Smart people do better in life.
Recently, there’s been a slew of books arguing that success in life isn’t really about how smart you are and how much talent you have. These books advance the theory that what really matters are things such as the following:
- Emotional intelligence;
- How hard you work; and
- Perseverance — sticking to your goal until you achieve it.
While it’s true that being able to regulate your emotions, being industrious, and having lots of grit are vitally important components of success, being smart does matter. Here’s why:
- Smart people learn faster. This one is obvious: we all knew that one kid in school who barely studied but did well on exams, as well as that other kid who got consistently mediocre grades no matter how hard they tried.
- Smart people are better at high-level thinking skills such as planning, reasoning, and solving problems. After all, your capacity to carry out these activities stem from the brainpower of your frontal lobe.
- Being smart has been linked to longevity. Studies show that smart people live longer.
The reason why intelligence has been dismissed as being “not that important” is because the prevailing dogma for the past 100 years has been that intelligence is hardwired. That is, it was thought that there’s nothing that you can do to make yourself smarter. And if there’s nothing you can do about it, you might as well undermine its importance.
However, this is beginning to change. There are new studies that show that there are ways to make yourself smarter.
Regular readers of this blog know that I’m constantly encouraging people to achieve their dreams and go after what they want in life by carving out an hour of their day and using it to pursue their dreams, goals, and ambitions.
In this blog post I’m going to show you how to achieve the goal of making yourself smarter in one-hour-a-day. You’re going to do this by spending one-hour-a-day performing three tasks. The three tasks you’ll be performing are explained below.
The Dual N-Back Task
Fluid intelligence is critical for a wide variety of cognitive tasks, and it is considered one of the most important factors in learning. It’s closely related to education and professional success. Psychologists have long believed that fluid intelligence is essentially immutable.
However, in 2008, Swiss psychologists Susanne M. Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl set forth that they could improve fluid intelligence with a simple working memory task. That is, they could make people smarter. The task is known as the dual n-back task.
I first heard of the dual n-back task in a video in which award-winning science journalist Dan Hurley, author of Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power, explains that it’s one of the seven things he tried during his foray into making himself smarter.
Basically, dual n-back games ask you the following: “What was that item that I mentioned ‘n’ times ago?”, where ‘n’ is 1, 2, 3 and so on. Here’s an example on the children’s version of the task:
- There’s a haunted house with five windows and every few seconds a cat appears in one of the windows and vanishes.
- On Level 1, the child has to remember which window the cat was just in.
- On Level 2, they have to remember where the cat was two windows ago. The time before last.
- For Level 3, they have to remember where it was three times ago.
- Level 4 is four times ago, and so on.
Experts have long regarded intelligence as being composed of two different things:
- Crystallized intelligence, which is all of your stored-up information and how-to knowledge; and
- Fluid intelligence, which–as stated before–is the capacity to learn, to solve novel problems, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things.
Long-term memory is related to crystallized intelligence. At the same time, working memory is related to fluid intelligence. Because the dual n-task has been shown to improve working memory, it also improves fluid intelligence.
Keep in mind that working memory doesn’t just help you to hold information in your head, but also to manipulate that information. Therefore, as Jaeggi explains, if you train working memory you increase the basic cognitive skills that help you to complete different complex tasks.
The dual n-back task requires only 15 to 25 minutes of work per day, five days a week. The training has been found to improve scores on tests of fluid intelligence in as little as four weeks.
If you want to make yourself smarter in one-hour-a-day, devote 20 minutes of that hour to playing the dual-n back game. You can play the dual n-back game, for free, by visiting the web site, Soak Your Head.
Learn to Play a Musical Instrument
A recent TED.com talk titled “How Playing a Musical Instrument Benefits Your Brain” explains that neuroscientists have monitored what goes on in the brain when people learn to play a musical instrument by using MRI’s and PET scanners.
When people are hooked up to these machines while performing different tasks–such as reading a book, listening to music, and so on–different areas of the brain light up depending on the activity. It turns out that when people are playing a musical instrument, multiple areas of the brain light up, processing information in amazingly intricate and fast sequences.
Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once. This is specially true of the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. Disciplined practice in playing a musical instrument strengthens our visual, auditory, and motor skills, and we can then apply those strengths to other activities.
In addition, 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.
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. It also impacts how our memory systems work. Musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions; they can create, store, and retrieve memories more quickly and efficiently.
In several studies, participants with the same levels of cognitive function and neural processing at the start were divided into two groups:
- One group learned to play a musical instrument.
- The other group did not.
The studies found that the groups that were exposed to a period of music learning showed enhancement in multiple brain areas compared to those that did not take music lessons.
Therefore, in order to make yourself smarter in one-hour-a-day, spend 25 minutes of that hour learning to play a musical instrument.
Meditation doesn’t just help you release stress and give your mood a boost. It also makes you smarter. In a UCLA study, researchers used MRI’s to scan the brains of a group of subjects who were long-time meditators. Here’s what they found:
- Their brains were larger than the brains of people who don’t meditate.
- Meditators’ brains have noticeably thicker tissue in the pre-frontal cortex, which is the region of the brain responsible for attention and concentration. In addition, the pre-frontal cortex manages higher cognitive “executive” functions like planning, decision making, and judgment.
Neuroscientists have also found that meditators have more gray matter in various regions of the brain. Gray matter is the part of the brain that holds most of the actual brain cells. In turn, increased density may reflect an increase in connectivity between the cells.
To top it all off, recent research suggests that a regular meditation practice can cause beneficial structural changes in the brain in as little as eight weeks.
So, if you want to make yourself smarter in one-hour-a-day, spend 15 minutes of that hour meditating.
To summarize, you can make yourself smarter in just one-hour-a-day by doing the following:
- Spend 20 minutes of the hour playing dual n-back games.
- Spend 25 minutes of the hour learning to play a musical instrument.
- Spend 15 minutes of the hour meditating.
Live your best life by making yourself smarter.
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