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To be successful in business, you need a nimble mind to react to problems faster and you need to be adept at understanding whatever is thrown your way. In short, your ability to succeed is often determined by how smart you are.
With practice, anyone can increase their knowledge base, sharpen their intellect and learn new skills. There are a number of ways to boost your cognitive skills and expand your mental capacity. We should aim to spend time every day learning something new. The more we learn and the more deeply we understand, the better we can improve our brain performance and increase our capacity to learn.
The list below includes the best ways to engage your mind and grow your intelligence so you can meet the ever-mounting challenges you face. By following these seven tips, you can become a little smarter every week.
1. Spend time reading every day.
The mind is like a muscle: the more you use it the stronger it will become. Reading is an important element for developing your mind, as it’s one of the basic ways we gain knowledge and learn.
Through reading, you can discover new things and educate yourself on any topic. Reading also helps develop your creative side by engaging your imagination. Words, both spoken and written, are the building blocks of our social existence — and through words, you can go anywhere in the world.
If you’re looking to quickly grow your knowledge, one easy way is to speed up your reading so you can charge through books, written material and even online articles (like this one!). Most people read at an average rate of 250 words per minute. At that rate, it would take you about six minutes to read this article. But with speed reading, you could cut that time in half. Just remember, the goal is to help you rapidly consume more information, not just zoom past words without fully comprehending their meaning.
2. Focus on building a deeper understanding.
Becoming smarter takes more than just absorbing information — true wisdom comes from deeply understanding a subject. The most successful people consistently outpace everyone else because they’re able to quickly learn new skills, adapt to changes and work both collaboratively and independently.
They use a deep and meaningful knowledge of their world and a flexible mindset to understand problems and quickly come up with solutions. Their deep knowledge base gives them the foundation they need to perform.
Work to steadily build a deep and meaningful knowledge base on a few key topics and issues. Be honest with yourself about areas you are weak in and seek to reinforce your understanding of important subjects until you have a rock-solid foundation that you can build on. Knowledge is cumulative, so start with the basics. You need to have a firm grasp of how something works before you can fix it. It’s good to have a breadth of knowledge, but it’s also important to take “deep dives” to truly understand difficult and complex issues.
3. Constantly question and seek clarification.
Asking questions is the single most important factor in becoming smarter. Innovation always begins by asking questions and being curious. There is value in asking questions because it’s the way we push the boundaries of our world and our mind. That’s why it’s so important to hone a curious, open mind by constantly questioning everything.
It’s not just a matter of asking questions; you should be asking insightful questions that probe the validity of assumptions, analyze logic and explore the unknown. Practice asking questions that get to the heart of a matter and cultivate a willingness to push for answers.
Like anything else, developing this skill takes time. As you’re working, reading or engaging in activities, keep a running log of questions that come to mind about anything and everything that you’re involved with. Don’t be afraid to seek clarification when something isn’t clear.
4. Diversify your day.
One of the best ways to increase your intelligence involves flexing different areas of your brain. You aren’t going to get any smarter by doing the same ol’, same ol’ every day. While having a routine is a good thing (so your body knows when to get up and when it’s bedtime), you don’t want to spend your waking hours stuck in a rut.
By inviting a little novelty into your daily life, you keep things fresh and interesting. That might mean checking out a new place for lunch, or going for a midday stroll on which you pay attention to the sights and sounds around you. You can also mix things up during working hours by simply finding new ways of doing your everyday tasks.
If you’ve been working for a while on one thing, try switching to something else. Look for ways to do things slightly differently. This will fend off boredom and help your mind stay sharp and focused. By mixing things up, you’ll use parts of your brain a little differently each day. This helps you increase your intelligence by forcing you to flex your brainpower in different ways — think of this as an overall workout for your brain.
5. Review learned information.
We recall new information most crisply right after we’ve learned it. If you don’t use that information again soon after you’ve learned it, it will quickly fade from your mind. After a few days, we may only be able to recall a little of what we initially learned. In order to increase our ability to remember, we need to store this information in our long-term memory, and the best way to do this is to frequently review what we’ve learned until it’s locked in our memory banks.
Make notes while reading or researching something, or take a few minutes when you’re done and write down the main points. Then spend even a few minutes every day reviewing this material. It takes a little effort, but once it’s a habit you’ll be amazed at how well a quick review of the information will help confirm that you understand it — and help you see what areas you need to focus on.
You can also try rewriting the information or reorganizing your notes — this will actively reinforce what you’ve learned. The act of rewriting notes helps us clarify our understanding of a topic and reduces the time it takes us to “relearn” it when we need to use that knowledge in the future.
6. Keep track of your ideas.
As you work to build your knowledge base, you’ll find your mind expanding and growing in new ways. If you’re filling your brain with great information, your mind is going to do its thing and start interpreting that information in a useful way. You may find that you’ve suddenly become an idea machine. You’ll start experiencing “aha moments” — those little breakthroughs where you suddenly connect one idea to another to form an even bigger and better idea.
Make sure you’re taking note of these ideas. Write them down, keep them handy and make sure you continue to refer back to them. Remember, even your biggest and best ideas are utterly useless unless you actually do something with them. If you have a stroke of genius but lose your train of thought and never go back to build on that idea or refine it — well, then you’ve just missed a great opportunity!
Not all of your new ideas are going to be winners. Some may be fleeting or simply won’t pan out. But once in a while, you might have a lightbulb moment that could change your life.
7. Allow yourself to change.
Whether we realize it or not, sometimes we hold ourselves back. There are times when even the smartest people allow themselves to become bound to obsolete or erroneous ideas and ways of thinking. To become truly intelligent, you must allow yourself to make mistakes, to take risks and leap at opportunity and learn from all these experiences.
You must allow yourself to change, to be open to new things and to ultimately become a different, better version of yourself. By opening yourself up to new sources of knowledge and pushing your mind to learn new things, you may ultimately question some of your old, foundational thinking. You may find that some of your perceptions were off, or that your viewpoints weren’t grounded in fact.
Challenge ideas, discuss them with others, hear out other sides and flex your analytical skills. But be open to changing your mind. And above all, give yourself room to grow and continue on your path to seeking wisdom. As you become smarter, success will follow.