5 Ways To Boost Your Intelligence


I'm kind of obsessed with how the human brain works. Lately, I’ve been particularly obsessed with how to make it work better — how to think better, how to learn better and how to maximize my overall cognitive potential.

Books like Brain Rules and audio courses like "Your Best Brain" have been a big help with this. I'm also a fan of brain-supporting foods, herbs, and supplements like walnuts, bacopa, and omega-3s.

One evening, I googled “how to increase neuronal activity” (just another one of my crazy Friday nights) and I came across this Scientific American article that talked about strategies for increasing one's cognitive potential.

I was struck by the approaches outlined in the article. They made sense to me both logically and intuitively -- and they were backed by science to boot.

Originally, I wrote what you’re about to read only for myself, to help me increase my own comprehension of the material.

Then, it occurred to me that some of you might also find it helpful. So I turned it into a full blog post. 

However, I highly recommend you check out the original article by Andrea Kuszewski if you want more of the nitty-gritty science behind these principles.

I also created an even more condensed version of these principles in the form of a text graphic and set it as my phone wallpaper. You can download that graphic here.


Two Kinds Of Intelligence

For a long time, it’s been thought that intelligence could not be increased, at least not from a psychometric standpoint. However, this 2008 study suggests that might not be the whole story.

There are two main kinds of intelligence: crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence consists of mostly language and memorized facts.

Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason and solve problems independent of past knowledge. It’s being able to learn new information, retain it, then use it to solve future problems, learn new skills, etc.

This post is about increasing your fluid intelligence. It’s the kind of intelligence Einstein was talking about when he said:

Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.
— Albert Einstein

So, if training your mind to think and boosting your brain power sound like a good time to you, check out these simple but powerful strategies.

1. Seek Novelty

When you expose yourself to new things, you create new neural connections that build on each other and create an optimal environment for learning.

Also, novelty triggers the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine increases motivation and the creation of new neurons, which leads to better learning.

How to apply this principle:
Seek out new activities, experiences, and information. Explore your curiosity. Learn an instrument. Take an art class. Go to a museum. Learn a new subject.

Personally, I've been building a bookcase from scratch. Given that full-time my job consists mostly of creating content in the digital world, working with my hands is a novel activity for me.

2. Challenge Yourself

As you seek out novel activities, they will eventually start to get easier and more familiar. This is because your brain gets more efficient. The problem is, efficiency hinders cognitive growth. 

Think of when you were first learning to drive. At that stage of learning, your brain was making all sorts of new connections. In fact, your cerebral cortex -- the part of the brain involved in memory, attention, perception, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness -- actually increased in size.

But your brain eventually got efficient at doing that task and now you probably drive to work on autopilot some days. It is at this stage in learning that your brain is no longer challenged and therefore, no longer improving.

How to apply this principle:
As soon as you start to become proficient in a given subject or activity, move on to the next one. The goal is to always be challenged by what you are doing. If you can do it mindlessly, you're not maximizing your cognitive capabilities. This keeps your brain constantly making new neural connections, creating an optimal environment for future learning.

I've recently been into doing the Rubik's cube and other brain games and puzzles. It's a great alternative to mindlessly scrolling through my phone.

3. Think Creatively

Contrary to popular belief, most creative thinking requires both the right and left hemispheres working in conjunction with each other.

Creative cognition involves thinking across a wide range of topics/subjects, making connections between remote ideas, and switching back and forth between conventional and unconventional thinking. 

This type of thinking is akin to critical thinking, which is needed to solve multi-faceted, real-life problems.

How to apply this principle:
Next time you're faced with some kind of challenge or conundrum, think outside the box. Look for unconventional solutions. Pay attention to aspects of the problem that you would normally ignore.

4. Do Things The Hard Way

Just as your body needs exercise to stay healthy and strong, your brain also needs a specific kind of exercise. It needs to figure things out for itself.

It turns out our brains benefit from a certain amount of struggle. The problem is, technology can weaken our cognitive abilities if we rely on it too much.

How to apply this principle:
Use your memory instead of GPS. Dust off your spelling skills instead of always relying on auto correct. Do the math in your head instead of reaching for your calculator. You get the idea. 

5. Network

Exposing yourself to a variety of people -- especially those with differing viewpoints -- gives you opportunities to see problems from a new perspective, or offer insight in ways that you might not have thought of before.

I find that I think very different thoughts when I'm trying to explain my ideas to others than when I live only in my head.

I've also observed that social interactions stimulate my brain in very specific ways and help increase my emotional intelligence, or my awareness of and response to emotions in myself and others.

How to apply this principle:
Join a social activity or mastermind of some sort. Get out of the house and talk to other people. Stop reading articles about improving your cognitive abilities and go make some friends! Just kidding...but seriously.

This blog post was adapted from this Scientific American article by Andrea Kuszewski.

Ruben Chavez is a lifestyle philosopher, influencer, and personal development educator. His passion for personal development inspired him to create the Instagram account, ThinkGrowProsper, which has amassed over 3 million followers. Along with his blog, these platforms are his way of inspiring and connecting with thoughtful, creative, and ambitious people just like you.