No one dares say it but the fear that our brain is slowing down, that we miss things we never used to, that age and time are finally catching up is something we all worry about. We can stand, perhaps not being as fresh-faced or as fast to catch a ball or as energetic in the morning as we used to be. These are things that are inevitable, we know. But to think that we may be no longer as razor-sharp in our thoughts as we were in the past and not know it, is terrifying.
Luckily, unlike the muscles of the body the brain can continue to improve all the time. But like the muscles of the body it needs to be exercises in order for it to do so. If you’re ready to make yourself smarter there are ten things you can commit to doing differently, right now.
- Take a walk every morning (and be intentional) – start the day with a walk and notice things along the way so that your morning walk is part of your taking stock of your world This not only helps your brain get on track early in the day but it helps sharpen memory and develop a better attention span.
- Look for solutions (find patterns) – focus on problems and all you can feel is anxiety. But turn things on their head, look at the solutions and focus on how to best implement them and problems suddenly appear way less terrifying. More than that dealing with the implementation intricacies of proposed solutions helps develop an approach that fosters innovation. By looking for patterns you learn to utilize one of the brain's oldest capabilities.
- Prioritize your time (feel the urgency) – everything comes at us from all sides almost at once. But not everything can be equally important. It is a mistake to focus on what has your attention last. It is also a mistake to guilt yourself into spreading yourself so thin that you become ineffectual. It is OK to let people down when there is a really good reason for it. But there has to be a really good reason for it which means you really need to prioritize your time.
- Develop Discipline (practice restraint) – stick to what you do each day. This means you need to plan your work and then (just to be glib) to work your plan. Understand what you are doing and then work it intelligently by assessing its effectiveness, adjusting and continuing.
- Control your Excitement (exercise self-control) – nothing will kill your ability to get work done faster than starting the day with a surfeit of excitement. Pleasant as it may feel it is also emotionally draining and you need your emotional battery to power you through the day, every day. Get excited by all means. But then control that excitement, harnessing the energy you feel productively to work your plan.
- Control your emotions (be rational) – on the battlefield emotions will get you killed. The same goes for business, though the killing may be metaphorical. While we all love and admire passion that leads to tenacity an inability to control how you feel will lead to making the wrong decisions more times than it will lead to making the right ones. Wrong decision create problems and problems accumulate. An accumulation of problems will kill your business.
- Cut out Distractions (simplify) – those with a tone of work on their plate each day rarely spend time agonizing over what to wear in the morning or what to have for lunch. They have these things worked out way in advance and stick to the same or very limited choices each and every day. Silly as that may seem it frees the brain to work on other things which are way more important and the habit you develop of simplifying life this way provides a ready-made strategy for dealing with the complexities of the modern world.
- Exercise (de-compress and rejuvenate) – do some really hard endurance training. Irisin is a molecule released in the brain that promotes better brain health by protecting against neural degeneration. As it happens it is produced during hard, endurance training. The hyper-oxygenation that is the norm as you push your VO2 Max to the limit also helps boost brain power and raise your IQ a few points.
- Limit the Drama in Your Life (be selective) – all life is a drama. It is inevitable. Having said that, when it comes to “getting into it”, it helps to be selective. After all you really have a finite amount of energy to burn through each day. Exhaust it and you’re unlikely to ever get to where you want to get to.
- Practice (improve) – finally just as with the old joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall practice is what will make you both better at what you do and smarter. Seriously, the repetition of specific tasks creates fresh neural pathways in the brain and strengthens the connection of the networks associated with specific tasks, raising your IQ because the stronger connectivity of the neural networks increases your ability to think.
Really though all of these ten actions trigger cognitive changes that take advantage of the neuroplasticity of the brain to deliver a handy way to actually become a smarter person.
Just for good measure I've thrown in a freebie:
- Stay hungry (literally). Don’t eat when you’re doing something really important. It would appear the body feels then that getting the task done requires everything you have and strives to give it to you.
Now, there’s no excuse for not ending the year way smarter than you started it.
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