Here’s a fun bit of trivia for you. The human brain weighs about three pounds. So next time you step on the scale, keep that fact in mind. You can subtract those extra three pounds the scale is showing, because it’s probably just your brain. But don’t let that convince you that your brain doesn’t need exercise. Obviously, weight loss is not the concern here, but toning it, shaping it, and keeping it fit are essential to your well-being! Mental fitness leads to improved memory, quicker thinking, and prolonged mental health. As the founder of DFW Scavenger Hunt, where we build challenges to help teams exercise both their brains and their bodies, I know a bit about how all this works.
One of the best ways to exercise your brain is through puzzles. Do you like jigsaws? Crosswords? Riddles? It doesn’t really matter which kind of puzzle you’re tackling, it’s the challenge that matters to your grey matter. And just like in any activity, practice makes – well, if not perfect, then certainly better. You’re sharpening your acuity, honing your skills.
Best of all, practicing with fun puzzles develops the skills needed to apply to bigger, less fun puzzles when they come up in business. If you’ve prepared your brain, the bigger challenges will seem smaller. After all, what’s a balance sheet if not a more convoluted version of Sudoku? Isn’t that office seating plan just a bigger kind of jigsaw puzzle? And that project development map? OK, that’s more like twelve puzzles at once, all completed while balancing on a tightrope above a lava pit.
Let’s put it into practice. Here’s a quick puzzle to stimulate your thinking.
Rearrange the letters of each of the following clues to create a list of related items. The answers are at the end of this piece (And probably right in front of you).
How’d it go? That’s a puzzle that tests your brain’s ability to manipulate symbols (the letters) and form new combinations. Trying to determine the relation between the items builds categorization skills. There’s a memory test in there as well. You’re putting several skills to work at the same time. Feel the burn!
Healthy brains do better work. You offer ergonomic seating in the office, but are you fostering mental wellness among your employees as well? Challenge your teams with puzzles and games and watch as they thrive and their work improves.
Meanwhile, it goes without saying that teams that overcome challenges together become stronger. That’s why team building is a thing. Finding opportunities to bring your staff together in a surprising way will build their bonds, strengthen their relationships, and make them cheerleaders for each other.
Here’s another puzzle. This one is has trivia elements, but also tests memory, spatial relationships, and organizational skills. The answers are found at the end of this piece. Ready?
There are just two pairs of US states that A) Share a land border and B) Appear consecutively in an alphabetical list. Can you name the four states?
It’s ok if you need to look at a list, or a map, or both. Better to look something up than sulk away frustrated.
Another way to get people’s minds going is to put them in an unfamiliar situation. I always shower with my eyes closed – not because I’m still waking up, but because it adds a small challenge every morning, forcing the brain to work just a little harder. I’m working on spatial relationships, memory, and planning, all while I’m doing something I would be doing anyway. Is it going to turn me into a super genius? Trick question, I already am one. But it’s the element of the unfamiliar that’s important here.
Taking people outside the workplace is a great way to introduce the unfamiliar in a fun way. (The flip side of the fear of the unfamiliar is that old cliché, variety is the spice of life.) Mix it up, get outside, do something different. Sure, they’re getting their minds off work, but the work they’re doing – cleverly disguised as play – is getting their minds ready to do so much more. Is this a dirty trick? No. Your employees know what you’re up to, and they don’t care. In fact, they love it.
There’s something about being out of the office that feels liberating. Besides, studies have shown that being outdoors in nature relaxes us, increases our attention span, and strengthens feelings of unity with our neighbors.
It’s something we’ve seen proven over and over in our work at DFW Scavenger Hunt. We create events that challenge the mind through play, we celebrate the philosophy of making people better. Time after time, teams have come away feeling better about one themselves and one another. We believe that thinking outside the box starts with thinking outside.
A scavenger hunt combines a wide variety of puzzles, forcing the brain to try different ways of thinking simultaneously. A good scavenger hunt will involve wordplay, trivia, and tests of observation, not to mention challenges that work the creative muscles. Working as a team strengthens those social bonds and brings people closer. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s some exercise for the body involved too, as teams get on their feet and out of doors.
Ready for another puzzle? Maybe this time, try it with your colleagues. This one challenges your verbal skills, sharpens your memory, and builds your focus. The answers can be found at the bottom of this piece.
Each trio of clues leads to three words. The second word can be formed by adding a letter to the first, and the third by adding one letter to the second. For example, if you saw “Automobile; Attention; Frighten,” you’d answer CAR; CARE; SCARE. This is another great one to try as a group. (Remember, solving puzzles together strengthens social bonds.)
1. Carton; Social class; Fortress
2. Footwear; Push; Garden tool
3. Knot; Layer; Jungle cat
4. Sacred; Festive plant; Entirely
Finding ways for your team to get up and get thinking is good for you and good for them. The mental skills you develop are crucial to your health as well as your career, and the shared challenges inevitably bring people closer together. Collaboration in an unexpected environment presents opportunities to showcase skills previously unused – or unrealized! By fostering opportunities for your team to think in new, fun ways, you build goodwill, good health, and good times.
Here’s one more tough question for you: what are you waiting for?
Answers to the puzzles
Puzzle #1 Florida and Georgia, Illinois and Indiana
Puzzle #2 Chrome, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, Photoshop (Common computer programs)
Puzzle #3 CASE, CASTE, CASTLE; SHOE, SHOVE; SHOVEL; TIE, TIER, TIGER; HOLY, HOLLY, WHOLLY