I read an article once about a neuropsychologist at a big Melbourne Hospital, who said that dozens of healthy people approached him every year convinced they had a degenerative brain disease because they kept forgetting things. These poor individuals thought they had the onset or Alzheimer’s or dementia because they frequently lost their car keys and forgot to go to social events. The reality was that they were just overwhelmed by modern life.
Why we don’t feel intelligent
The professor, Michael Saling, said the average person can only remember seven key pieces of information at once, but modern life has become so busy that we are forced to cram our head full of instructions. For example – get the dry cleaning, pick up the kids, buy some dog food, email colleagues, phone the accountant, book accommodation for holidays and collect the neighbour’s mail. Phew! No wonder so many of us believe we are losing our minds. Professor Saling said the problem is exacerbated by the amount of time we spend on computers. Computers never forget – they save work to hard drivers. And we poor humans feel that we should be able to remember as well as a computer. It’s almost inevitable to feel inadequate.
The fast pace of living is making us feel defective, but is there anything we can do to boost our intelligence and become cleverer? Once it was believed that you were born with a set IQ, but scientists have found that the brain is more malleable than originally thought – meaning you can grow grey matter and create new neural pathways. But how do you do this? Would you believe that taking up the right hobby improves intelligence! It’s important to remember that there are different types of intelligence and hobbies develop different skills. Robert Sternberg, a professor of Human Development, argued there are three types of intelligence.
The 3 Types of Intelligence
1. Analytical intelligence: This is the ability to analyse, evaluate, judge, or compare and contrast.
2. Creative intelligence: Sternberg argued this is often domain specific, meaning some people are creative musicians, others creation writers, others great painters and artists.
3. Practical Intelligence: Individuals apply their abilities to the problems they encounter daily, such as at work or in the home with family members or socially.
Here is a list of activities and hobbies shown to improve analytical, creative and practical intelligence.
Meditation has been consistently found to enhance intelligence. Time alone to focus and concentrate on positive thoughts reduces stress. Remember that constant demands and rushing leads many people to forget things and even doubt their mental competence. A mind that is calm and composed is better at learning, organising, thinking and problem solving. Regular meditation and prayer also helps to control moods and rid yourself of negative, self-defeating thoughts.
Learn an Instrument
Learning a musical instrument enhances creativity, language, analytical skills, maths and fine-motor skills. It helps the brain knit the two global hemispheres together by strengthening the corpus callosum. Confucius once said that “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without”. Musicianship also develops innovation and confidence.
Reading also increases your intelligence. Regardless of whether you read fiction or non-fiction, you are increasing your knowledge base. Reading has also been found to reduce stress levels by about 70%. Again a relaxed, non-stressed mind is better at navigating life. Innovative entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both prolific readers, have testified to the value of reading widely.
Learn a Language
Learning a foreign language is an invaluable way of increasing intelligence. It encourages your brain to recognise, locate meaning and communicate in different ways. Ultimately this helps with problem-solving tasks. Multilingual people, especially children, know how to move between two systems of speech, writing, and structure. A study by Pennsylvania State University found that linguists are good mental jugglers and can multitask. Scientists have also found that learning another language develops perception and wards off dementia. For adults with only one language, the mean age for the start of dementia is 71.4. For multilingual adults, the mean age of those first signs is 75.5.
That old adage, a healthy body, a healthy mind also rings true when it comes to intelligence. Studies have found that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells, which of course helps the brain perform. Scientists say our brains benefit the most from regular exercise. If we exercise a number of times a week the cells are flooded with BDNF, a protein which assists with memory, learning and concentration or mental acuity.
Now there is concern that sitting down for too long is damaging to our health and our brains. Moving our muscles pumps fresh blood and oxygen into the brain. This then triggers the release of all sorts of essential chemicals. When we sit for a long time, our brain is not getting enough fresh blood and oxygen to function at optimum capacity.
Other Options for Increasing Intelligence
Playing video games can improve memory reasoning and strategy skills. Playing Sudoku, puzzles, board games, and doing riddles assist the brain to form new connections and think creatively.
Would you believe gardening can benefit the brain? Growing fruit and vegetables usually leads to an improvement in diet and is a form of exercise, but gardening has been proven to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Again stress can inhibit brain performance. In a long-term study of 3,000 older people, researchers found daily gardening also reduced dementia by 36%.
Keeping a journal is also good for mental health and enhancing intelligence. Keeping a journal helps you organise daily thoughts and clarify life goals.
Essentially hobbies enhance intelligence, because they are fun! Studies consistently show that long-term stress undermines brain function. Hobbies are de-stressors and develop cognitive skills and mental dexterity, but it is important that you take up a hobby you like, and are prepared to do regularly. Remember, the right hobby, such as playing a musical instrument or reading widely, will help you maximise your potential.