative too.

For example, a shell could be a door, water basin, or pool. The more you let your mind wander, the better you will become at this too.

Summer gift: Build twin sandcastles using the same materials differently for each.

Walking outside on a meandering path to engage in a favorite hobby (e.g. collecting seashells), and then building sandcastles using the shells could bring this all together. Once you are done, you can extend the summer brain boost by dreaming around the barbecue or while gardening too. These activities will protect your mood and thinking, And you can suggest this to family members too.

To read about more unfocus techniques that could boost your brain, get a copy of one of Coastal Living's "50 Best Books for the Beach this Summer": Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind (Ballantine Books, 2017)