5 Things You Can Do Every Day To Make Yourself Smarter

"Dip into your inner stream of consciousness.”

At some point or another, everyone walks into the kitchen only to forget what they wanted in the first place. It's surprisingly common, but it's enough to make anyone start researching ways to make yourself smarter. While there are numerous "brain training" apps that promise to improve cognitive capabilities, there are countless methods that boost brain function without tying you to technology. In fact, allowing your mind to wander might actually be one of the most effective ways to make yourself smarter every day

Here are five methods, both old and new, for restoring your brain to its youthful activity:

1. Practice your people skills.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic of Fast Company explains that most real-world problems are ill-defined and require dealing effectively with other people. Thus, to become more attuned with how to solve said issues with intelligence and grace, it's important to practice your people skills. As Chamorro-Premuzic notes, personality characteristics that determine how well you get along with others are only genetic to an extent — there are still habits you can practice to get better at social interactions.

"For example, getting feedback on how other people see you can enhance your self-awareness, which really comes down to how well you understand the way your behavior affects other people. It generally involves being more other-focused than self-focused— or at least seeming that way," he writes.

"Likewise, being aware of your stress triggers can keep the dark side of your personality at bay — those less-desirable qualities that get in the way of building healthy relationships," he adds. "Contrary to popular belief, the most likable people are not authentic; they just manage to come across as genuine enough, while paying close attention to how they're perceived. In other words, they're just expert reputation managers. This may sounds controversial, but while we tend to be wary of those who seem "fake", the reality is that we'd much rather deal with them than with people who clearly show they don't care about social norms and good manners."

2. Learn to play an instrument.

Did you know that playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once? As Marelisa Fabrega writes for Daring to Live Fully, disciplined practice in playing a musical instrument strengthens visual, auditory, and motor skills, which can then be applied to other activities.

"... Since fine motor skills are controlled by both hemispheres of the brain, playing music has been found to engage the activity in the brain's corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres. This allows messages to get through the brain faster and through more diverse routes," she explains. "What does this mean? It means that musicians have a leg up when it comes to solving problems more efficiently and creatively."

"People who play a musical instrument also have higher executive functions, which involve planning, strategizing, and attention to detail," she adds. "It also impacts how our memory systems work. Musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions; they can create, store, and retrieve memories more quickly and efficiently."

3. Add brain foods to your diet.

Stop putting off that diet! As it turns out, eating smarter can actually make you smarter as you age. As Susie East of CNN explains, recent research published in the journal Neurology found that improving overall diet quality is an important factor for lowering the risk of memory loss and thinking ability. 

"In terms of actually improving cognitive function, further research found that a Mediterranean style diet containing olive oil and nuts — rich in antioxidants — might just do the trick," she writes. "The monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados are also thought to help protect nerve cells in the brain and augment the brain's muscle strength."

While there's no concrete evidence as to which foods can reduce cognitive decline quite yet, East emphasizes that healthy habits certainly can't hurt, as these foods ultimately promote greater well-being, which can ultimately increase energy and alertness. "... if you're a fan of healthier snacking there's no harm in having an extra helping of chard or grazing on nuts, berries and seeds — to name a few — which are a great source of vitamins and antioxidants to make you a lean, green, thinking machine." 

4. Allow yourself to daydream.

You might actually be smarter than you think. As Scott Barry Kaufman, NYU psychology professor and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined argues, having your head in the clouds might actually help you better engage with the pursuits that are most personally meaningful to you. Kaufman tells The Huffington Post that daydreaming allows people to "dip into [your] inner stream of consciousness," and personally reflect on the world and visualize the future.

"We all have goals and dreams in life — things we want to accomplish out there in the real world," Kaufman says. "And while the kinds of skills that are measured on IQ tests are important ... there are so many more characteristics that come into play in helping us to reach those dreams and goals in a long-term way." Kaufman tells Carolyn Gregoire that our traditional standard of intelligence can leave behind many people who don't perform well on rote cognitive skill tests, but who may be highly adept when it comes to spontaneous cognition. Thus, society needs to redefine intelligence in a way that factors in our deepest dreams and desires. 

As Gregoire writes: "Kaufman's Theory of Personal Intelligence, as outlined in Ungifted, explains intellect in broader terms, focusing on cognitive engagement and ability as applied to the pursuit of personal goals. The theory takes into account not only traditional markers of intelligence such as working memory and attention (controlled forms of cognition), but also spontaneous forms of cognition, including insight, intuition and the triggering of memories and stored information — types of intelligence often accessed through mind-wandering." 

5. Start standing up at your desk.

Standing desks have become increasingly popular in recent years in response to the assertion that "sitting is the new smoking." However, one recent study also links prolonged sitting to possible impairment in learning and memory. In an article for The New York Times, Dr. Richard A. Friedman, contributing opinion writer and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, explains that, while extensive sitting can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, culminating in a higher mortality rate, this new study posits that sitting is also bad for your brain.

"The cognitive benefits of strenuous physical exercise are well known," Friedman writes. "But the possibility that the minimal exertion of standing more and sitting less improves brain health could lower the bar for everyone."

Friedman also suggests that, on top of simply standing more frequently, individuals should add "go for a walk" to their to-do list each day as "you are constantly bombarded by new stimuli and inputs as you move about, which helps derail linear thinking and encourages a more associative, unfocused thought process." 

Cover image via Anthony Ginsbrook on Unsplash

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