There’s a phrase that went viral on social media not too long ago. It says: “When you are dead, you don’t know you are dead. It is difficult only for others. It is the same when you are stupid.”
It’s a phrase that puts something that has irked me for years into words. Simply put: what if I’m stupid? How would I know? I meet people all the time who seem convinced of their own superior intelligence but who don’t seem particularly smart to me. Perhaps I too am unaware of my own less than razor sharp wits.
To safeguard against this frightening possibility, I try to be always learning and doing things to keep my mind working. But there are still many times when I feel like the dumbest person in the room.
Being smarter is obviously a plus on the job market, and those who showcase impressive brain power are often very successful. Are there life hacks we can use to pump up that power? Science says yes.
You can try those “brain training” products being advertised everywhere that claim to make your grey cells more agile. The findings in that area are conflicting, and the evidence in their favour is not great. But who am I to say they don’t work? Go for it.
Here are ten more tricks that varying degrees of conclusive evidence suggest can make you smarter.
Believe you can be smarter: It’s that easy. The American Psychological Association reports that a 2001 study found evidence that “Realizing that one’s intelligence may be improved may actually improve one’s intelligence.” Maybe it’s just a question of opening yourself up to the possibility and, the old self-help standby, believing in yourself. OK. Done, and done.
Read: This seems like the most obvious one on the list. Reading and studying go hand in hand with learning. As such, it’s no surprise that reading impacts “crystallized intelligence,” which is your collection of acquired knowledge. But, says the Guardian, it also has been shown to effect “fluid intelligence,” also known as reasoning and problem solving ability, and “emotional intelligence,” which is the ability to read and relate to your own emotions as well as other people’s. Pick up a book, and start reading.
Work or study abroad: Research has found evidence that that studying or working in other countries can enhance complex and creative thinking. Time Magazine reports that students in one study “who adopted an open and adaptive attitude toward foreign cultures became more able to make connections among disparate ideas. The students’ multicultural engagement also predicted the number of job offers they received after the program ended.” Researchers also found that people who identify with more than one nationality are better problem solvers and that “people with this international experience are more likely to create new businesses and products and to be promoted.”
Granted, you need some free time and money to do this, but if travel is an option, you might as well see the world.
Go to a museum/art gallery: In a 2013 study, researchers found evidence of a strong causal (which is better than correlational) relationship between arts education and cognitive benefit. Students who were chosen by lottery to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas on a field trip “demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions” than those who were not chosen, according to the New York Times.
Play Chess. Learning to play Chess is something I’ve wanted to do for years but have yet to get around to. Too bad. Evidence has been found that the strategy game may have myriad cognitive benefits, including improving analytical and critical thinking, and visualization skills; increasing IQ points; enhancing math skills and verbal skills; and increasing emotional intelligence – according to Examined Existence. Wow. Many of these results were found in children, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit. My desire to learn the game is renewed.
Meditate. Many studies of meditation have shown evidence of its contribution towards reducing stress, but not as many people who know this are aware of its effects on cognitive function. Discover Magazine reported that one study found that after five days of IBMT (Integrative Mind-Body Training), a meditation method, subjects showed significantly improved attention and performance on a test designed to measure fluid intelligence, novel problem solving ability, and pattern recognition. The IBMT group also showed a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol. Another study found that mindfulness meditation helps people make better business decisions.
Write by hand: Studies in this area centre on children but shows that learning cursive is important for cognitive development, specifically training the brain towards optimal efficiency, says Psychology Today. To write legibly you need to pay attention and practice. Even if you’re older, if you are out of practice in writing cursive – I am almost incapable. It takes me about 20 tries to write a simple handwritten note. I wish I were exaggerating – it stands to reason that you might be able to reactivate those areas that might be lying dormant, or similar ones, I think. Another study demonstrated that adults may benefit from writing by hand when learning a new graphically different language. Those who wrote new characters by hand, rather than using a computer keyboard, had an easier time remembering them reports the Wall Street Journal.
Dance: A study of senior citizens over 20 years found that those who boogied down on the regular were 10% less likely to develop dementia than those who did not. No causal relationship was found, however, so it might not be the dancing staving off the dementia at all and may be that those with better cognitive function are simply more likely to dance points out bboyscience.com. The evidence for this one may be less compelling, but, hey, it’s not exactly a heavy lift. Throw on the P-Funk (or whatever floats your boat) and start busting some moves. It can’t hurt (unless you fall over). Putting the funk in cognitive function. Ha. See what I did there?
Learn another language. I hear this one all the time. Interestingly, bilingualism hasn’t always been thought of as a cognitive positive. According to the New York Times, “Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference… that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.” Now they say learning another language has major benefits, including improving multitasking skills and memory, as well as perception and decision making, says The Telegraph.
Have sex: According to The Atlantic, Researchers in Maryland and South Korea found evidence that sexual activity in mice and rats improves mental performance and increases the production of new neurons in the hippocampus. The rats who got it on showed signs of improved cognitive and hippocampal function. A separate group found that sexual activity combats the negative effects chronic stress has on memory. In mice, but still.
If you’re going to do one of these, it might as well be this one, right?
Wow. I feel smarter just reading about these.