“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Getting smarter takes time and genuine commitment. You need to work hard at it. Knowledge builds up, like compound interest says Warren Buffett. And he couldn’t have said that any better. You get to cash in when the time is right. All of us can build our knowledge but most of us won’t put in the effort.
We all differ in our abilities to solve problems, learn, think logically, understand and acquire new knowledge, integrate ideas, attain goals, and so on. But when you put your mind to it, you will work better, smarter and faster.
Intelligence is always work in progress so you are never too late to add to what you already know.
The good news is, you don’t have to learn everything in hours, days or even months. The focus should always be on progress.
The simplest, most direct way to be smart is to build deep knowledge about things you care about. Building knowledge of an area improves your memory, thinking, and decisions about that topic. You can gain knowledge faster about a topic you care deeply about than a random topic.
But if they are not really the kinds of things you are interested in, then you will be hard pressed to devote time and effort to learn much. One thing that most people seem to agree on is that reading is near the core of how to be smart. Don’t get in the way of your own learning. Most people don’t really think much about how they learn.
The world is changing fast and new ideas pop up everyday; incorporating them into your life will keep you engaged and relevant. It pays to crave and keep an open mind. Incredibly smart people aren’t always born that way, but rather are constantly working to improve their intelligence.
You have every opportunity to improve and enhance your way of thinking. Choose smart and stay curious.
Start getting curious about almost everything
Some people are naturally curious and others are not. Your learning should not stop at school, college or your job. Life-long learning has a lot to do with your success than you think.
Nothing beats a curious mind!
The number one way to expand your mind is through questioning everything. It’s certainly much easier to accept information that comes to us, instead of questioning it and being susceptible to having to think. Have you ever wondered why a flower is a certain color, why someone said they like us, where someone got a percentage from.
As is usually the case, asking ourselves questions, leads to more questions, and then some more. Sometimes we do get reasonable answers, but it’s important to note that the mere act of asking expands our minds and allows us to try on an infinite number of paradigms.
“Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.” — Albert Einstein
Be willing to try new things
Here is a short fascinating story of Steve Jobs’s youthful calligraphy class. After dropping out of school, the future Apple founder had a lot of time on his hands and wandered into a calligraphy course.
It seemed irrelevant at the time, but the design skills he learned were later baked into the first Macs. The takeaway: You never know what will be useful ahead of time. You just need to try new things and wait to see how they connect with the rest of your experiences later on.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
In order to have dots to connect, you need to be willing to try new things.It pays to break some of your routines sometimes. Try consciously breaking one of your habits, just for a moment. Eat a different breakfast. Take a different route to work. Sleep in the opposite direction. Read fiction.
Get out of your comfort zone once a while. You will always get the same results if you never push the boundary. If you expect something different, change things. Change how you work. Don’t do what you’ve always done.
Expose yourself to different world views
Be genuinely curious about other cultures, languages or how things are done differently by others. Different cultures could have a big positive effect on your own ideas. Read about other industries. Find out how work is done in different markets. Get out of your own perception for once. Be open to discussions that does not share your world view.
Read books on topics you usually ignore. Unconsciously, you are are more likely to search, find and read about everything you know something about. It’s a way to protect and reinforce your beliefs, perceptions and opinions.
The only way to get out of your own world view is to step outside your perception and embrace new knowledge.
Get fascinated by a lot things. If you can’t get fascinated, you won’t care enough to really learn something. You’ll just go through the motions. How do you get fascinated? Often doing something with or for other people helps to motivate me to look more deeply into something, and reading about other people who have been successful/legendary at it also fascinates me. Allow yourself to wander.
Reflect on your learning by writing
You soak up a ton of information and patterns, and you can put that into action, but when you sit down and reflect on what you’ve learned, and try to share that with others (as I’m doing right now), you force yourself to think deeply, to synthesize the knowledge and to organize it, much as you do when you teach it to others. Blogging is a great tool for reflection and sharing what you’ve learned, even if you don’t hope to make a living at it. And it’s free.
Writing expands our vocabulary, which has been shown to be directly correlated with success. Any career that involves people (that’s all of them isn’t it) is based on solid communication with a firm grasp of vocabulary and knack for self-expression.
Commit to lifelong learning
One of the best ways to gain knowledge is self-education. Period. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in a college classroom or a coffee shop. As long as you are genuinely interested in what you are studying, don’t stop. Make the most of your time and get the best education you can can offer yourself.
People who take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own are the only ones who earn a real education in this world. Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of.
Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education.
Lifelong learning will get most of your questions answered.
You don’t even have to commit long hours everyday to learning. Whatever time you decide to put in your own education, stick to it.
What are the most interesting topics you wish to know more about. The goal here is to find as many sources of ideas and knowledge as possible. Brain Pickings is a good place to start. It’s one of my favorites. And it’s free. Go subscribe and you won’t be disappointed.
Find other blogs blogs, websites or online courses that can broaden your horizon. Read expert opinions about topics of interest on Quora. It’s a game-changer in the world of question and answer websites. Look for answers to some of your most important questions at places people normally ignore.
A curiosity exercise
Write down 50 questions if you can. You can try hitting 30 if 50 is way too much. They can be anything from “How can I become rich?” to “Does the Universe have an edge and if so what is beyond it?” Just write down all the questions that come to mind, all the things that you would love to know the answers to.
Don’t stop until you’ve got the 50 or whatever number you settled on. Look through the questions and notice if any dominant themes emerge. Are there any areas of life that you seem most concerned with? Such as money, work, relationships, love, or health?
Pick your top 10 questions. The ones that seem the most important to you. You don’t have to answer them right now. It’s enough that you have organized them and know that they are important to you. Use the “Top 10 questions” technique on any area of your life where you are looking for improvements.
Embrace the genius in you!
Be productive. Make a dent in the world. Break rules. Ask lots of questions. Have fun. Love life. Start. Move, make, create, do. Just start something. Sometimes it is something big. Sometimes it is a big failure. Either way, you made a step.
Genius is much less about genetics and much more about mindset, ridiculous amounts of hard work, self-belief, focus and perseverance in the face of any setback.
Thomas Oppong is the founding editor at Alltopstartups (where he shares resources for startups and entrepreneurs) and the curator at Postanly (a free weekly newsletter that delivers the most insightful long-form posts from top publishers).