Sharpening knives have as much benefit to give your mind as it does in your kitchen.
The knife sharpening task has enough motor and analytical skills to interplay that activates your prefrontal cortex and keeps you sharp. And that's just one segment of a collection of activities that activates your mind. The act of cutting ingredients and cooking meals also fires up what’s inside your head. That's why chefs you see on TV look like they're always sharp and snappy.
While you're celebrating the connection between the chefs' kitchen tasks to their sharpness, let's get to know your own capacity for a sharp mind. Here's how you can do it: knowing a little bit about your mind and using a block knife sharpener.
Touch your forehead and give it a gentle pat because behind it lies your brain's task management system. Your prefrontal cortex.
The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is the part of your brain's frontal lobe that plays a huge part in getting you through the day. It gets fired up, and when you make decisions, come up with solutions to simple and complex problems and plan ahead to achieve your goals.
But the PFC has an essential function. All the things your PFC helps you do are wrapped up in one fundamental concept called Executive Function.
Executive function is what makes your PFC more interesting. It is composed of several attributes:
Memory – This is comparable to a computer's Random Access Memory (RAM), and it lets you remember details that might be needed for immediate use in the future without losing sight of the current task at hand. Your working memory is also capable of taking information and storing it for the long term.
Flexibility – Your PFC gives you the capacity you see things in multiple ways, which helps you in problem-solving and creativity. It allows you to adjust to sudden changes in the outside environment and plan new approaches to action.
Control – Your PFC's ability for control and restraint boils down to your body's ability to act or not act (motor), your level of focus (attention) and other impulses (behavioral). This gives you the space to respond rather than react and gives you an opportunity to execute the correct behaviour.
The things your prefrontal cortex can do for you are astounding. The fascinating part about it is that it's not static. You can develop your PFC's ability to do what it does more skillfully. And many different mediums sharpen it. For starters, let's start with one simple medium that could help: knives.
We know it seems weird that using knives can help develop a sharp mind but stay with us. There are several activities surrounding the use of knives, and we'll break it down and explain how it helps you stay sharp.
Knives have to be sharpened before using it for cutting. While both sharpening and cutting can help develop your prefrontal cortex. Let's narrow it down and focus on exploring how you should sharpen your knives in a way that sharpens you, too.
Before you use a knife, you must sharpen them first. Using a dull knife doesn't make sense if its only function is to cut and slice objects in half. It will fail to perform its purpose if it isn't sharp enough. So, it's good practice to keep knives edges in good cutting conditions.
A knife block with a built-in sharpener is an easy way to sharpen a knife. This technology involves having a block set of knives with slots that have built-in whetstones on its side. The idea behind this technology is to hone the knives' edges as you pull them out of the block stand, making your knives' edges remain sharp for long periods. Here's how you use them.
1. With your knives inside the block, firmly grip the handle of one of the knives with your dominant hand. With the non-dominant hand, hold down the block.
2. Pull the handle gently outside of the slot several times to allow the built-in whetstone's coarseness to scrape off metal particles off the knife's edge.
3. Test the knife's edge by running it through a piece of paper. If it slices the paper with little to no effort, the knife's edge is sharp enough.
4. Repeat the process with the other knives on the block.
The advantage of using the knife sharpener apart from activating your prefrontal cortex is it gives you enough time for another activity that sharpens your mind: cutting ingredients with a sharp knife.
But there's another alternative to using a knife sharpener that fully engages your prefrontal cortex and allows for more thorough development—the use of a whetstone.
Most households store a piece of stone block in their kitchen drawers. This stone is commonly called a 'whetstone' or is occasionally used to sharpen knives because it takes time to sharpen this way. But the duration of this activity brings significant benefits to your knife and your mind. So we recommend sharpening your knives this way more often. Here's a series of steps on how to use a knife block sharpener.
1. Whip out your whetstone from storage and examine it for any residue of oil before you rinse it with anything. You need to do this so you can determine if the whetstone you're using is meant to be slathered with oil or water. Feel the stone using your palm to check if there are any oily sensations.
2. If the whetstone has no presence of oil, rinse it with water to remove any residual metals from its surface before you start the sharpening process. If it has any presence of oil, wipe it down with a paper towel instead.
3. Bring your knives out and organize them on a flat surface. Ideally, you want to sharpen the knives from longest to shortest, so it matches your level of effort since you're strongest during the outset.
4. Create a swarf on the surface of your whetstone then, place the heel of your knife's edge on the swarf at an angle of 20 to 25 degrees, or simply use your tactile feel for the right angle that matches the level of your knife on the surface of the whetstone block sharpener.
5. With your dominant hand, grip the knife's handle firmly. The fingers of your non-dominant hand should be placed gently on the check and spine of the knife's blade. Hold the knife on a slanting position as you push the knife's blade forward down to the edge of the knife block sharpener and sideward up to the tip of the blade, making sure that as you move forward, all the surface of the knife's edge has been touched by the whetstone.
6. Repeat this process until your better judgment tells you it's sharp enough to cut. Be sure to test out the sharpness of the knives by running down a piece of paper. If it feels effortless to cut the paper in two, you have a sharp knife.
The set of actions involved in sharpening knives takes precision and meticulous attention. Here's how it helps your prefrontal cortex develop the executive functions that sharpen your mind.
Coordination – The hand-eye coordination involved in sharpening your knives exercise motor control; one of the attributes involved in your executive function.
Memory – Recalling the look and sensation of a sharp knife from a past memory activates your prefrontal cortex, which draws up a long-term memory that serves as your reference point when judging the sharpness of a knife.
Flexibility – As you go through the repetitions, your prefrontal cortex becomes activated to find better approaches to the repetitive task to maximize the sharpening motion. This involves changing the knife's angle, the push's intensity towards the stone, and how much swarf you need to reapply for effective sharpening.
Additional benefits that sharpen your prefrontal cortex when sharpening knives:
For your knives to be sharpened well, you have to be intentional about the task. Producing a razor-sharp quality involves a willing application of your abilities. Even if you're not an artisan of knife sharpening, you can apply the same set of skills that an artisan uses for your knives. But, to do that, you have to be intentional.
This goes the same for your mind. Doing things as simple as sharpening knives can be just a regular task that won't yield any benefit for your mind. But with enough intention - the focused, ritualistic kind - you'll give your mind the opportunity to exercise the various parts that make it sharper and smarter.
Next time you feel like sharpening your knives, see that it also sharpens your mind. Then, do the task with the utmost intention.