How to Boost Your Intelligence? 10 Tips From Science

This article provides you with tips to help you become a more intelligent human being. Ignore them at your own risk!

1. Sleep More

Sleep deprivation reduces your intelligence [Killgore 2008]. Say, you decide to sleep only six instead of eight hours from now on. Congratulations, you’ve gained 8% more time which you could theoretically use to be more productive. However, scientific research papers prove that if you sleep less than seven hours, you’ll become dumber and less healthy: you’ll develop diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression, and die earlier [Oxford 2015]. Reducing your daily sleep intake will reduce your productivity. So sleeping for eight hours is one of those low-hanging fruits which you’d be crazy to ignore.

2. Don’t Do Drugs

While it’s hard to increase your intelligence, it’s very easy to decrease it. Medical science shows that alcohol consumption negatively correlates with IQ measurements [Mattson 1997]. Chronic excessive drinkers are more likely to develop cognitive deficits [Pfefferbaum 1988]. An extensive meta-study based on 21 research papers [Ewing 2014] shows that young people who consume alcohol regularly have smaller volumes of grey and white matter in specific brain areas. The volume of white matter is known to be associated with reduced IQ values [Mulhern 2001].

Those studies indicate that alcohol consumption correlates with reduced IQ values. Similar results can be observed for other types of drugs. Consuming five joints of Marijuana per week reduces your IQ by 5.1 points as discovered in a study on seventy young adults in their teens and twenties [Fried 2002]. But there’s good news: the negative effect on IQ seems to be only temporary—so if you’d stop consuming Marijuana now, you’ve got a good chance of recovering from your reduced IQ level.

It’s, therefore, a no-brainer (literally) to remove all types of drugs from your life. You’ll quickly observe a positive effect on your daily intelligence and clarity of thinking.

3. Eat Brain Foods

A 2017 study shows that high levels of Omega-3 improve blood flow in your brain [Amen 2017]. Thus, eating Omega-3 rich foods such as fish and flax seeds may boost your brain function. A large body of research confirms that antioxidants reduce your chance of developing Alzheimer’s and prevent a reduction of your cognitive function with old age [Perrig 1997]. Consuming foods (fruits and vegetables) that are rich with antioxidants has numerous other health benefits such as reducing the degenerative impact of free radicals in your body and, particularly, your brain [Kaur 2001].

A very robust research finding is that lifelong coffee consumption reduces the negative effects of aging and prevents brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s [Nehlig 2016]. Roughly speaking, eat more fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, cocoa, coffee, and soy products and lead a more intelligent life.

4. Meditate

There are many positive effects associated with meditation. For example, meditation decreases your stress level and increases your IQ [Singh 2012]. A study performed on 351 full-time working adults showed that there’s a positive correlation (causal or not) between emotional intelligence and meditation [Chu 2010]. Another study shows that a short meditation course reduces depression, anxiety, and stress [Schreiner 2008]. Yet another study shows that meditation can reduce the decline of fluid intelligence when aging [Gard 2014]. Last but not least, meditation is scientifically proven to improve your sleep quality and has, therefore, positive effects on your cognitive abilities in multiple dimensions [Black 2015]. So if you want to increase your intelligent behavior while having a calmer and less stressful life, why not meditate for twenty minutes every day?

5. Exercise

Physical exercise has a (modest) positive correlation with IQ [Killgore 2012]. But is it a causal relation or do intelligent people simply exercise more? In fact, a 2012 study discovers a causal relationship: people who exercise more can improve their intelligence and reduce the cognitive decline with old age [O’Callaghan 2012]. With countless additional (health) benefits such as increased life expectancy, health, and overall quality of life [Penedo 2005], injecting a dose of physical exercise into your day is another powerful ingredient towards a more intelligent form of living.

6. Read More Books

People who read more books tap into the knowledge of the world. For almost any problem you encounter in life, another human being has already spent decades researching it—and writing a book about how to solve it.

Imagine you’d start reading one book per week in your field (say, you are a programmer). You don’t have to read scientific studies to know that your work success will skyrocket. Because of this one habit, you’ll quickly become one of the most knowledgeable workers in your field. Joining the top 1% in your field will be highly profitable—it doesn’t matter which field you are in. If you assume that your pay is roughly proportional to your productivity (otherwise, change your job or become self-employed), your income will start to grow rapidly. Just by implementing this one reading habit.

Successful leaders read multiple books per month: Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos. Reading books for success, achievement, and self-development may easily be one of the main differentiating factors between the rich and the poor [Corley 2010]. But even pleasure reading has been shown to have a positive impact on academic performance [Whitten 2016].

You may argue that you don’t have a lot of time reading books. But this is unlikely to be true: today’s youth spends 2-3 hours per day watching television and playing games on the computer [Bucksch 2016]. So why not replace 30-40 minutes of your screen time with reading books in your field (or listen to audiobooks while being in commute)? This simple habit will bring great success in your life.

7. Set Goals

Here’s another factor for success: set goals. A wildly popular psychological research paper [Locke 2006] investigated the performance of tens of thousands of people with different ages, nationalities, and varying demographic factors. The result: setting goals is a robust predictor of many success measures—especially monetary and production-related goals.

It doesn’t matter how you approach goal-setting. Simply decide now for one goal-setting approach and keep doing it for the rest of your life. For example, every morning when you start with your work, write down your life goals, 5-year goals, 1-year goals, 1-month goals, and daily goals. A powerful strategy for success and a great way of fostering intelligent behavior in your everyday life!

8. Focus

No matter how smart you are, if you spread your focus, you’ll reduce your intelligent behavior and problem-solving skills. Say your goal is to become a great coder. But you also want to learn the piano, play football and chess, study four different languages, become a master cook, have five kids, and travel the world. At the same time, your friend Alice focuses on coding only. She will outperform you while you won’t reach mastery level in any of your endeavors: in every single field, there will be people who focus on this field and this field only. Those people will crush it while you’ll become average at best. Alice spends ten hours every day studying code, and you can invest only one or two hours per day given your diverse focus. Time is your scarcest resource. There’s a famous Russian saying: if you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither one.

So what to do? The answer is simple: focus on one thing. Any great master focuses their time and energy on one field. Focus on one career, one marriage, one life. Studies confirm that increased focus leads to a higher level of creative performance [Sellier 2011]. Focus is a powerful predictor of success for individuals who push forward companies, open-source projects, and social media presence [Tsay 2012]. The intelligent professional focuses on one thing: becoming a more intelligent human-being by implementing these tips.

9. Play Your Strengths

There is more to be gained by improving your strengths than by mitigating your weaknesses. Why? Because you’ve got a lot more weaknesses than strengths. If you try to overcome all weaknesses, you’ll become average in some of them. Does this sound like a strategy for success and intelligent behavior? Follow the advice of management genius Peter Drucker: perform from your strengths [Drucker 2008]. Strength-based training approaches are usually employed when training mental toughness of high-performance athletes [Setyawati 2016].

Playing strengths is good advice for organizations, too.
An organization where people can play their strengths develops a higher level of collective intelligence than organizations where each person must compensate for their own weaknesses. In the former organization, there’s always another person who compensates your weaknesses with their strengths—this is the source of synergy. There’s nothing as powerful as a group of people compensating for each other’s weaknesses with each person’s strengths. This way, one plus one can truly become three.

10. Play Brain Games

Brain games can improve fluid intelligence as discovered in a highly popular 2008 article [Jaeggi 2008]. The article has had a lasting impact on the science of brain games— thousands of follow-up articles discussed the extent of the concrete benefits of brain games. While there hasn’t been a conclusive study about how much brain games improve fluid intelligence, it is undisputed that brain games improve performance on tasks that are similar to the ones that are trained [Makin 2016].

Millions of people today solve brain games to keep their brain fit while having fun in the process. A large part of the performance improvement addresses cognitive performance in specific tasks (these improvements are non-transferable). However, these specific tasks are often not important for practical matters. After all, how does it help you in practice to be able to solve Sudokus? This book channels the non-transferable part of improvement towards a specific task with high-value: programming. By tapping into computational intelligence in combination with improving your individual intelligence, you’ll experience meaningful benefits in your life.

Where to Go From Here?

This article is originally written for our book “Brain Games Python” (November 2019). Check it out if you want to improve your brain function and Python skills at the same time!


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