Although your intelligence is partly determined by your genetic makeup, the good news is that there is plenty you can do to make yourself smarter. Your brain is extremely adaptable, and you can make yourself a better problem solver and sharper thinker simply by making a series of small changes to your daily schedule. Here are ten of the most effective.
1. Play games
Believe it or not, playing games on your console, smartphone or laptop could actually be good for your mind (as long as it’s not at the expense of all other edifying activities). Compared to watching television, playing a game encourages more processing and interaction. Studies show that brain plasticity is improved by even the most straightforward games (like PS4 Games)!
2. Rehydrate soon after waking
Unless you’ve staggered to the fridge during the night, you wake up in the morning after going 6-8 hours without liquid intake. Consequently, it’s smart to drink a couple of glasses of water within the first hour or so after waking. As well as helping your kidneys filter waste, you’ll be boosting your cognitive abilities—a range of studies on children show a strong connection between drinking more water and being more capable of successfully completing complex mental tasks.
3. Take a nap when you need to
Instead of trying to force yourself to concrete and be productive when you hit a slump, refresh your brain by going for a brief nap. Research on daytime napping shows an increase in learning speed and alertness, but be sure to keep it to about 20 minutes to avoid falling into a deep sleep that leaves you feeling groggy rather than revitalized.
4. Have a stimulating conversation
Make a point of talking to someone smart every day. Whether it’s pushing a lunchtime chat with a colleague past the stage of banal small-talk, debating current affairs with your partner, or calling a good friend up to analyze your emotions, even just 5-10 minutes spent on honest, the thoughtful conversation gives your brain a workout. In addition, there is evidence that the cognitive habits of others are socially contagious, so spending time with intelligent and reflective people could help to reshape your own thinking.
5. Do something to regulate your body clock
If you feel like you just can’t get your brain in gear in the morning and just can’t switch it off at night, take measures to reset your body clock. By just reducing your caffeine intake, eating less sugar, and spending more time in the sun, you start to get your body in sync with its environment. You’ll soon notice easier rises and sleepier evenings.
6. Listen to a TED talk while doing an easy task
While you’re sorting laundry, cooking dinner, or tidying up, play an inspiring TED talk on your laptop or smartphone. Choose a topic that inspires you, and soak in all that fascinating new information when your mind might otherwise be switching off. Whether you’re discovering cutting-edge science, learning about history, or hearing about new techniques that enhance happiness, your brain will thank you. And if you’re doing a particularly lengthy, dull task, you can probably take in a couple of talks rather than just one!
7. Drink green tea
When you are consuming caffeine, think about turning to green tea rather than coffee. It is a fantastic source of an amino acid called l-theanine, which causes measurable increases in alpha brain wave activity. The upshot is that you will feel focused like you do after a cup of coffee, but will also feel relaxed and calm. Plus, there is encouraging evidence that l-theanine supports heart health, reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.
8. Use a “brain training” app
A quick search will reveal dozens of different apps that help to improve your memory, concentration, linguistic capabilities, and numeracy skills. Some are free, while others (like Luminosity, perhaps the most famous of such apps) offer some exercises but require payment for full access. Whatever you choose, it’s not hard to shoehorn 5-10 minutes of using the app into your day. If you’re struggling for time, consider cutting back on a time-wasting activity (e.g. scrolling through your social networks) to make room for brain training.
9. Keep a notebook of thoughts and ideas
Even if you’re not the sort of person who has the inclination to keep a detailed journal, you could hone your thinking skills by starting to carry a notebook in which you write down randomly occurring thoughts and insights. You’ll encourage your brain to hold on to curiosities, reflections, and sources of inspiration.
10. Read a chapter or two
Finally, consider swapping nights spent vegetating in front of the television for time spent reading books that challenge your mind. Reading fiction has been shown to enhance your empathy, with fMRI scans revealing that your brain actually responds to certain fictional events as though you are the book’s protagonist. Once again, even if you only have 20 free minutes a day, you can still get through a couple of chapters that increase your vocabulary, exercise your imagination, and boost your ability to focus.