Good looks can help a lot in life, but smart is the new sexy. A well-working brain can get you very far in life. You can make more money, build a higher status, talk about more meaningful subjects, create more awesome things, understand complex systems and connections, and work smarter than others.
That’s why you want to get the most out of your brain. Your IQ may be fixed, but there are no limits to how educated you can get and even more, you absolutely want to squeeze every drop of your brain’s potential.
There are a few tricks and fun exercises for how you can do that, beyond solving a crossword puzzle, playing chess, not watching TV, exercising, playing an instrument and other similar things that you already know.
To get the most out of your brain, you have to train both hemispheres – the left one and the right one. The left one is the analytical one that loves to play with facts, numbers, data and procedural thinking (convergent thinking, focused learning).
The right one is the creative one, the one with the potential to connect new dots, create awesome things and come up with brilliant ideas (divergent thinking, diffuse mode of learning and thinking).
No matter if you’re more creative or analytical, you have to practice both types of thinking. When both hemispheres work at full potential and in harmony (interchanging both types of thinking), you get the most out of your brain.
So let's look at different tips, tricks and exercises that will train your left and right brain hemispheres and help you become smarter. Ultra-smart.
Ask yourself (and others) thousands of questions like a curious little child
The first rule of becoming smarter is to always stay hungry, always stay foolish (for knowledge and trying new things); as Steve Jobs would have said. You have to nurture the curious child in you, asking thousands of questions why.
You have to doubt everything, question everything and always look for how things could be different, better or crazier. You know that annoying little kid who’s constantly asking questions? Well, you have to turn into him. Just kidding. But really do start nurturing your curiosity.
There is one important fact of life: You can never be overpaid, overdressed or overeducated.
Ask yourself how things are working as they do, ask people why they are as they are, ask them why they do things like they’re doing them, ask yourself if there are any better ways to do things than the best practices are suggesting, and so on.
Every single day, ask yourself “why” thousands of times (and where, who, what and other questions as well) and then explore. The more curious you are, the smarter you will become. Stay hungry, stay foolish.
There are a few methods that can help you when you’re asking yourself questions:
- 5 Whys and 5W1H – 5 Whys is an analytical technique that helps explore cause-and-effect relationships between things. The basic idea is to repeat the question “why?” until you find the root cause. That most often requires asking the question “why” at least five times. You can also add other Ws to the process – what, who, when and where? That means you should never ask yourself why only one time, but at least five times in a row.
- Optimal thinking – Only the right question can encourage your brain to start looking for the best solutions. That’s the main point of optimal thinking, and adding “the best, the greatest, the most rewarding etc.” to the questions is an important part of optimal thinking. Ask yourself the right questions with optimal thinking. Ask yourself: what is the best way to achieve x, what is the best way to learn y, what is the best way for you to use your brain?
- The skyscraper technique – With the skyscraper technique, you go straight for the best knowledge in a certain life area you want to improve. Then by experimenting, trying, brainstorming, connecting new patterns, thinking outside the box and forgetting best practices (in the search mode), you make it several times better. When you’re posing questions, ask yourself: how could things be 1000x better?
And here is the bonus. Curiosity doesn’t only make you smarter, it also makes life so much more interesting. Curiosity is what led mankind into the deepest oceans, highest mountains and even space.
Curiosity is what leads to major scientific discoveries, deepest relationships and the most awesome products. Curiosity is what will lead you to evolve as an individual and become the best version of yourself.
The thing is that your curiosity is as unique as you, and it ignites your creativity, imagination and the desire for adventure and discovery. Curiosity helps you learn the most important life lessons, act out of a sense of mission and in the end, curiosity helps you develop wisdom. Curiosity is the number one thing that will make you smarter.
Step 1: Ask yourself why things are as they are at least 5 times per day and do it five times in a row each time (5×5) and start exploring the world.
Write down hundreds of ideas
There are eight personality traits of ultra-successful people. They work smart and hard, they constantly improve themselves, they focus on one thing that matters most, they have passion for what they do, they push themselves through doubts and fears, they create valuable things, they persist through hard times and they have awesome ideas.
Yes, ultra-smart and successful people have awesome ideas. If you want to become smarter, you have to make your brain a mean idea generating machine. Everyone can be creative and everyone can generate and contribute great ideas. That includes you.
And there is a simple rule how to achieve that. You have to write down hundreds of ideas every day. That’s it. Every single day, you take a piece of paper or open a digital notepad, and you brainstorm ideas. You write down at least 50 ideas. 100 is even better.
Most ideas will be crap. And that’s okay. Even the most innovative, brilliant and world-known creative minds had or have many crappy ideas and they were/are often wrong. Picasso, Da Vinci, Bill Gates (here are examples of him being wrong), they all had thousands of crappy ideas.
Not only ideas, they did predictions, designs, models and sketches of many crappy things. They created thousands of artworks and engineerings, and many of them are mediocre, below average or even complete nonsense. But few people know that. They don’t even care.
Because gems are hidden among those crappy and average ideas. Now and then you manage to come up with a brilliant idea; after brainstorming hundreds of crappy ones. And then with another one. And another one.
And that's how you come up with brilliant ideas. But you have to go through all the mediocrity and dirt to get to these brilliant ideas. There is no other way.
Step 2: Every day write down at least 50 ideas, select the 5 best ones and rank them 1 – 5.
Play with ideas and concepts in a ridiculous way
When you are brainstorming ideas, you have to torture your brain a little bit. Actually, you have to torture it a lot. You have to take your brain into different dimensions and play with ideas in all kinds of crazy and ridiculous ways.
When you are playing with ideas (to come up with even better ideas), you have to keep your mind completely open and take into consideration that every idea, no matter how ridiculous it might sound, has potential.
In addition to that, you have to ask yourself a specific set of questions that will open a completely new level of creativity for you. Here they are:
- The opposite: To get your mind unfixed, always ask yourself about the opposite. How would the opposite idea look? What would your life be like if you did or believed the opposite? Argue how the opposite is better than the non-opposite. Just to open your mind.
- If there were no limitations: Close your eyes and start dreaming how your idea could be improved if there were no physical limitations or if you had unlimited resources. Dream how life could be different and how your idea could be more awesome if you had unlimited power. Life is just a dream, so dare to keep dreaming while you’re awake as well. Then you can slowly bring things back to reality.
- Knowledge transfer: Open a list of industries and start exploring how you could use your ideas in different niches and verticals. How could knowledge from one industry be applied to another. Join and merge things and ideas in a creative way.
The point of these exercises is to train the creative part of your brain. It’s a way to come up with even better ideas and improve your current ideas. Many times, the opposite is crazy and there are always limitations.
The exercise is not about fooling yourself, but only about opening your mind. You can get fixated on something so quickly, so you have to constantly make your mind un‑stuck to stay creative. Being stuck in a way of thinking means being unsmart.
Step 3: Stretch your ideas to ridiculous proportions and then back to reality again.
Build, prototype and put things to the test immediately
Creative ideas are important, but they are far from enough. Even good ideas are a dime a dozen. What really counts is bringing ideas to life as fast as possible. You can achieve that with rapid prototyping. Today with all the tools, materials, inexpensive technology procedures and apps you can quickly bring your best ideas to life. On top of that, it’s fun.
You are probably thinking to yourself: but prototyping is for designers and “do-it-yourself” guys who are great with tools. That’s cute belief, but it’s wrong! There are hundreds of ways to prototype and there are absolutely a few ways how you can materialize and express your ideas.
Every single smart person prototypes, builds, sketches, creates and outlines things. There is always a very concrete intellectual output in the end (code, article, equation, physical prototype etc.) that smart people make; but first there is a draft version of something. And a brilliant draft version gets created among many crappy draft versions. That’s why you have to prototype and build a lot to become smarter.
Much like you have to brainstorm many ideas to get to the best ones, so you have to build many things to shape a few brilliant solutions and intellectual masterpieces. There is unfortunately no other, easier way to become smarter. You have to build things, you have to create, play with ideas and have fun while doing it.
- Sketch things with pen and paper
- 3D print your ideas
- Draw mockups and models
- Design your crazy idea in an image-editing program
- Create mind maps
- Prepare a template
- Write an outline
- Do a calculation or brainstorm an equation
- Code a landing page
- Prepare a storyboard
- Shoot a video
- Record a podcast
- Prepare a flowchart
- Do a PowerPoint presentation
- Make origami
- Cut out wood or use any kind of material to present your ideas
The only reason why you aren’t materializing your ideas is because your inner creative child has been killed, you doubt yourself or are too lazy to do it. Please know that there is no way to become smarter without doing new things.
So push yourself out of the comfort zone. The best thing you can do to become smarter and use the full potential of your brain is to prototype and build things. Period. Here’s the proof:
- Albert Einstein – drew equations on a blackboard
- Bill Gates – wrote code
- William Shakespeare – wrote poetry
- Nikola Tesla – built physical prototypes
- You – what is the best thing you can create? What is the medium that suits you best?
Step 4: Be constantly creating, be constantly building things, with the creative or analytical part of your mind.
Do the usual differently and always try new things
One great way to become smarter is to constantly expose yourself to a little bit of discomfort and mildly stressful situations. We know three zones when it comes to this.
The comfort zone, learning zone and panic zone. You enter the panic zone when you undertake a challenge that’s way off from your capabilities. You don’t want to go there, because you will only hurt yourself.
On the other hand, if you stay in the comfort zone, you can’t become smarter, you’re only turning into a zombie. But the learning zone is where the magic happens. In the learning zone is where you are becoming smarter.
When you are exposed to a new situation that’s a little bit challenging, but you can still manage it, new brain synapses grow. You learn in the real world. We all have a tendency to stay in the same patterns, in the comfort zone.
That’s why you constantly have to push yourself out of it. You do that in two ways, by (1) doing the usual differently and by (2) doing completely new things.
Here are a few ideas how you can become smarter:
- Write with your non-dominant hand for a while every day
- Don’t always take the same route when commuting
- Try to create the same thing with a different software or application
- Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand
- Read a book from a completely new field you aren’t interested in at all
- Try a new sport or do a new type of exercise
- Start cooking your own meals
- Start doing brain exercises you’ve never done before
- Do something new you’ve never done before (one conversation with a stranger, go zip‑lining or play paintball, play a new board game)
- Travel, travel, travel or learn a new language
Step 5: Constantly expose yourself to new things. There are so many things you can do, most of them are fun and yes, as a side effect, you are becoming smarter.
Spend time with smart people
You probably know this quote: “If you are the smartest person in a room, you are in the wrong room”. One of the best ways to become smarter is to spend as much time as possible with smart people.
That’s my favorite way of becoming smarter and smarter. I always integrated myself into communities of smart people and I always got a lot out of it.
One thing that I realized is that mediocre people doubt you, envy you and never challenge you. They are afraid to share their intellectual “secrets” and they always compete with you in all ridiculous ways. But that only means they’re afraid of you becoming better and if they’re afraid, they aren’t really good at what they do.
The right smart people, on the other hand, have no problem showing you how to do things, they always challenge your thinking, contribute to your ideas and appreciate all the collective intellectual effort.
If you assume that surrounding yourself with smart people is hard, it’s not. It’s extremely easy. As mentioned, smart people with the right character are always prepared to help you on your way to becoming a smarter person. Here are only a few options among the many you have for surrounding yourself with smart people:
- Get a mentor
- Join a meetup group
- Join a quality online forum
- Form yourself a mastermind group
- Go back to school
- Start a new hobby
- Work for a company where there are a bunch of smart people
- Search for a boss you can learn from and whom you will respect
- Get a geeky girlfriend or boyfriend
- Help a geeky neighbor become more cool and spend time together
Step 6: Surround yourself with smart people.
In the end you have to do the hard stuff if you want to become smarter
Everything until now was the fun part of how to become smarter. It’s pleasant to spend time with smart people. It’s always fun to try new things. It’s amusing and you feel alive when you build and create things. Who doesn’t like to ask questions and play with ideas?
But to really become smarter, doing only the fun stuff isn’t enough.
If you want to really become smarter, you have to strategically, systematically and consistently study and learn. You have to know how to study and you have to become a student for life. That’s really the best way to become smart. The proven way to do it.
Here are all the hard things that will really help you become smarter:
- Read: One of the best way to become smarter is to read. And read a lot. Reading opens new perspectives and angles to you, it enables you to familiarize yourself with how other people see the world, acquire skills, improve your communication abilities and much more. You can understand the world and yourself much better.
- Sit down and reflect: Performing regular reflection helps you train the analytical part of your brain and at the same time better understand yourself and improve your life strategy. Much like you should take time to read, so you should take time to deliberately think and reflect. Reflection is nothing but asking yourself tough questions to better understand what’s going on with you and others.
- Consistent learning with spaced repetition: The hardest thing to do is to consistently and deliberately learn and practice every day. But that’s the number one thing that makes you smarter. It’s the fast lane to super-smart. When you learn, you have to do all the good learning practices, like performing elaborative interrogation, self-explanation, employing mnemonics, doing self-testing, interleaved practice and trying to recall what you read over and over again.
That’s the hard part. Daily taking at least one to two hours to read, reflect and deliberately practice and learn by using the best learning techniques we know. It’s not easy to do that, especially if you have a day job, but that’s what will make you ultra-smart in the end.
You have to turn off the TV, disengage from social networks and instead invest that time in learning. See it as an investment in yourself. And you should definitely always invest in yourself, because you are the investment that has the potential to pay the highest dividends.
Step 7: Become a lifelong student and make your brain super-strong.
Now you know what to do to become smarter. Stay curious, doubt everything and regularly ask yourself and others tough questions, brainstorm and play with ideas, build things, constantly collect new experiences, never settle in the known behavioral patterns for too long, surround yourself with smart people, and take time every day for deliberate practice and learning.
Do these things and you will become ultra-smart and ultra-sexy. It’s now or never.