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<em>Joan Moran:</em> 7 Tips to Stretch Your Mind at Any Age

Stretching the mind includes taking some risks, a few leaps of faith and a willingness to make glorious mistakes. But the good news is there's no such thing as failure.
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By Joan Moran

Can you really stretch your mind so that you can achieve more out of life? Yes, absolutely, Yes! Mind stretching is the next revolution in personal development. I call the concept the Rubberband Revolution. It is the process of teaching the brain a new way of thinking by connecting the right/left brain more efficiency, increasing the ability to problem solve. It my general observation that stretching the mind enhances innovation and productivity, optimizes the way the mind functions, and alleviates mental blocks.

In the 1890s, psychologists William James and Boris Sidis postulated that people only meet a fraction of their full mental potential. According to Dr. Robert Cooper, a neuroscientist and author of The Other 90%, less than 10 percent of our brains is tapped. In fact, we continually underuse our brain and confine ourselves to limited, mostly past experiences. Without realizing it, we have programmed ourselves not to stretch. It's possible to reframe your thought patterns and mindsets and ultimately think yourself to optimal health and happiness. Expanding your mental processes can initiate the flow of limitless thought and possibilities. As a result, your personal and work life, relationships and happiness quotient will flourish.

Here's a smart way to begin to stretch the mind: set aside some of those old mindsets, rigid ideas and limited perceptions that can dominate your thinking and lead to dead ends. A closed mind is dangerous because it allows us to compartmentalize uncomfortable thoughts and feeling and that's a prescription for mindless repetition and repetition can be a real brain killer.

Here are seven tips to stretch your mind at any age:

1) Reduce resistance. Instead of being resistant to the world around you, get conscious about what you are thinking and doing in life. Stay in the present. Ask: What do I need? When do I need it? How do I get it? Wake up every morning, every day, and make an intention to do the most important thing -- something that brings you joy, gives positive energy, and fulfills a need. Every day be aware and be clear about naming your needs so you can pursue your passions and your dreams.

2) Have an attitude of gratitude. Every day wake up with an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude will start your day with abundance. Name your gifts; name the gift you cannot live without. It's important to be grateful for negative experiences because they have the potential to become positive ones. According to UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain and makes us healthier and happier.

3) Eliminate negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is a completely mindless mental activity, mostly defensive and toxic. It causes stress, anxiety and perpetuates past and future thinking. The power is in the now. Catch yourself in the moment of the negative thought and turn it into a positive! That takes practice! Sometimes I'm so tired from teaching yoga that my body aches and my mind goes numb. I hobble into my apartment thinking, "Will my body ever work again?" Yet I think this condition is only temporary and I am fortunate to be able to still teach yoga at 69.

4) Be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to have real strength. Getting in touch with your own emotional palette allows you to realize a more creative and fulfilling life. To be vulnerable is to be emotionally openly honest. Sometimes that's a scary place to be because you might be subject to criticism, ridicule or indifference. When you are hurt, you put up defensive barriers. Yet, paradoxically, it is at that moment that creativity takes hold, your imaginations soar and you are open to new ideas. But if you fear failure or embarrassment, you'll lose the opportunity for choice.

5) Learn to adapt. My mother loved to make changes. She taught me the way to learn to adapt to life's changing circumstances is to understand that the only opinion worth anything comes from the truth inside of you. She also taught me that it's more fun to be surprised by life. Change comes from a strong conviction for action, coupled with confidence in your abilities, and a willingness to cultivate curiosity. As you learn to adapt to change, you will energizes your imagination and, at the same time, reduce stress and anxiety.

6) Commit to living your passion. Passion is an outpouring of positive energy for the ideas and interests that make a difference in your life. Ask yourself: What makes you come alive? What is your bliss? When you find your happiness, you know your destiny. That's what happened to me when I started to practice yoga as a simple interest and then it elevated into a passion with more personal investment and education. I tried photography and it stayed a simple interest. I took up dancing Argentine tango and it became a committed passion.

7) Practice forgiveness. If we are honest, we've all harbored resentments, collected injustices and become angry over insults that aren't that important. It's challenging and frustrating to forgive someone; it's even harder to forgive yourself. Forgiveness seems to be on the mind of almost everyone I meet. It's ubiquitous. But the "how to" forgive is a conundrum. I want to forgive but I can't. One suggestion is to find some positive statements about the person who injured you. Everyone has some redeeming value. Every time you attribute a positive feeling, it mitigates the negative. Let the injury go, remove the negativity and move forward.

Stretching the mind includes taking some risks, a few leaps of faith and a willingness to make glorious mistakes. But the good news is there's no such thing as failure. There is only personal truth and that's always there for the taking.

Joan Moran is a keynote speaker, commanding the stage with her delightful humor, raw energy, and wealth of life experiences. She is an expert on wellness and is passionate about addressing the problems of mental inertia. A yoga instructor, Moran is the author is "Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer." Visit her at