How to Work Out Your Brain

Ah, the holidays. The time of year when world seems to slow down a little bit and work life is put on the backburner to family, holiday cookies, and lots of back-home couch time. And, if you’re determined, you might even get some sweat in there, too.

work out your brain

This is also the time of year when many of us finally take a breath, reflect on the past year, and set goals for the next one. For me, I’m hoping that 2019 is a year of mental growth.

I’ve always been a fan of working out in all its shapes and forms – through HIIT, spin class, yoga class – you name it, I’m all about it (ok, Zumba and I never got along, but that is one of the few exceptions). But I went back to school this September, and it made me realize how much I missed learning. In my professional life, I spent a lot of time trying to make sure I got physical workouts in at the gym, but didn’t necessarily give enough love to my brain.

So in 2019, I’m making it a goal to spend as much time working out my mind as much as I spend time working out my biceps. How, you ask?

1. Learn something new every day

I’m a big fan of easy, digestible news. While TheSkimm continues to be my go-to, I’ve also come to appreciate reading the Morning Brew to keep myself up on what’s happening in business and the world. You can also sign up for’s newsletter, which sends you a Word of the Day e-mail to expand your vocabulary. With the power of the e-mail, this one is a pretty easy 5-minute commitment.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to learn new things every day that don’t involve opening your inbox. A personal favorite of mine is to watch Jeopardy re-runs on Netflix(Editor’s note: Cass, you sweet, sweet nerd)

2. Get out of your mental comfort zone

I’m currently back in graduate school, so for me this means taking classes that I otherwise would be too afraid to “fail” at and welcoming the level of difficulty. I’m also considering trying my hand at an improv class (and the perfect opportunity? Our SHRED415 workout and iO workshop as part of #SweatworkingWeek). You don’t need to be a comedian to get something out of improv – it can help pretty much anybody get sharper, faster and, if nothing else, humbled. Second City offers a weekly free “test drive” improv class if you’re up to the challenge. If you’re not from Chicago, lots of cities offer improv classes. And if you’re not living in a city, don’t worry, the internet has your back along with Judd Apatow and his Comedy Masterclass.

3. Play some games

Basically, I’m using this goal as an excuse to play more Zelda in 2019. Admittedly, studies have shown that some brain-training game apps like Lumosity may not have a discernible effect on our brains, but I’d argue games can be a more valuable way to spend some phone time versus mindlessly scrolling through another 15 minutes of Instagram. Games with complicated logic puzzles (like the beautifully-designed Monument Valley app) give me a much needed moment of peace while working my brain. It’s sort of like a form of meditation for me. Speaking of…

4. Meditate more

Even though I suck at it. (If you’re like me, find some tips here.)

5. Read more books

2018 was the year of the audiobook for me. I have a new-found love for Libby, an app that helps me rent audiobooks and e-books from my local library. Libby has been my savior on long commutes home. As much as I love Libby, I’ve found myself replacing traditional reading time with the convenience of the audio version all too often this past year. I want to get back into the habit of reading out of a physical book before bed, and the benefits are two-fold: my brain gets the mental workout, and my eyes have less screen time to help me catch those good zzz’s.

6. Learn new skills

Whether it’s logging back into your DuoLingo account for the first time in months (girl, me too) or trying your hand at a new instrument, learning new languages and hobbies (a) involves and stimulates new parts of the brain, and (b) makes you a much more interesting person. *Swipes right*

7. Use your calculator less

Next time you reach for your phone to calculate a tip or check a sale price, try taking a moment and doing the math in your head instead. I use my calculator as a crutch all-too-often, and honestly, I think it’s depleting my ability to be quick and confident in my math skills. And I’m a CPA. I crunched numbers for a living. It’s time to stop using that crutch. Plus, the calculator will always be there for you if you need to check your answers.

8. Prioritize quiet time

I stole this one from Taylor Wolfram on her post about maintaining mindfulness at Whole Green Wellness because it struck a cord when I read it the other day. Sometimes the best thing for our minds is to give them time and space to wander instead of overstimulating them with podcasts or entertainment. While I work on incorporating 1-7 above in my goals for next year, it’s important make sure I’m also giving my mind a break every now and then.


What else do you do to workout your brain? Do you have any mental growth goals for 2019? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear your ideas.


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About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.