What do you see when you look at the word “E K O R T S”? Here’s a clue: It’s a rebus, which Paul Fisher describes as “an enigmatic representation of a name, work, phrase or idea, by pictures, words, prepositions, groupings, comparisons or contrasts; or where a punning application of each syllable of a word is given.”
This is just one example of the interactive challenges that Fisher, a consultant specializing in the use of creativity and critical thinking, presents to encourage innovation and energize the brain.
Fisher’s philosophy is that by challenging yourself to think in completely different ways, you stimulate synapses and change the connections in your brain. In his Boot Camp for the Brain classes, this is accomplished through a series of brain games, puzzles, riddles, palindromes, rebuses, visual challenges and optical illusions.
“Your brain is very much like a hillside. When animals track up a hill, they all follow each other, and a trail forms up that hill. Your brain is the same: If you follow the same paths and habits, you make these connections in your neural network. It’s hard to change unless you change the path and try to climb the hill in a different manner,” says Fisher, who also serves as executive director of Arts Integration Solutions.
Even changing small habits can help build new neural connections. “How do you make your coffee in the morning; how do you drive to work? Force yourself to do it differently. It turns out to be harder than you think,” says Fisher. “If you don’t pay attention it’s easy to slip back into the old mode of doing things. But you can start with little things and then break bigger behaviors.”
If you like solving puzzles, Fisher encourages you to mix it up and try different genres. “When you get really good at something, you can keep doing it for pleasure, but you should also look for something that’s harder and start again,” he says.
“I really do believe that the brain is an underused organ,” Fisher says. “Like any muscle, if you only exercise it in one way you will not exact the same change.”
Fisher says that everyone can benefit from these kinds of mental gymnastics — older folks who want to stay cogent as they age, people in business who want to change the way they look at problems, students who want to sharpen their mental skills.
A self-described puzzle nut, Fisher has been fascinated with puzzles since he was a child growing up in London. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Birmingham University, UK and certification in the principles of brain-based learning here in Tucson. He was director of education for the Tucson Pima Arts Council from 1990 to 1995.
Although Fisher has an eclectic background as a performer, producer, author and lecturer, his primary focus is the integration of arts in education. “I bring teachers and artists together to solve puzzles of how we can engage students more interactively in school,” he says.
Fisher has drawn on his Jewish heritage to teach special programs at Tucson Hebrew Academy. He also narrated “Chasidic fairytales from the mixed-up shtetl of Chelm,” a family musical program that preceded an animated film at the 2005 Tucson International Jewish Film Festival.
In 2007 he was awarded a “Lumie” from the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Pima Arts Council for his years of distinguished service in arts and education. In 2003, he received the Buffalo Exchange Arts Award from the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona for outstanding contributions to arts in the community through education, organization and advocacy.
Fisher will lead three Boot Camp for the Brain sessions at the Tucson Jewish Community Center on Sundays Nov. 24, Dec. 1 and Dec. 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. The cost for the series is $40 for JCC members and $50 for nonmembers. Each class will include both brain research theory and engaging applications to exercise your brain and challenge you to think differently. Fisher says that if you can’t attend all three, you can still get a lot out of one or two sessions.
And in case you were still wondering about that rebus, the answer is “backstroke.”
For more information about Boot Camp for the Brain visit Fisher’s website at www.misterpaulfisher.com. To register, call the JCC at 299-3000.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson. She can be reached at [email protected].