How can you become a smarter, sharper version of your current self?
Think about the smartest person you know or have heard of. Who comes to mind and how would you describe them? What traits, strengths, and admiral qualities do they have?
Most likely, they’re someone who is well informed, educated, clever, quick witted, and intelligent. They seem to just “get” things with ease and might be smart on more than just one subject.
Learning how to be smarter is absolutely something you can do. Intelligence isn’t something you either have or don’t have. It is up to you to develop the skills of a lifelong learner; with those on your side, you can’t help but keep getting smarter every day.
So if you’re ready to be a smarter you, we’re sharing simple, straightforward steps you can take to be smarter today and continue for the rest of your life.
Don’t think that “smart” is limited to just one kind
Before diving into how you can be smarter, it’s important to realize that there is more than just one kind of smart, beyond the stereotypical “book-smart” smart.
The University of California, Riverside School of Business summarizes developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s 9 domains of intelligence below:
- Naturalistic intelligence is someone who connects with nature and animals, has a green thumb and is sensitive to the natural world around them. Today, one with this intelligence might be a chef or botanist.
- Musical intelligence describes people who are sensitive to sounds, recognizing tone, rhythm, timbre, and pitch with ease, “able to detect, generate, reproduce, and contemplate music.” People with this intelligence tend to be musicians, composers, vocalists, and conductors.
- Logical-mathematical intelligence is a person who can easily calculate mathematical operations, hypotheses, and propositions. They might be drawn to puzzles, strategy games, or experiments. Think scientists and mathematicians.
- Existential intelligence focuses on deep thoughts and exploring questions surrounding the why’s and how’s of life and death, like a philosopher does.
- Interpersonal intelligence or “people smart” people interact with, understand and communicate well with others, through verbal and nonverbal methods. For example, politicians, social workers, actors, and teachers display this kind of intelligence.
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are people that have “body smart” skills allowing them to be graceful and coordinated, and have great timing and mind-body harmony. These people tend to be athletes, surgeons, or craftspeople.
- Linguistic intelligence describes people that are “word smart,” expressing complex meanings and thoughts through language. Think journalist, public speaker, and poet.
- Intrapersonal intelligence involves a deep awareness of one’s own emotions, thoughts, and having an understanding of the human condition more widely. These people are often philosophers, spiritual leaders, writers, and psychologists.
- Spatial intelligence allows a person to see things in three dimensions, and have dynamic imaginations, mental imagery, and artistic and graphic skills. Some examples include architects, sculptors, painters, pilots, and sailors.
The “human brain is wired with a wide range of cognitive abilities” and these 9 domains show just how varied those abilities can be.
If you see yourself in one or more of these 9 domains, you can take steps to cultivate that particular intelligence more fully, diving into things specifically associated with that intelligence to hone it. But there are also simple steps you can take to learn how to be smarter, no matter what type of intelligence you’re trying to develop.
How to be smarter: 5 exercises you can do today
Working your brain like a muscle, flexing it and challenging it, will make you smarter. The more capable your mind, the more easily you will take in new information and process it into your life. So here are 5 simple ways you can exercise your mind to be primed for learning.
1. Move your body. Not only does exercising strengthen and work your physical body, but it is also beneficial to your mind. Our bodies are actually growing brain cells all the time, but exercising our muscles helps the body produce a protein that grows even more brain cells, which in turn makes us smarter. New, stronger muscles make new proteins, resulting in a sharper you!
Keep a regular exercise schedule, train for a race, or set exercise related goals to stay motivated. Try interval training for 30 minutes if you’re short on time, explore different exercise classes at the gym or online, use the outdoors as your gym, or work in yoga during your lunch break. Be creative with your time so your body stays fit and your mind sharp. Added benefits include feeling less stressed and having a better mood
2. Pick up a good read. Crack open a book and fall into a new world. Whether it’s nonfiction or fiction, studies show reading definitely makes you smarter by working multiple parts of your brain at once. Reading has been shown to have numerous benefits:
- Expands vocabulary
- Increases memory function
- Improves reading comprehension
- Increases the capacity to empathize and understand others, especially if you’re reading literary fiction
- Reduces stress
- Improves communication skills
Not only that, but reading opens you up to new perspectives, which is a critical part of ongoing learning. When you start to see things from others’ viewpoints, it gives you a whole new way to think about things you may already know. When your worldview expands, so does your ability to keep learning and growing.
The bottom line for all of these benefits: they make you a smarter person overall. If you need ideas for what to read, join a book club, utilize a book concierge like NPR’s, or try reading books specifically geared towards making you smarter, snagging ideas from a list of books like this one from Business.com
3. Set up a challenge for yourself. Try something completely new to challenge your brain:
- Learn and study a new subject through an online or in person class, especially if it’s something that you don’t already have some background in
- Pick up a new skill, like knitting, woodwork, painting, or lettering, no matter how poorly it seems like you’re doing when you start out
- Learn a new instrument (or your first one)
- Learn a new language by using workbooks, online resources, apps like Duolingo, or through YouTube channels
Learning a new language improves cognitive skills unrelated to language, and improves your concentration and memory. The same goes for learning an instrument; regularly practicing an instrument requires you to use multiple senses (hearing, vision, and touch) meaning you’re better able to integrate information from these different senses, stimulating the brain in new ways.
Shorter term, less time-consuming challenge ideas might be learning and using a new word every day, finding new ways to get from point A to point B, or finally learning how to take care of your garden and the different plants you’re growing. All of these force your brain out of the usual daily rut it’s gotten used to, adapting it to change.
If you do decide to learn a new language, celebrate and treat yourself for accomplishing the challenge by traveling to the country where the language is spoken or maybe just having dinner at a restaurant that serves that country’s cuisine. Immersing yourself in a new culture and environment is also an intelligence-boosting challenge!
4. Take time to do the Sunday puzzles, any day of the week. Work out your brain in fun, interactive ways with others or just on your own through games like these:
- Crossword puzzles
- Word games
- Board games
- Video games
- Brain training games
These aren’t time wasters, but rather tools that improve your memory and sharpen your cognitive skills, increasing its neuroplasticity for a smarter you!
It’s a great way to keep learning and growing in your daily life, since it’s fun in addition to being a challenge. If you force yourself to do too much hard work, you risk burning out, so don’t discount the value of a challenging but fun game.
5. Teach, share, and explain. Learning new skills and information is the first step towards becoming smarter. But taking it a step further, to teach and explain it to another person or just talking about it out loud, has an added benefit. This encourages your brain to analyze and translate the information or ideas you learned into your own words.
By going through this process, you might realize you don’t know a particular concept that well, hadn’t thought of something from that angle before, or are motivated to go back and review material or steps with a new perspective. Reviewing material in particular tests your cumulative knowledge, but ultimately, the entire process works your brain in new ways.
How to be smarter at any age
Awaken that inner child in yourself and remember how fun it is to learn. Don’t let fear take over; taking steps to be a smarter version of your current self may seem daunting the older you get, in light of the adage you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But you can do it – don’t be afraid to try, fail (multiple times), then find success or at least enjoyment.
Through the process of trying to become smarter, remember to practice a having growth mindset. Harvard Business Review’s article, What Having A Growth Mindset Actually Means, teases apart the concept of a growth mindset compared to how people have interpreted it over time. Essentially, a growth mindset means that you believe your talents can be developed, with hard work, strategies, and feedback/input from others. This compares to a fixed mindset, where one believes their abilities are fixed and that they’re either born with them or without them.
Having a growth mindset in your endeavor to be smarter is important because realizing your current level of smarts isn’t fixed will allow you to grow and become smarter. Your mindset matters just as much as the approaches and strategies you take to become smarter. Believe in yourself first!