Here's what happens when you try and improve your brain.
There are parts of my brain that feel off. I get lost easily; it took me about a year to get used to my own neighborhood. I've thought about trying to improve through brain exercises, but I've never known which ones to use, or if they actually work.
Luckily, someone else tried it for me. Caroline Williams, a science journalist, did brain exercises for a year and tested her results with MRI machines.
"I spent weeks and weeks trying to improve my navigational skills using wearable technologies and afterward, I got put into a brain scanner and they did an fMRI while I was pretending to navigate," she said.
But her navigational skills stayed subpar.
"It’s something that wouldn’t improve with practice, it was just beyond me," she said. "It’s like, I’m short and no amount of thinking I should be taller is going to help and it might be the same way for some parts of the brain."
But it wasn't all bad. Williams found that other exercises made her better at concentrating.
"I finally found this zone where I was relaxed and engaged, and it felt totally different," she said.
What she found was pretty consistent with how scientists view the brain. The brain is "plastic." It can change. But that doesn't mean it always will. Some bits of the brain are malleable, and some are fixed. And programs that claim to train your brain should be taken with a grain of salt. Many of them make false claims.
"Most generic brain training apps, games, puzzles and so on are still not going to be that helpful, or do anything that wouldn’t happen by just having a conversation or doing something interesting you enjoy," she added.
So it looks like I might not become a navigator anytime soon. But part of me wants to try brain exercises more than ever now. I just have to find the ones that actually work.