By Rachel Anderson
Ever heard the phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Many may recognize it as a line from Kelly Clarkson’s hit “What Doesn’t Kill You”. What about the phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you smarter”? Is intelligence something you can improve upon, or are you born with a certain impassable capacity?
There are people on both sides of the fence but as an employee or employer, here is some research to take into consideration. After all, who wouldn’t like to be smarter or have smarter people working for them?
After behavior therapist and consultant Andrea Kuszewski saw continued success helping children with autism to improve their IQs she wondered why the same types of training could not be applied to the average person. She developed the following 5 practices that can be used every day, by the average person, to train your brain to work at it’s fullest.
When you think of any of the great minds and geniuses throughout time, were any of them good at just one thing? Definitely not. They were interested in many subjects and became known for their knowledge of and contribution to a number of different areas of study. Diversity of interests and knowledge is one of the characteristics of an intelligent person. They love to learn and seek out new experiences and information.
Kuszewski says that “When you seek novelty, several things are going on. First of all, you are creating new synaptic connections with every new activity you engage in. These connections build on each other, increasing your neural activity, creating more connections to build on other connections—learning is taking place…
Excellent learning condition = Novel Activity—>triggers dopamine—>creates a higher motivational state—>which fuels engagement and primes neurons—>neurogenesis can take place + increase in synaptic plasticity (increase in new neural connections, or learning).”
Adding novelty into your life doesn’t have to be hard or even take up much time. It can be as easy as trying new food, reading a new book, taking a music class, or visiting a museum. The idea is to engage your mind in new activities and with new ideas.
Most everyone has probably heard of brain-training games like Sudoku that claim to speed up your ability to process and use information. While they initially do this, once the brain has learned to play the game, it no longer needs to try and becomes idle. According to Kuszewski “Individual brain training games don’t make you smarter- they make you more proficient at the brain training games”. She says it’s great to learn and play these types of games but once you’ve learned one, move on to a new challenging activity.
A recent study by scientist Richard Haier sheds some more light on this theory. He gathered a group of people to test whether or not cognitive ability could be increased using mental activities like brain training games over a period of a few weeks. This particular group of people used Tetris as the brain training game, a game which, unbelievably enough, none of them had played. As the game was something new and challenging, the first week or so showed an increase in cortical thickness and cortical activity meaning the brain was using a lot of energy in order to learn a new skill. After this initial increase, however, there was a drop in cortical activity while the skill of each of the test members remained the same. Once the brain learned to play Tetris it didn’t need to work hard at it or use hardly any energy.
This shows us that in order to keep the brain engaged and growing, we need to continually supply it with new challenging activities. Once we’ve mastered a skill, move on to a new challenge.
Now before you go grab your paintbrush and beret, we aren’t talking about art projects or even using the right side of the brain. (That’s more of a novelty thing) Creative thinking actually uses both sides of the brain and requires it to make connections between separate ideas or subjects. Creative thinking isn’t about memorizing facts; it’s thinking about problems in creative, practical, and analytical ways.
PACE (Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise) Center in Boston founded by Dr Robert Sternberg is on a mission to find ways to help people maximize their intelligence. They focus on the idea that “ideas are not fixed but rather flexible, that they’re modifiable, and that anyone can transform their abilities into competencies, and their competencies into expertise.” Part of Sternberg’s research included a study called The Rainbow Project in which he developed creative teaching methods to test against traditional teaching. The premise of the study was to discover whether or not teaching students creative thinking would help them learn more, have more fun learning it, and be able to transfer their gained knowledge to other areas of their education as well as everyday life. At the end of the study, the test group received higher final grades than the control group even though they received the same multiple-choice test the control group had been prepared to take. They were able to transfer what they’d learned and use creative thinking to apply knowledge in a completely separate environment.
Although many things in life are based on how efficient you can be or how fast you can complete a given task, this does not equate intelligence. Technology has made things very easy for us in many ways but it’s also made us lazy.
It’s kind of like driving a car. We can get places much faster and even arrive without getting lost thanks to things like Map Quest and GPS. But some of the consequences of this are that, overall, we have a poorer sense of direction and we get much less exercise than we would without cars.
In order to stay healthy our brains need exercise too. They need problems to solve and things to think out. Some technology is necessary and can be a real lifesaver in a pinch, but when we don’t absolutely need it, take the long road and give your brain a workout. It can be as simple as trying to figure out how to spell a word before using spell check, or as potentially complicated as taking a road trip with nothing more than a paper map.
There are so many ways to network these days. You can use social media like Facebook or Linked In or attend conferences and meet people face-to-face. Getting to know people in and out of your areas of interest and environment gives your brain tons of fuel to think about things from new perspectives and become interested in new activities. It’s also great socially and emotionally! The more you get to know new people and hear about their perspectives and interests the more you’ll want to learn and explore. It’s a never-ending circle that will make you smarter all along the way.
Rachel Anderson is a Pay Per Click Advertising Strategist at Netmark.com. Off the job she enjoys photography, good food, being outside, and spending time with her husband. Share your thoughts with Rachel on Twitter @gladygirl, Google+ or Facebook- she’d love to hear from you!