When we learned that Rob Lowe is hosting a new show, Mental Samurai, we immediately thought about the cognitive training behind it. The show puts players through a mental obstacle course while they are physically transported around the set at high speeds... in a capsule rotating 360 degrees (!). The prospect of answering trivia questions under the added pressure of riding in a rotating human gyroscope prompted us consider strategies for high stakes cognitive performance. Whatever you’re preparing for, read on for our tips on how to slay like a Mental Samurai — including a few from host Rob Lowe.
Make your training a daily routine or habit. Just as you repeat physical training to build muscle, you should get your mental reps in to grow and maintain cognitive capabilities. Practice for showtime by testing yourself on the content you’ll be quizzed on. On Mental Samurai, the categories include knowledge, memory, puzzles, and sequencing. Rob Lowe suggests that contestants, “do a sudoku puzzle or play Trivia Pursuit while under pressure to prepare.” You can also train with Lumosity games that target memory, attention, flexibility, speed, and problem solving.
While it might be challenging to accurately simulate being a Mental Samurai contestant, practicing in a similar context to an anticipated high-pressure atmosphere can help. If you’ve ever tried to retrace your steps after losing your car keys, you’ve experienced context-dependent memory in action. It can be easier to recall items if you study them in a similar context or environment to that which you’ll be performing in later. Place yourself outside of your comfort zone when you can practice, so you can train yourself to filter out distractions and focus on the task at hand.
For repeatable results, get a full night’s sleep, eat well, and hydrate. If you take care of your physical health, your cognitive performance will be more reliable. Lowe mentally prepares to host Mental Samurai by, “making sure I get plenty of rest before coming in for a full day of hosting.”
Another key skill is the ability to stay present, rather than getting carried away by distractions. Consider mindfulness, which is another type of brain training: by taking a moment to focus on breathing, you may reduce feelings of anxiety and boost awareness during the performance at hand, as a study involving elite athletes shows. The ideal state is being energized yet relaxed, with a calm mind, and a body ready to react quickly.
When you're in the flow and relaxed, you feel like a kid at play. Play can be an important source of relaxation for adults as well as kids. Lowe says, “My goal is to keep things fun on set and to make our players comfortable and have a laugh with them before they face the course.”
We’re curious: how do you prepare for a challenging performance or mental task? Share your own tips for becoming a mental samurai here and tune-in — Mental Samurai premieres Tuesday, March 19th at 9/8c on FOX.