Michael is an avid content writer, blogger and researcher on topical themes related to human health and the process of sustainable recovery.
Rising Above the Norm
There is a vital lesson we can learn from our past. When mankind settled into the status quo and followed routines based on traditions, the result was the period called the Dark Ages, which as the name suggests, was a bleak time in history. This period lasted through the first half of the Medieval Times and it took what is known as a rebirth or Renaissance to push humanity out of its deathly stranglehold.
But what exactly triggered the rebirth and the great advancements that followed? People simply began to question what they had mostly been taken for granted until then. This reevaluation allowed for new ways of thinking to form with the result that societies began awakening from the dark abyss of ignorance. What happened next was the rise of creativity and innovation which in turn produced the industrial revolution and the framework of the technological advancements we have today.
What would have happened if people had continued to live as they did in the Dark Ages? What if they just went on passively accepting their fate without pausing to question or challenge themselves? In all likelihood, humanity would have continued drowning in the sea of darkness and ignorance.
The takeaway lesson here is that in order to grow and realize its fullest potential, the human brain needs to be challenged. Settling at a place in life where we are always protected, safe and unprovoked does us no favors. Our brain's capacity and productivity increase as we stretch ourselves beyond the norm, acquire new skills and learn better ways of performing regular activities.
It is inevitable that without proper exercise, any muscle will atrophy over time. Likewise, the brain needs stimulation in order to improve and outperform itself. Here are some proven steps that you can take starting today, to help increase your intelligence.
1. Make strategic adjustments
2. Be expressive
3. Move past your limitations
4. Build the right network
5. Consolidate your progress
1. Make Strategic Adjustments
Our world is saturated with technology. There are apps for nearly everything under the sun with new versions and features emerging at incredible rates. Smart devices may be efficient at saving us time, but when it comes to cerebral health and wellbeing, how much is of this dependence is counterproductive?
To illustrate, we could consider a self-driving car. At face value, it looks cool and the innovation rakes in much profit for the manufacturer. But what is the long-term impact on the consumer?
The latter is typically a motorist who has acquired cognitive skills through learning and experience over the years. Their brain has achieved this level of mastery through processing and navigating through countless commuting scenarios. Within the brain, neurons have been generated over this period of time with well-established cerebral pathways to cement the skills and cater to all kinds of situations.
Now, as the motorist becomes increasingly dependent on self-driving technology, the brain concludes that those neurons are no longer necessary and begins to eliminate them. So the ultimate cost to the consumer is more than financial.
Once we have established that dependence on technology that weakens the brain is unhealthy, what should we do? We need to be careful how we use the technology. We need to make strategic adjustments and from time to time take breaks from the 'smart' world. Overattachment to electronics can be broken if we are willing to pay the price.
Regularly try to find your own solutions without the aid of gadgetry by following the more traditional, old-school route. Taking a break from electronics every now and then will challenge your brain to solve problems independently and help boost its productivity. The approach can help you improve your bearings, as well as your short and long term memories.
It could be doing library research and looking up stuff in an encyclopedia instead of relying on Google. It could be increasing spatial capacity by venturing out on trips without the aid of navigational apps or GPS trackers to get to your destination. There are many brain-enhancing retreats from convenience that can be explored for the benefit of your mind.
In addition, come up with a list of new ideas each day that you have not thought about before. Be prepared to either change your routine altogether or to do the same things in different ways. Explore positive areas that you have never previously attempted. It is healthy to be curious about new things and have an attitude of questioning. Don’t just stick to what is familiar to your senses but be prepared to venture into depths that challenge you out of your comfort zone.
2. Be Expressive
An interesting test was once conducted using two groups of students. All participants were given the exact same courses, but the researchers provided one group additional language courses and the other additional science courses. The brains of the students were scanned before they embarked on the courses and after they had completed them.
The results showed that the students who took the language courses did better in their academics than the students who took the science courses. In fact, those who were top in language courses came out on top in other courses as well.
This study proved that learning a foreign language improves the way the brain functions by fully engaging the centers of the brain that are responsible for developing and retaining new expertise.
So make it your objective to keep learning new vocabulary and improving your skills in the languages that you have mastered. If you can, set aside time for study and practice to acquire a new language altogether. There are plenty of free online tools and resources that could help you improve your linguistic skills.
If you are the artistic type, your art can be that form of expression, whether it be drawing, painting, or sculpting. If you are musically inclined, this could mean picking up a new instrument and start practicing. Learning to express yourself through language and art activates and develops the centers of your brain responsible for creativity.
3. Move Past Your Limitations
Until recently, it was widely accepted that the brain structure itself does not change except when it deteriorates through illness or aging. What is conventionally believed was that activities within the brain could be changed through learning, but not the structure of the brain itself. However, a study by German researchers which was published in the Nature journal found that the brain can actually undergo an anatomical change.
The researchers took 24 volunteers and split them into two groups. One group practiced juggling for a period of three months while the other learned no new skill. The researchers scanned the brains of both groups using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before and after the juggling lessons.
The scanning focused on changes in brain structure instead of brain activity. It showed that there were no changes in the group that did no juggling during the three months. The brains of those who learned to juggle however, showed an increase in gray matter in the areas responsible for motor and visual activity.
The juggling practice did not continue after the experiment and in three months, the newly formed regions of the brain among those in the latter group disappeared. This proves that newly-acquired skills or lessons need to be continually reinforced otherwise the brain will dispense away with the cells that are responsible for maintaining them.
In the words of Dr. George Wittenberg of Wake Forest University Medical Center's Department of Neurology, "It has generally been accepted that new neuron formation in adults is limited to particular areas of the brain. However, this dogma is changing."
Apart from juggling, there is a plethora of games and puzzles that can help challenge different parts of your brain. Solving logical or mathematical problems helps boost its capacity. For example, doctors recommend playing chess for at least 15 minutes a day for those that those who suffer from cognitive conditions like Alzheimer's. The board game has actually been shown to improve the problem-solving skills and maths scores in schools for students. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and other brain teasers can also help increase cognitive abilities.
You are the average of the five people with whom you spend most of your time. Your network may not really determine your net worth, but it certainly determines your character and lifestyle.
4. Build the Right Network
You may have heard this innumerable times, but it is worth repeating here. You are the average of the five people whom you spend most of your time with. Your network may not really determine your net worth, but it certainly determines your character and lifestyle.
Spending your time with idlers and gossipers will sabotage your thinking. You cannot improve if you keep company with people who are not interested in developing themselves. You need people around you who can challenge your thought process.
Those who are smarter than you have skills that you do not have and make for good company, because their ways will challenge how you think and approach life. Developing interpersonal relationships with such will improve your life. The conversations you have with them will inspire and challenge your thinking and are opportunities for the brain to develop new insights. So keep company with those who are intellectually predisposed.
Also, sharing what you are learning in your own life with others enables your brain to consolidate these lessons and retain them permanently for future application. Teaching others and brainstorming issues with intelligent persons to find solutions keeps the brain in a state of continuous improvement.
5. Consolidate Your Progress
(a) Be Visionary
Avoid engaging in activity without a clear focus or destination. Organize your life around specific goals and targets. Have an objective that you are intentionally working toward instead of waiting for fate or circumstance to take its course. Using diagrams and charts to organize your thought processes can be beneficial. Jotting down ideas, keeping a personal journal, or maintaining a blog can help activate the parts of the brain that are responsible for memory and focus. Remember, concentration improves your attention span. You will find you are able to do more with less time.
(b) Change Your Environment
From time to time, you may need to go into a different setting in order to clear your mind. Getting into a place with an unfamiliar feel refreshes your outlook and helps you view everyday affairs from another perspective. You may not always be able to take a trip elsewhere, but you could consider working from a different room or office. Alternatively, you could rearrange the setting of your current workspace to give it a different feel.
(c) Read and Research
Reading, writing, and research expose you to new ways of thinking and performing tasks that you may not have considered before. They boost your memorization skills and improve your imagination. Experiencing new insights leads to the creation of more neural pathways in the brain and it stores what it has learned for future use. As you apply what you have learned in day to day, the brain continues to select from the deposit of knowledge and use these patterns to solve future problems.
(d) Build Your Filter
Practice improving your listening skills. The best way to do this is by being an active listener rather than a passive one. Weigh what is being communicated and ask questions. Is what you are receiving authentic, or is it biased on account of the communicator and their experience? We live in an age where we are constantly being bombarded by more information than we can handle. Today, more than ever, you need to keep yourself from passivity in the face of the media and other external sources that can brainwash your thinking into the way the system wants you to think. Consistently working on your internal filter will help you sort out what is useful from what is unnecessary.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.