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Five Mental Health Exercises: Guaranteed to Increase Your Reps

[Puzzlers and How They Relate to Business Strategy—and to Life]

I regularly start each day with a mug of strong, black coffee and a crossword or jigsaw puzzle—just to be sure that my brain is turned on and tuned in before it tries to combine nouns and verbs into a sentence (forget adjectives) and makes an absolute fool of itself.

(And after re-reading that last run-on sentence, I may need to go back for one more brain teaser!)

Lately, tucked away in the early morning half-light of my home office, I’ve become a fan of an online game called “Just Words” and have plunked it right at the top of my list of mental health calisthenics.

It’s enthusiastically described as: “…a word game for one or two players where you score by making new words using singularly lettered tiles on a board.” “It’s like SCRABBLE but different!”

The most revealing aspect of this game for me, however, is not whether my mind is engaged for the day or simply idling in neutral, but whether I’m up for a challenge. You see, you get to choose the level at which you’re willing to play, engaging the computer at varying degrees of difficulty: Play Easy. Play Medium, or Play Expert.

How sweet is that? You get to choose the strength of your computer opponent, depending on how you feel on any particular day. Wouldn’t it be great if our real work-life balance point held the same sway?

But, whoa! Hold on! Isn’t that just what I do each day when I decide whether I’ll speak up, make that phone call, move beyond my comfort zone, or venture into a new and untried neighborhood of life?

With that realization in mind, I started to look at “the games I play”—in the newspaper, online, and in my daily life. Amazing! There’s a bountiful harvest of practical wisdom growing on my totally organic, non-GMO, Tower Garden of a “brain farm” that’s just waiting to be reaped!

Now, puzzling itself is nothing new. “The origins of jigsaw puzzles go back to the 1760s when European map makers pasted maps onto wood and cut them into small pieces. The ‘dissected map’ has been a successful toy ever since.” Crossword puzzles--and word games in general--enjoy widespread popularity, with the first crosswords appearing in England back in the 19th century.   

And, I also realize that I’m not alone in my home office when it comes to “mental pushups.” Puzzling with a purpose to increase mental health has arrived full bloom on our collective brain stem as the latest and greatest secret to a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Consider such sites as:


  • Fit Brains - Fit Brains offers "fun and engaging brain games" that "help users...maximize and round-out brain skills in an entertaining fashion."
  • Lumosity – Lumosity is described as "a leader in the science of brain training." The website encourages you to “enjoy games and tools developed by a team of neuroscientists.” 

And, by the way, this wave of often caffeine-driven mind play has come to the attention of the coffee giant with Starbucks featuring Lumosity as its in-app purchase Pick of the Week.

But for your amazement and amusement--and more than likely your own bright light bulbs of recognition--here is what I’ve been able to glean so far from my years of possibly less sophisticated “neuron bonfires.”


  1. JUST WORDS                     

    It was this game that started my blog train down this track today—with the awareness that I determine the quality of my day and my personal and business dealings with the choices that I make. I’m allowed to play this game alone, against the computer, or with a living player. I can select the level at which I want to compete.  As any tennis player will tell you: if you want to improve your game, you want to play with the best player you can get to play with you!

    Running your own business is no different. Find a mentor to help shine the way and challenge you to be your best, every step of the way. We should all look for partners, in business and in life, who will bolster our courage to move up to that Expert Level of play, day by day and hand in hand.

  2. JIGSAW                             

    With so many options, where do I begin to build my business, to expand my world? I’m reminded at this juncture of what has become for me a “tried and proven” piece of wisdom: start with your “warm market,” start with who and what you know.

    The jigsaw—perhaps the most basic of mental challenges-- illustrates that principle to a “T.” All wooden puzzles, and most online games, offer the option of working with the outside pieces first. It helps to be able to see the scope, the shape of the problem, and to build from the outside in, and from the inside, out—over and over again. And, it’s duplicatable.

  3. FIND IT                               

    This game can get “hot and heavy” and fast! You know that every item is “there somewhere,” but the trick is to find it before the clock runs out. Time adds a whole new element to the game.

    It requires focus and total attention to accept a business challenge—moving up to a new level of performance—with a straight-up deadline. We find ourselves casting about our personal landscapes for anything that might possibly have been overlooked, anyone who could possibly help us reach our goal—and in time! But, why weren’t we already looking?! Duh…

  4. CROSSWORD    

    Here we go again: start with what you know! Many top-flight players run the puzzle horizontally for all of the words that quickly come to mind, and then vertically, to fill in the gaps. The combination of the letters discovered from those two steps creates clues to the blanks in the puzzle and keeps the “brain jets” firing.

    If you stop to puzzle too long over what you don’t know, you will find yourself in a “brain freeze.” Keep moving! By so doing, “drawing a blank” is transformed to a simpler matter of “filling in the blanks.”

    In your business and in life, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just be sure that you are discerning, and that you weigh the source of the suggestions that you receive. You are the final arbiter. Only you know the real answers to the puzzle that you have set before you.

    With life and with business, there may be days when we need to relax and re-balance with my fifth and final mental health builder. How do I keep “stepping up” at home and in my business when I’m having “one of those days”?  How do I motivate myself to take the high road and strive for the very best?


    Horizontal? Vertical? Yippee! We can move in all directions! Up and down, diagonally, forward and backward… This is fun! We don’t have to come up with any answers. We already know what they are and can count on them to be there! They’re just hiding—to make it more interesting. (Try your skills with the puzzle below.)


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