Want to Get Smarter? Neuroscience Says 1 Uncomfortable Habit Will Help You Learn Faster and Retain More

Want to Get Smarter? Neuroscience Says 1 Uncomfortable Habit Will Help You Learn Faster and Retain More

There are plenty of ways to get smarter . You can harness the power of interleaving by learning several things in succession. You can vary the way you study. You can test yourself. Oddly enough, simply getting more sleep can actually make you smarter .

What do you know, and what do you do with what you know ? Learning more quickly, and retaining more of what you learn?

Yep: Getting smarter is a business superpower.

Especially if you consider which type of “smart” you focus on. There’s Smart, and Then There’s Smart

While intelligence can be described in a number of ways, let’s focus on two.

The first, crystallized intelligence, is accumulated knowledge: facts, figures. In short, “educated.” Which is a good thing.

Except we all know people who are “book smart” but not necessarily smart smart.

That’s where the second form, fluid intelligence, comes into play. Fluid intelligence is the ability to learn and retain new information — but also to use that knowledge to solve a problem, to learn a new skill, to recall existing memories and modify them with new knowledge … In short, to have “applied intelligence.”

Becoming more educated? That’s not easy, but the process is reasonably simple. Improving fluid intelligence can be harder, which is one reason why “brain games” –crossword puzzles, Sudoku, brain training apps, etc. –are fairly popular.

But do they make you smarter?

More to the point, do they improve your fluid intelligence? Probably not.

A 2007 study published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences assessed the impact of brain training games on fluid intelligence. After participants played Tetris for several weeks, cortical thickness and cortical activity increased. Both are signs of an increase in neural connections and learned expertise.

In simple terms, the participants’ brains bulked up and got smarter. But after those first few weeks, cortical thickness and activity started to decrease, eventually returning to pre-Tetris mastery pursuit level, even though their skill levels remained high. They didn’t lose brain power.

Instead, their brains became so efficient at playing Tetris that those increased neural connections became unnecessary. Nor was it necessary to use more mental energy. As with most things, once they figured it out, it got easy. (Or as a friend says, “Everything is hard the first time.”)

Unfortunately, no matter how much work it takes to learn new information or gain new skills, “easy” doesn’t translate to improved fluid intelligence. Once knowledge or skill is in your pocket, you certainly benefit from the increase in crystallized intelligence, but your fluid intelligence soon returns to a more baseline level.

While the analogy sounds goofy, it’s like performing a physical task using muscle memory, although in this case, you’re using “brain memory.”

That’s the problem with, say, brain-training games. Solving Sudoku puzzles — and only solving Sudoku puzzles — won’t improve your fluid intelligence in any other areas, no matter how much of a Soduku master you become. It only makes you better at solving Sudoku puzzles.

The same is true for business skills. Learning how to use QuickBooks to keep your books will improve your fluid intelligence until you master it. Learning to use a new CRM application will improve your fluid intelligence until you master it. Once you achieve a level of (skill) comfort, your brain no longer has to work as hard, and all that new mental muscle starts to atrophy. And Then There’s Uncomfortable

Which leads us to the (literally) uncomfortable point.

To keep improving your fluid intelligence, once you master a new process, a new routine, a new skill, a new anything, you need to focus on learning something else. The key is to stay uncomfortable and keep challenging yourself.

Then you get to double-dip. You gain new knowledge, new skill, and new experience, and you keep your brain “bulked up” since it’s forced to continue forging new neural connections.

That double-dip also makes it easier to keep getting smarter at a biological and neurological level. The more you know, the more you can leverage the power of associative learning, the process of relating something new to something you already know. In simple terms, associated learning is like saying, “I get it: (This) is basically like (that).” The more you learn, the more likely you will be able to associate “old” knowledge with new things.

This means you only have to learn differences or nuances, and will be able to apply additional context — context that also helps with memory storage and retrieval — to the new information you learn.

All of this makes learning even easier, which a study published in Intelligence shows results in being able to learn even more quickly and retain a lot more. As the researchers write : The fastest learners, despite having the fewest number of study opportunities, remembered more and relearned faster. Win-win.

Keep pushing yourself to learn new things about your business, your customers, your industry, etc. In a broader sense, keep pushing yourself to learn new things about whatever interests you.

Not only will that help you become more successful, but you’ll also get to increase your crystallized intelligence and improve your fluid intelligence.Which will likely make you even more successful.

Read more at www.inc.com

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