How to Become Smarter — 18 Habits to Improve Your Intelligence
Do you know that it’s possible to become smarter—at any age?
Many people are under the general misconception that intelligence is a fixed value that’s set when they are young, and that it has no chance of changing as they grow older.
Research shows that improving our intelligence is possible at any age. The things we do and our outlook in life, such as possessing a growth mindset, can contribute greatly to improving our cognitive abilities.
There are simple habits that you can apply in your daily life that can help make you smarter. In today’s post, we feature 18 habits that are guaranteed to make you smarter.
We hope that these pointers will inspire you to develop your brain to its fullest capacity.
Your path to becoming a genius starts now.
1. Read books, and read a lot.
Studies have found that the earlier in life a person learns to read and the more reading materials they are subjected to, the more cognitive skills they will develop.
Reading and literacy seem to be linked to intelligence, as researchers have found that a student who is not proficient in reading by the 3rd grade is four times more likely to drop out of school than their more literate peers.
However, even for those who have limited reading comprehension skills, reading can help enhance their vocabulary and their development of intellectual functioning.Reading an actual book improves your memory and makes you smarter.
Reading stimulates your brain and keeps it healthy, which is critical for your memory. Reading has been found to reduce age-related cognitive decline, helping people maintain their memory and preventing the development of mental illnesses.
When you are reading, there is a lot of information to remember—from characters' names to the sequence of events in the story. You may even be reading a mystery that has you trying to interpret or decipher information on your own, requiring you to remember everything that has happened in the book from start to finish.
People who read literature also have an edge when it comes to interpersonal skills. Aside from the fact that reading will give you something to talk about in conversations with other people, studies have shown that people who read have more emotional intelligence than those who don't.
Reading improves your ability to pick up on other people's facial cues because it provides you with a larger reference point to decode another person's expressions. Also, reading gives you a chance to subconsciously practice empathy.
So not only does reading make you smarter, it can also make you a better person. Knowing how to better understand people’s emotions can make you more relatable and helpful to others.
2. Use filtered news services.
A lot of people think they have to be up-to-date with all of the latest news—usually to feel like they know about everything that is going on. However, any knowledge that is acquired through chaotic consumption when your brain is on information overload rarely adds value to your intelligence.
Subscribing to filtered news services gives you a better perspective on current events and topics only in areas of your interest.
Don't waste your time taking in irrelevant information just so you don't suffer from FOMO. Filter out what’s not important and focus only on the things that matter to you.
Make sure you are spending your time learning material that you can apply and benefit from in the long run. The Morning Brew sends you daily email digests on topics ranging from “Wall Street to Silicon Valley.” This is a good option if you want to stay up-to-date on only the critical news.
3. Hang out with smart people.
There is an advantage to surrounding yourself with like-minded people. But if you want to get smarter, hang out with people who are more intelligent than you are. Create connections with people who inspire you, and those you deem to be exceptionally successful.
The diversity of opinions and expertise sharpens your brain. In order to improve yourself, you have to be exposed to environments that are challenging for you, and that give you the opportunity to grow and learn.
Stop wasting your time with people who hold you back or make you feel bad about yourself. Being selective about who you spend your time with becomes increasingly strategic with age, as it has been said that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. If the people who surround you impact you so deeply, you should learn to attract others you admire, and phase out toxic relationships in your life.
4. Aim to do something new every day.
Doing something new every day will give you a wide range of perspectives to pull from in your small, everyday areas of specialization. Doing new things helps you learn, which then makes you more readily adaptable to new circumstances.
Having a wide range of knowledge of unconventional situations promotes innovation by inspiring you to think outside of the box and giving you examples to follow.
Doing new things deepens your character and makes other people look up to you as being an inspiring person. Knowing you have the ability to do more things will also make you more confident. Doing unfamiliar tasks will stimulate your brain and make you smarter. Here is a list of over 100 things to learn beginning today.
5. Play board games (e.g., Scrabble, chess, or Battleship).
Playing board games has been proven to make you all kinds of “smart.” Board games improve your logical thinking skills, enhance your learning skills, and decrease your risk of developing age-related cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
From 2008 to 2009, a pair of researchers studied 31 middle school special needs students. Sixteen of the students were given their typical math instruction, while the remainder of the students went through a 30-week chess training program in addition to their regular math instruction.
When the school year was finished, those who participated in the chess program had higher grades in math and higher standardized test scores than those who didn’t. This suggests that playing games keeps your brain sharp and helps you comprehend new information better.
6. Make a list of the things you’ve done.
A “did” list is the opposite of a to-do list. List down things you’ve already accomplished. This type of list-making boosts your happiness and confidence, which are two components of intelligence.
Intelligence is often seen as a predetermined trait, which limits people's motivation to try to change their own level of intelligence. However, studies have shown that there is a link between IQ and happiness beginning in childhood and spanning across one's life.
When it comes to confidence, if you have a healthy self-esteem, you will be more accepting of yourself. Other people will be able to see this confidence, and will give you more credibility when you are talking about any given subject.
Making a list of the things you have completed can act as a reminder of how far you have already come in whatever you are working on. This can keep you motivated to keep moving forward with your work and continue to learn.
Scientists have proven that being bilingual boosts your intelligence. This means that learning a new language will improve your cognitive abilities. It can have a significant effect on your brain, even improving your intelligence in areas that are not related to language and shielding you from dementia in old age.
In fact, knowing two languages has been shown to delay the onset of dementia by five years, and knowing three languages delays it by 6.4 years. Knowing four or more languages delays the onset of dementia by nearly a decade.
When you learn a new language, you are exercising your brain in a way that uses every form of memory that you have. Think about it—when you learn a new language, you have to essentially learn a new dictionary of words, and the grammatical rules to put all of these words together.
You also have to use your muscles and motor skills to speak with the correct pronunciation—and you have to be able to do it quickly, instinctively, and without having to stop and figure out each translation. You need to know the words and understand the relationships between them.
Once you are equipped with this knowledge, studies have shown that you will have an improved attention span, a better memory, and more self-control. When learning a new language, make sure to take on a growth mindset. Pursue the challenges and aim to stretch beyond your capacity.
8. Explain what you know to others.
To make sure that you understand what you’re learning, try explaining it to others. This is one key step in the Feynman technique, a way to learn something faster and more efficiently.
Researchers have found that students who are enlisted to tutor others work harder to fully comprehend the material, recall it correctly, and apply it to real-life situations better. If you are learning not only for your own sake but to be able to explain the lessons to someone else, you need to have a firm grasp on the material.
This may be why studies have found that first-born children tend to be more intelligent than their subsequent siblings, because they spend time teaching their younger siblings lessons they have already learned themselves.
Also, getting feedback from a student further enhances one's learning. A student's questions can inspire teachers to consider and explain t he material in ways they had not previously thought about. What's more, watching a student solve problems lets the teacher see their knowledge being put to use.
Mindfulness is the capacity to focus on the current moment without judgment. It is cultivated from daily meditation—doing some deep belly breaths brings more oxygen to your brain, slows your heart rate, and allows you to release thoughts of the past or future, bringing your entire self into the moment.
Practicing mindfulness boosts your ability to make smarter decisions. When you are not present in the moment, you may be tempted to multi-task—and studies have found that people who allow themselves to get distracted by incoming email or phone calls at work had a 10- to 15-point decrease in their IQs.
What's more, multi-tasking can actually damage your brain. Those who switch their attention quickly from one thing to another have a lower brain density in the area of the brain that is responsible for empathy and cognitive and emotional control.
Check out this post for the right way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life.
10. Write your notes by hand.
Research shows that when people write their notes longhand, they retain information longer and can better grasp new ideas. Yes, it takes longer to write out notes instead of typing them, but taking this time to digest the material is critical. This means that students who write their notes rather than type them gain a better understanding of lesson materials.
When you are typing your notes, you are likely to record almost everything you hear without considering the meaning behind the words or processing the material. You're simply mindlessly transcribing what you hear, which does not require a lot of cognitive activity.
Alternatively, when you take handwritten notes, you are unable to write down every word the teacher says. This forces you to listen, summarize the information, and list the key points. Your brain has to stay engaged during this process of comprehending the new material, which helps you remember the information better in the long run.
11. Play action-oriented video games (in moderation).
A neuroscientist revealed that people who play video games in moderation have better decision-making abilities and improved focus. Playing action video games helps improve your probabilistic inference, which is the ability to quickly infer the probability that an answer is correct when you have limited evidence.
This is a key factor in making decisions. This ability is used in several sensory and perceptual tasks, so people who play video games can transfer this skill to other areas of their lives.
Also, cognitive flexibility is not a fixed trait. It can be improved through fun learning tools such as playing video games. Playing action video games in moderation can increase your performance in both sensory and perceptual tasks, even in ways that greatly differ from the tasks required in the game play.
12. Get caffeinated.
As the most commonly used stimulant in the world, caffeine has been recognized to help you become smarter. It not only helps improve your concentration, but can also help boost your mood.
Caffeine's indirect impact on your brain's arousal, mood, and concentration contributes to its cognitive-enhancing properties. It helps make you more alert, which in turn makes it easier for you to learn and process new information.
Further, caffeine’s primary impact on the brain is its ability to block the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. When adenosine is blocked, caffeine increases the firing of neurons, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. This helps improve your mood, memory, reaction time, attention, and overall cognitive function.
13. Have a regular workout.
Exercising boosts your intelligence in many ways. It sharpens your focus, improves memory and recall, and enhances your productivity. Even in children, exercise is a simple yet critical means of enhancing mental functioning that is central to cognitive development.
Just like in adults, exercise enhances children’s executive functioning, which includes the cognitive processes that are required to choose, organize, and initiate goal-directed actions.
Experiments performed on adult humans and animals have both revealed evidence that when exercise is performed on a regular basis for an extended period of time, brain function that controls cognition and behavior is improved.
Physical activity leads to many biological responses in your muscles and organs that help improve and regulate the structure and functions of the brain.
Keeping in mind that children have a similar response to exercise as adults, getting sufficient exercise as a child is important when it comes to their education and ability to learn.
14. Allow yourself to daydream.
Spontaneous forms of cognitive functions such as daydreaming can help you arrive at deep insights and allow you to cultivate your imagination and creativity.
When you let your mind wander, it subconsciously processes all of the information that you have packed into it. This can help you increase your imagination when you aren't focusing on anything specific.
You may have multiple ideas in your head that are meant to be together, but until you relax your mind and allow it to make connections on its own, these ideas may not come together. In other words, you may be your most creative when you are daydreaming.
Also, those who allow their minds to wander have a better working memory, which has a direct relationship with intelligence. Your working memory is also strongly linked to things such as reading comprehension and your IQ score.
In addition to the knowledge that you hold, intelligence comes from high-quality, frequent interactions with other people as well. Scientists are starting to see that the more social interaction one has, the more likely they are to be smart and stay smart.
For example, studies have found that socializing with friends and family improves memory. One such study is found here, and discusses how socialization boosts cognitive abilities.
However, in order to reap the cognitive benefits, you have to be engaged in your conversations with other people and actually try to understand their perspectives and points of view. This can help change your brain because it makes you look at things in a new light.
16. Utilize your online time wisely.
Spending too much time on the Internet scrolling through social media posts is a major time sink for most people. In our online age, it is so easy to become distracted on the Internet.
You go to check your email and before you know it you’re three pages deep into a “Game of Thrones” forum and then you're re-watching the latest episode.
Don’t let temptation on the Internet get the best of you. Write down your priorities when it comes to your Internet activities and get them done in order of importance. Be conscious of which websites to visit, and maximize your time online by visiting sites promoting learning, such as TED Talks.
17. Draw, paint, or color.
Exercise your brain and strengthen it by engaging in visual arts activities such as drawing, painting, or coloring. All of these activities contribute to boosting your intelligence.
Children become more prepared to learn in school when the growth of their brains is promoted by engaging in art. Also, children can improve their communication skills through art, and therefore have an easier time conveying their ideas to others.
Creating art makes use of your imagination, whether you are drawing images of concrete things or portraying your emotions through abstract art. Drawing, painting, or coloring plays a beneficial role in the continuous development of your brain.
For those who are right-brained, creating art is a healthy way of using and enhancing creative skills. For left-brained (or analytical) people, it can help stimulate their creative side and improve it.
18. Travel as often as you can.
Traveling can make you smarter. The brains of individuals who travel and expose themselves regularly to unfamiliar environments produce more neurons in anticipation of new experiences and developing ways to effectively deal with them.
Having the willingness to question your old views and being open to viewing the world from various perspectives can expand your ability to consume new information. When you travel, you are forced to think in new ways and embrace unique cultural practices.
Both of these factors will ultimately create more neurological connections in your brain, which makes you quicker to react. It also improves you ability to think through logic and problem solve more efficiently. Traveling has creative and cognitive benefits, as shown in this research.
What activities featured above on how to become smarter are you looking forward to trying soon?
We hope that after reading this article you’re convinced that becoming smarter can begin at any age.
Lastly, if you’re searching for other suggestions of positive and healthy habits that you can try, you might want to check out our list of almost 200 habits you can apply in all aspects of your life.