Many people assume that intelligence is a fixed quality that doesn’t change as you grow older, with the most intelligent kids destined for Ivy League colleges and successful careers. This narrative can be disheartening and demotivating for those whose grades were lower than average during high school. Fortunately, however, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Although neuroscientists are still grappling with the mystery of intelligence, research shows that our brains remain “plastic” over time. In other words, it is possible to learn new things and strengthen your mental agility throughout your lifetime. While your genes may influence your brainpower to some extent, a little perseverance and hard work could help to expand your mind and improve your cognitive abilities.
So, what habits should you be building into your everyday life? Whether you’re planning to make your way up the career ladder or impress your friends and family, the following tips could make you smarter and improve your quality of life. Don’t worry if you don’t have the time to read hundreds of books a year – these steps are easy to incorporate into a hectic schedule.
1. Reconsider your relationship with the internet
Many people use the web to surf social media sites and scroll through memes during their downtime. While this may feel good at the moment, it’s unlikely to bring any long-term benefits and could even shorten your attention span. A damaged attention span could lead to negative consequences, including poor performance at work, decreased empathy, worsened ability to remember information, and mental health issues – none of which will help your brainpower.
So, how can you use the web to get smarter? Fortunately, the internet is brimming with precious resources to help you learn new things. Why not watch a TED talk instead of scrolling through advertisements on Instagram? If you want to learn a new language, consider signing up for a course on Duolingo. Spending just a few minutes a day on the platform could build your conversational skills in weeks or months.
If you’re struggling to stay away from distractions such as Twitter or Facebook, consider downloading an app such as Freedom. This handy program will prevent you from logging into certain websites or apps when you’re supposed to be concentrating.
2. Create a reflections journal
Writing down what you have learned in a journal will help you remember key facts and figures while boosting your overall brainpower. For optimal effects, we recommend dedicating some time to writing between 400 and 500 words per day, reflecting on every fascinating thing you would like to remember. Remember to look back at your entries every so often to crystallize your knowledge.
3. Challenge your friends to a game of Scrabble
Board games aren’t just for kids. They represent a fantastic way to challenge your mind, bond with friends, and disconnect from the online world for a few hours. Scrabble is perfect for stretching your logical abilities and improving your vocabulary – mainly if you’re playing with other intelligent people. If Scrabble isn’t your thing, however, there are plenty of alternatives available, including:
· Chess (to boost your concentration and analytical skills)
· Monopoly (to boost your strategic and decision-making abilities)
· Diplomacy (to enhance your diplomatic skills and ability to think logically)
· Connect 4 (to help you think under pressure)
· Battleship (to boost your strategic skills)
Try to avoid cheating or using hints and tips to improve your chances of winning. It’s the taking part that counts, after all! If you’re short of time (or available friends), you could also try playing an online game of Wordle or the more challenging Quordle to boost your brain cells.
4. Write down a list of your achievements
Reminding yourself about your past successes will give you the confidence and motivation you need to keep on learning. One of the best ways to do this is to keep a journal of your achievements and read them back every so often. Whether you’ve won a creative writing competition or solved a complex problem at work, no accomplishment is too obscure or insignificant. You could also try writing some positive affirmations in your journal. You never know when you might need them!
5. Surround yourself with intelligent people
Spending time with brainy people will help you learn new things without even trying. Intelligent people often converse about high-level topics and enjoy imparting knowledge to their friends and family members. By surrounding yourself with wise friends, you’ll benefit from smart dinner conversations and feel inspired to learn about topics that interest you.
Wondering where to find more smart friends? It would help if you didn’t have to look too far. Why not join a book club or start taking night classes? If you’re ready to commit time and money to pursue your intellectual interests, you could enroll in a part-time degree. There will be plenty of fellow students willing to engage in intellectually enriching conversations.
If you feel a little uncomfortable spending time with people who seem to know more than you, don’t fret – this is perfectly natural! With time, you’ll overcome this anxiety and realize that you also have plenty to offer your friends (including excellent conversational skills!).
6. Read, read, and read a bit more
It would be difficult to overstate the positive effects of reading on the brain. Did you know, for example, that reading could reduce mental decline in older adults by up to 32%? What’re more, studies show that reading regularly can help to strengthen memory and concentration. The types of materials you read will influence what kind of knowledge you absorb. While reading experimental fiction could help to boost your vocabulary and creative faculties, reading a book about economics or politics could improve your understanding of important world affairs. In general, we recommend exploring a variety of books, journals, and newspapers, as this will open your eyes to a range of perspectives and areas of knowledge. Remember to schedule plenty of time to read (and avoid distractions while your book is open!).
7. Explain tricky concepts to friends and family members
If you’re unsure whether you’ve thoroughly grasped a complex idea or concept, try explaining it in detail to your friends. If you struggle to formulate meaningful sentences or your friends don’t understand what you’re talking about, you may need to revise the concept. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that we know something, only to discover that there are gaps in understanding when we need to put the idea into action.
Teaching new things to your friends and family will also improve your ability to communicate effectively with others. Remember – intelligence encompasses many skills and abilities, including speaking and listening.
8. Try out hobbies you’ve never considered before
Developing your mental agility is about embracing the unfamiliar and trying new things. When tasked with a new hobby, you’ll have to use areas of the brain you don’t often use – great news if you’re strengthening your overall mental power. So, what activities should you try? We recommend trying out tasks that seem intriguing, unusual, or daring. Here are just a few examples to get you started:
· Needlework or knitting (to hone your motor skills and ability to read complex instructions)
· Meditation (to boost your concentration span and learn to understand yourself better)
· Painting (to enhance your creative skills and learn about different artistic techniques)
· Coding (to improve your tech skills and ability to remember complex information)
· Journaling (to improve your writing skills and calm racing thoughts)
· Archaeology (to learn more about our history and develop your ability to identify patterns)
· Learning an instrument (to strengthen your cognitive agility and learn a potentially helpful skill)
The options are endless when it comes to picking up a new hobby. Although you may feel a little apprehensive about starting something you may not enjoy, the rewards could be significant. For example, learning a coding language could open up new job opportunities, while learning to paint could help you live a more fulfilling and creative life.
9. Learn tricks for improving your memory
Are you often frustrated by your inability to retain information? Is learning a slow and tedious slog? A few simple memorization strategies could significantly improve your ability to learn new things quickly and strengthen your cognitive efficiency. These include:
· Link new information to things you already know: Learning new material is tough if you can’t connect it to the information you already know. Even if the connection seems tenuous or silly, linking further information to facts already stored in your brain will speed up the learning process. Say, for example, you’re trying to remember that there are 25.4 millimeters in an inch. If your mom’s phone number begins with 254, linking these seemingly unrelated facts in your brain will improve your chances of recalling the information. While this may seem strange, it’s a very effective way to learn.
· Write down the information you want to remember: Writing helps solidify knowledge in your brain, as the hand and brain are directly connected. You don’t have to produce complete sentences if you’d rather write quickly. As long as you’re articulating concepts on the page, your brain will absorb information more easily. It may also help to say new information aloud or visualize it in your head.
Discuss with yourself: Again, this may seem odd, but talking to yourself about new concepts will help you memorize important information. Rather than highlighting every word on a page, read it aloud and engage or even “argue” with it. The results could surprise you!
· Use mnemonics: If you’ve ever taken an exam, you’ve probably tried out mnemonics at some point in your life. They’re essentially systems to help make the information as memorable as possible. One of the most popular types of mnemonic involves taking the first letter of each word in a list you need to memorize and attributing to them different words beginning with the same letter. Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to learn how to spell ‘mnemonic.’ an excellent first-letter mnemonic phrase would be ‘Memory Needs Every Method Of Nurturing Its Capacity.’ Try to use words and phrases that will stick in your head.
· Review information just before you go to bed: Your brain filters, processes, and stores information while you’re asleep. As such, reviewing essential facts and figures just before you go to sleep could help solidify the information in your memory.
· Create songs or jingles: Turning complex data into a catchy jingle will make it easier to remember. Feel free to grab your guitar and create something you’re genuinely proud of. The more memorable the tune, the more likely you will retain the information.
10. Take time to relax
The brain is like a muscle in that it needs time to relax now and again. Overstimulating your brain could cause mental burnout and limit your ability to learn new things. In the long term, this isn’t going to make you smarter. So, remember to schedule some time to unwind and relax after a study session or a long day at work. Feel free to pursue any activity you like during this time. From baking a fresh batch of cookies to sitting in front of a romantic comedy, mental relaxation will leave you happy, restored, and ready to learn more.