If you want to witness the magic of the human brain in action, play the matching game with a 4-year-old — you know, the classic game where the tiles are arranged face down and players take turns flipping them over to find pairs.
You’ll see what I mean as you watch that wonderful little brain doing its thing. It’s amazing, and when you realize you’ve been outdueled in a brain game by a child, it’s just a bit humbling.
Obviously, young children develop, learn, and change very quickly. They show drastic improvement in academic, physical, and social skills all the time. One day they can’t, and literally the next day they can. Does it make you a little bit jealous? Imagine what you could accomplish with that amazing ability.
Well, there is hope for us adults. We’ve known for quite a while that IQ can be increased, that you’re not just stuck with what you’re born with. Andrea Kuszewski explains that fluid intelligence, which refers to the capacity to learn new things, retains that information, uses it to solve new problems, and can be strengthened over time. She suggests that if one implements five elements into life every day, or at least as much as possible, cognitive capacity can be increased. Those elements are to seek novelty, challenge yourself, think creatively, do things the hard way, and network.
So, is it any wonder that children learn at the rate they do? Every sight, sound, word, taste — everything — is new and novel to a child. And, when you’re a kid, everything is challenging. Kids make use of creativity to solve problems from the time they are born. They discover the easy way via the hard way. And finally, they are constantly networking by simply meeting new people all the time.
So, kids are engaging in brain strengthening activities all the time, almost by default. For us adults, it likely takes a more concerted effort. It’s so easy to stay within our comfort zones, stick with our routines, and never change anything up. Doing that may be practical, productive and convenient… it’s just not making us any smarter.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you’re building your intelligence:
1. Seek novelty.
Novel doesn’t need to mean outlandish; it just means new to you. New experiences, new people, new anything other than “what we’ve always done.” Be open to new experiences and take advantage of opportunities when you have them.
2. Challenge yourself.
The brain, like any muscle in your body, gets stronger when you offer it some resistance. You know you’re good at what you do, but make sure you continue to take on challenges that stimulate your mind and take you outside your comfort zone.
3. Think creatively.
Creativity has countless benefits. Not only does thinking creatively increase our intelligence, it also enhances our productivity, efficiency, success, and happiness. It’s not just artists and what we normally think of as creative types — we’re all creative. Just allow your brain to do the work, instead of just asking it to memorize and regurgitate information.
4. Do things the hard way.
This is the brain exercise. It doesn’t mean making your life an unbearable struggle at every turn. But when you can, and when it’s practical, challenge yourself a little bit at a time. Figure the tip without a calculator, find your way without GPS, or make your own sauerkraut.
It probably sounds like a burden to expose yourself to novelty and find ways to be creative if you don’t exactly know where to look. This is where networking comes in. Let other people show you the way. The more people you meet, the more you’re exposed to and the more you experience.
Networking, on its own, can seem daunting for many of us and can certainly lead us outside our comfort zone. For the introspective and thoughtful among us, that only makes networking even more beneficial.
As I’ve said before, there’s a lot to be said for sameness and routine to get us through life. But consciously weaving these elements into your routines could be beneficial in many ways, not the least of which is being competitive when playing games with children.