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The Vigorous Mind: Cross-train Your Brain to Break Through Mental, Emotional, and Professional Boundaries Paperback – December 2, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HCI (December 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0757306985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0757306983
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,588,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ingrid E. Cummings is a contributing Editor at Indianapolis Monthly magazine. Her monthly "Life Lessons" column has Ingrid taking up belly dancing, motorcycle riding, chess, dream interpretation, and many others adventures. She also writes an award-winning newspaper column called "Rubicon Crossings" and is an associate professor at Indiana University. Cummings is the host and executive producer of a radio show called "Rubicon Salon," a program that examines defining moments in the lives of accomplished individuals. An international public speaker and trainer, Cummings heads up her own strategic communications business, Rubicon Communications LLC. As a result of her interest in "everything under the sun," Ms. Cummings has founded The Rubicon Center for the Rebirth of Renaissance, which presents the annual Rubicon Distinguished Achievement Award. The "Rubie" is designed to recognize the pursuit of lifelong learning in the liberal arts.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

How to Use This Book,
and How I Came to Write It

Life itself is the proper binge.
—Julia Child (1912–2004), chef

The Proper Binge


Doesn't it make sense that we should all feel pretty good about ourselves?

After all, we've acquired so much of what we've always desired: spouses, kids, careers, friends, homes, cars, education, electronics, shoes galore, and microwave ovens with innards that twirl around and around. It's scary almost, how well we're doing, even when you factor in economic frazzles and the volatility in so many sectors of our lives. So of course, things aren't exactly perfect, but we never counted on perfect. We did somehow expect, though, that we'd feel a little better about things. Instead, around midlife (your mileage may vary), almost without fail, burnout sets in. Maybe severely, maybe mildly. The blahs.

Stagnation. Just at the point in life when we should feel proud and accomplished and something approaching happy, we begin to feel . . . flat. There's no mystery why the haunting song 'Is That All There Is?' was a hit. It oozed ennui, that corrosive disillusionment so many adults experience. We feel it, most of us, but we try to deny it. And our culture offers up lots of ways to tamp it down, things that are quite contrary to Julia Child's proper binge noted above. 'Improper binges' could include drink, drug, demon chocolate, antidepressants, shopping for more shoes, or buying microwaves that are even fancier in their ability to spin the food around yet still leave cold spots in it. No, the problem isn't that things aren't perfect. The problem is that we've lost our ability to be seduced by the world. Children are enthralled by everything, because it's all new. As adults, though, we believe we've been there, been everywhere; done that, done everything; bought the T-shirt, bought the iPod. We've become blasé. We've started to flatline. And we don't know how to fix it.

Is it any wonder so many of us experience burnout and low-grade depression in midlife? Sit up, because this is the big reveal: we are starved for mental stimulation. A core belief of mine is that we all simply want to feel better about ourselves. Becoming just a little smarter, a little more well-rounded, a little more engaged with the underappreciated treasures of this wide, wide world—that will do the trick very nicely, thank you. Yet, for the most part, we deride ourselves, noting our failings, our shortcomings, our underachieving smallness. But it's absolutely possible to feel better about ourselves without resorting to antidepressants or antianxiety medications. Just as the world offers up plenty to be disheartened about, so does it offer up all the raw materials to cross-train our brains.

What does it mean to 'cross-train' your brain? At the most basic level, it means to make a point of exercising all of your brain, not just the comparatively small part you take out for a spin every day in your job as a chemist, organic farmer, or automotive designer. When you visit a personal trainer for purposes of physical fitness, you generally exercise every major muscle group in your body before you consider yourself to have 'worked out.' Yet, on the mental side of the equation, we let scads of our precious brain bandwidth lie dormant with nary a thought as to the damage that chronic inactivity is doing to us. Just as we should be cross-training our bodies (swimming, if we're primarily a runner; lifting weights, if we're primarily a gymnast), so should we be cross-training our brains (working crosswords if we're primarily a social worker; gardening if we're primarily an aesthetician).

'Brain exercise' is a vital function that has unfortunately been relegated to a secondary role—playing second fiddle to the universally hailed imperative for physical exercise. We all know that an agile, well-stimulated brain is better conditioned to fend off the ravages of mental dementia and Alzheimer's disease than a sluggish, understimulated brain. We know it, but we don't do enough about it.

Cross-training our brains leads to becoming a generalist. A generalist is a gloriously restless person whose penchant for a variety of diverse interests allows him or her to acquire all kinds of skills, curiosities, and enthusiasms. And, generally speaking, generalists are the people who are best positioned to fight back the blahs that come a-callin' on almost everybody eventually. Cross-training your brain—adopting the habits and worldview of a generalist even as you continue to pursue your career as a specialist—is the antidote to mental malnutrition. Plus, complementing your professional specialty with a series of unrelated pursuits will trigger a higher skill level at your profession—I know that sounds paradoxical. Cross-training will also put the brakes on the midlife melancholies and career burnout. Better health and improved joie de vivre will result.

This book is for people who suspect they've become cognitively malnourished and want to reverse course. It's written for those who feel strangely flat and don't have an inkling why. It's for anyone who wants to broaden his or her horizons by building a more vigorous mind. I have in mind the reader who can hear Peggy Lee crooning 'Is That All There Is?' and wants to lash out in resistance—but doesn't quite know where to start.

©2008. Ingrid E. Cummings. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Vigorous Mind. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442


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Customer Reviews

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In the process, our outlooks, careers, relationships, our very lives are enriched.
M. Woolling
Many self-help books grace my bookshelves, but this one will stay on my beside table for re-reading.
Jane Howard
Witty, fun, intelligently written; thank you Ingrid Cummings for such great advice.
Badger Girl

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Woolling on January 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
If you're in the market for a boost to your morale, The Vigorous Mind is just the ticket. I guarantee it'll invigorate your spirit, as it teaches you how to invigorate your mind.

In her well-written book, author Ingrid Cummings presents a delightful read, with her easy style, clever turns-of-phrase and laugh-out-loud perspectives on life.

It's patently clear Ms. Cummings is a highly intelligent and witty individual. She also did her homework, for her book is practical, logical, and comprehensive.

These days, so many of us are fully focused on our chosen occupations. Yet there's so much more out there in that big, wide world. Things we've always wanted to know more about and activities we've always wished we could try. But, in the face of ongoing daily demands, we become resigned to the sad thought that, for us, those days of enjoying life in all its facets are long past and gone.

But Ingrid tells us it's not too late. She offers us hope through her sensible and can-do training book. In it, Ingrid teaches the powerful philosophy of kaizen and shows us how to apply it.

With the use of kaizen, an ancient Japanese practice, Ingrid asserts we can accomplish amazing feats. If we approach our goals by taking little steps toward them every day, over the course of time, Yes, we can achieve those objectives. Through daily installments of only 20-minutes each, we can learn to play chess or master the piano; become skilled in watercoloring or adept at wood working; even obtain another college degree...the choices are limitless. All undertaken purely for our own pleasure and amazement.

In the process, our outlooks, careers, relationships, our very lives are enriched.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Arthur Murphy on January 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
I bought this book after seeing it mentioned in a couple of book blogs I follow. The author makes an intriguing (and well-researched) case for the benefits of a Renaissance mindset - developing interests in lots of disciplines, competencies in multiple activities. She argues that we do ourselves a disservice by concentrating our lives in ever-more narrow directions, and that "generalizing" our interests and experience has the seemingly ironic result of making us more effective in our often highly-specialized professional lives, and happier and more fulfilled personally. The prospect of making the changes she advocates can seem daunting, but she introduces the ancient Japanese concept of kaizen, taking small, easily manageable steps over brief periods of time, to acquire new skills and interests.

Ingrid Cummings' writing is accessible, and enthusiastic - for example, she uses lots of alliteration, which helped me retain many of her concepts. She includes lots of exercises at the end of each chapter in Part 2, but it doesn't have the feel of a "workbook", with each exercise to be completed before moving on to the next - indeed, she suggests (in the spirit of kaizen) choosing to try one or two at a time.

Self-improvement is a broad literary category, and this book has lots of competition for readership, but it's a work with a literate and entertaining style, and I found the author's premise that a generalist approach can have many practical benefits to be novel, and compelling.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Are you a generalist or an expert? This book is a wonderful exposition of the role eclectic learning can play in the vitality and joy of living. Her claim of a life of knowledge a quarter of an inch wide and a mile deep resulting in dysthymia is well founded. If life has become grey, please read this to see if it helps.
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Format: Paperback
The Vigorous Mind: Cross-train Your Brain to Break Through Mental, Emotional, and Professional Boundaries

The author's imagery makes this book easy to follow which makes it easy to practice the exercises. And the activities are designed to fit my busy, multi-tasking life. Inspiring quotes sprinkled throughout are well-placed to generate additional self-reflection. Many self-help books grace my bookshelves, but this one will stay on my beside table for re-reading.
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