In our August 2008 issue (on newsstands now), we've published a new feature by Laurence Gonzales, "Everyday Survival," featuring 14 real world skills for any crisis. Here, we've pulled just one of his potentially life-saving tips. Gonzales's new book, Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things, will be released in September.
Every new challenge you face actually causes your brain to rewire itself and to become more adaptable. A study at University College London showed that the city’s cab drivers possessed unusually large hippocampi, the part of the brain that makes mental maps of our surroundings. The fact that London has very strict requirements for cab drivers forced them to create good mental maps, which caused their hippocampi to grow. For most of us, a normal routine at work, home, and play will provide plenty of opportunities for simple mind-expanding exercises. For example, if you’re right-handed, use your left hand. Learning to write with your nondominant hand can be extremely challenging and builds a part of your brain that you don’t use much. Learn a new mental skill, such as chess or counting cards for blackjack. Learn a musical instrument or a foreign language. A recent study suggests that Chinese uses entirely different parts of the brain than Western languages. Take tasks that require no thought and re-invent them so that you have to think. This bears repeating: Survival is not about equipment and training alone. It’s about what’s in your mind and your emotional system. Living in a low-risk environment dulls our abilities. We must make a conscious effort to learn new things, to force ourselves out of our comfort zones.
Illustration by The Heads of State