In accordance with the typical training time in scientific studies of dual n-back, the N-Back Challenge requires you to complete a total of 20 n-back sessions. As you approach the end of your Challenge, you might be wondering what happens afterwards. Should you keep training your mind? The answer is an emphatic yes. To maintain, or even extend, the cognitive gains you have reaped, make cognitive training a lifelong habit — like physical exercise!
One of the reasons Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl caused such a stir when publishing their research on the cognitive impact of dual n-back training is that the effects seemed to be lasting. Indeed, some studies suggest that the benefits may persist (at least) for months — which, in the field of educational psychology, is essentially an eternity.
That being said, it would be unrealistic for anyone to expect a rise in intelligence from a short cognitive training program to be permanent. After all, the effects of even the most powerful fitness program will eventually wear off if one stops working out entirely. By implication, you’ll likely need to keep completing n-back sessions on a regular basis in order to maintain the hard-earned cognitive gains from dual n-back in the long term.
Maintaining the Cognitive Gains
To help you preserve the cognitive gains from completing the N-Back Challenge, we’ve created what we refer to as the Weekly Habit. It challenges you to complete one session of dual n-back every week. A session consists of 12 rounds, so, on average, you’ll need to complete fewer than two rounds per day. Put differently, the Weekly Habit calls for an average daily time commitment of only around two or three minutes — less than the amount of time it takes you to brush your teeth!
The Weekly Habit leaves it up to you when, exactly, you wish to complete the 12 rounds from each weekly session. You can spread them over multiple days, for example, or complete all 12 rounds in a single batch near the end of the week. We strongly recommend, however, that you play at least one round every day — not only because it’s much easier to fit two or three minutes of dual n-back into a busy schedule than to find enough time for an entire batch of 12 rounds, but also, and perhaps more importantly, because it fosters habit formation: Once it has become habitual for you to play at least one round of dual n-back every day, maintaining your cognitive gains will start feeling effortless!
In order to nudge you to adopt a daily n-back habit, we’ve included a “daily streaks” feature in the N-Back Challenge. To build a streak, you need to keep playing at least one round per day on consecutive days. In the stats view, you can compare your current streak to those of other learners. And there’s also a streaks leaderboard which ranks your friends, as well as all other learners from your platform (iOS or Android), by their all-time longest streaks.
If, nevertheless, you find it difficult to establish dual n-back as a daily habit, try “habit stacking” — that is, tying the desired new n-back habit to a daily habit that’s already ingrained. For example, “after I finish my breakfast, I will complete two rounds of dual n-back.” Or try “temptation bundling,” whereby you unlock an activity that you want to do every day by completing an activity that you need to do. For example, only permit yourself to check your Instagram feed (want) after you’ve completed two rounds of dual n-back (need).
If habit formation is hindered by your perception that dual n-back gets awfully monotonous over time, consider mixing things up a bit by visiting the advanced settings and trying out some of the higher game speeds. You will find that mastering dual n-back at increasingly high speeds is a fun new challenge in and of itself. Note that we generally advise inexperienced learners to resist the temptation of tweaking these settings, as they represent a departure from the format of the scientific studies. Once you’ve completed your first 20-Day Challenge, however, you may be ready to push the edge a bit, if only as a temporary diversion. That being said, remain vigilant about your level of cognitive exertion during game play. If a higher game speed feels even more exhausting than the regular game speed, it’s probably a good sign. If, by contrast, the higher game speed frequently leads you to make superficial guesses, or even to give up in mid-round, then your cognitive development is probably getting stifled.
Finally, it will likely help, motivationally, for you to explicitly pay attention to signs that your cognitive training is having a positive impact. Unfortunately, a rise in one’s intelligence is actually quite difficult to perceive — a fact that, incidentally, is also true for cognitive performance in the reverse situation: Patients suffering from cognitive decline frequently remain unaware of this deterioration long after it has started manifesting itself in objective diagnostic tests. Granted, some learners do report “feeling sharper” as a result of practicing dual n-back. But, more frequently, they notice other — more readily discernible — cognitive improvements related to memory and overall daily functioning. Examples include enhanced mental arithmetic, higher reading speeds, shorter reaction times, an enhanced ability to focus during class and while studying, an improved ability to multi-task, and an increased readiness to engage in mental effort in the first place.
Note that, as of today, we are unaware of any scientific research to suggest what exact dosage is required to perpetuate the cognitive gains of dual n-back. We’ve created the Weekly Habit, because, in our judgment, a dosage of one session per week strikes an effective balance between impact and feasibility, by promoting regular dual n-back practice in a way that even the busiest professionals should be able to fit into their schedules.
Extending the Cognitive Gains
What if you’re ambitious and would like to not merely maintain the cognitive gains from dual n-back, but actually extend them? That is, what if, after the completion of the N-Back Challenge, you’d like to raise your IQ even further?
Most of the existing scientific studies on dual n-back relied on the conventional format of less than two dozen sessions, so not much is known about the incremental benefits from raising the number of sessions. That being said, some studies suggest that a higher dosage may yield stronger effects. This sounds eminently plausible: Within limits, the more time you spend at the gym, for example, the more your muscles are bound to grow.
Hence, for those of you who, upon completing the N-Back Challenge, would like to take a shot at becoming even smarter, we offer the option to take on additional 20-Day Challenges, which require you to complete one n-back session per day for 20 consecutive days. Provided you are willing to work hard, the 20-Day Challenge serves as a high-intensity alternative to the Weekly Habit.
If you are interested in starting another 20-Day Challenge, but you are worried that your busy calendar may force you to delay a few sessions, and thus to have to purchase too much “coffee,” consider visiting the settings and buying a “pizza” instead. A pizza purchase unlocks unlimited free breaks, and thus allows you to embark on your future 20-Day Challenges worry-free and entirely at your own pace.
You Can Always Change Your Mind
In deciding between the Weekly Habit and another 20-Day Challenge, don’t overthink it. After all, you can always switch from one Challenge to the other. Perhaps you’d like to extend the benefits and decide to embark on another 20-Day Challenge, but then discover that you don’t have enough time: No problem, you can switch to the Weekly Habit at any moment! And the reverse is true as well: After completing the N-Back Challenge, you may decide to limit your time commitment to the Weekly Habit for now, but then, after a while, you may feel an itch to try and raise your IQ even further. If so, just visit the settings and switch to the 20-Day Challenge.
In fact, given the practical limitations most of us face in terms of availability of time and willpower, the latter is the approach we recommend to most learners: Complete the initial 20-Day Challenge, then try to maintain the cognitive gains (and fight age-related cognitive decline) via the Weekly Habit, and every once in a while (say, once per year), try to further extend your cognitive gains via another 20-Day Challenge!