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Is it time to reorder your thinking?

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New research shows that middle-age minds can stay sharp—and keep getting sharper—if their owners give themselves mental challenges.

And there’s more encouraging news. Middle-age brains are particularly good at seeing the big picture, and with care and feeding, they will continue developing neural pathways that help their owners with pattern recognition (a sign of intelligence), understanding and problem-solving.

One important way to keep your brain cells hopping is to challenge your assumptions.

That’s easier said than done—especially now, when it’s so easy for anyone to retreat into a community of like-minded people. If you want to stay on top, you must.

People need to “jiggle their synapses a bit” by grappling with ideas counter to their own, says Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California who studies teaching and learning.

In this scheme of things, stretching your brain doesn’t mean simply learning new facts.

“There’s a place for information,” Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”

The best way to learn is by reordering your thinking.

— Adapted from The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, Barbara Strauch, Viking.

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