In this blog post I intend to explore an exercise metaphor for thinking. I am already worn out from the first sentence. I would say I will leave the rest as an exercise for the reader as I have seen in a few books, but since I have not even started, let me start exercising my brain.
Well, here I am in the jungle-gym of my mind. Have you heard of brain power? Reminds me of power-lifting. Some consider the brain as an elaborate computer, and there used to be the phrase “power up the computer.” Okay, it is simpler to just say “turn it on.” Our brains require power mainly in the form of glucose, which is provided by the food we ingest. I have heard it said that the brain, while just two percent of our body weight, uses twenty percent of the energy we expend.
When we exercise we exert ourselves (exertion is a heading of a cluster of synonyms at the website freethesaurus for exercise¹). We exert ourselves in thinking. Often we actually feel tired from thinking a lot, or too much. This makes sense if the brain is using that twenty percent of our energy. However, according to an online Scientific American article² the brain does not use up a significant amount of extra energy during times of hard or concentrated thought. So much for my exercise program—think yourself thin. The tired feeling is real enough, and this article explores some of the possible reasons for our feeling tired when we think too much. Still, we do exert ourselves when we think in a metaphorical sense.
When I think of exertion, I think of effort. There is certainly a lot effort to improve your physical condition while you are working on an exercise program. There is, of course, some amount of actual thinking in this effort, some quite a lot, especially atheletes who use visualization techniques. But, effort is often connected with thinking. “With just a little extra effort I finished my school project.”
A final connection with exertion I will mention is discipline. It takes discipline to stick with an exercise program, sometimes quite a lot. I walk twice a day for twenty minutes at a moderate pace at the very least, and at times a much faster pace. [Summer heat affected my pace, and as the weather gets cooler my pace has started to pickup] But, there are days when it takes some extra effort to go out and walk, but I am disciplined enough that I go out everyday unless there is a conflict with something else I have to take care of or the weather is bad. Well, the same sort of thing happens with my thinking. I generally will write something everyday or work on revisions of things I have already written. In the revision process I revise every other day. This to me is discipline, and since my writing directly involves thinking, my thinking is discipline in this way. And this is only one example.
Another cluster of exercise metaphors centers around “put to use.” In physical exercise we put to use our muscles and cardiovascular system. So similarly, we put our brain to use when we think. Under this general heading comes “wield.” Dictionary.com’s second definition is ” to use (a weapon, instrument, etc.) effectively; handle or employ actively.” I have heard the brain described as an instrument, and the mind (which is the brain) uses rapier wit as a weapon.
Under the general cluster of “use” along with exertion is “utilization.” We all can be said to utilize our brains when we think. Of course, without the brain we would not think at all. It is also said that the brain utilizes energy in the form of glucose. There is also “enjoyment” in the use cluster. Although, I am not sure how this makes it a synomyn of exercise, I often enjoy using my brain, and I imagine that there are plenty of others that do the same.
Another cluster involves “worry.” Again, I do not know how this fits in with exercise, but I see it somewhat in the fact that when we worry we are certainly exercising our brains. “Perturb” is a part of this cluster. Being perturbed is for me a brain exerciser for sure along with a close cousin “vexed.” The final part of this cluster I would like to comment on is “perplex.” With perplexity the brain is sorely exercised, sometimes running in circles.
The final cluster is “train.” I have often heard the phrase “train your brain.” “Practice” and “drill” are in this cluster, and I think of learning arithmetic with all of its drills. “Practice, practice, practice.” “Practice makes perfect.” These are a couple of phrases involving practice I have heard over the years, and I think it applies to learning, and learning is done by the brain.
I used “running” above. Let us see how many types of exercise might apply to the exercise metaphor. Associate with running is jogging. You must have heard “jog your memory.” There are stretching exercises; I have heard of stretching the mind with or without drugs. There are also agility exercises; I have heard the term “an agile mind.” Finally, there are exercises for balance. And, I think there is the term “a balanced mind.”
Well, I am tired after all this exercising of my mind—brain fatigue and all that. “Burnout” is often heard, but I really cannot claim this. The mind can also hurt after thinking. Oh, the pain. “I can’t think any more it hurts.” This is a line from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. So, I have come to the end of this post to be sure, but I certainly will continue to exercise my mind (brain) on further posts about other questions.
¹ I gratefully acknowledge the use of the freethesaruas.com’s graphical thesaraus for “exercise,” https://www.freethesaurus.com/exercise.