How To Be Smarter
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
1. Read more. I don't just mean read more of the same old thing you're already reading, if you do read. (If you don't read, start.) I mean read lots and lots of books and articles and papers on a wide variety of things. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read authors that wildly disagree with one another and that have opinions both similar to yours and greatly different from yours. And be sure to read some of the great philosophers.
Does that sound a great deal like what your teachers made you do in school? That's because it is what works to make you smarter. And yes, it does sound as if that's only going to make you more knowledgeable. However, at the same time you will become smarter simply by virtue of being exposed to divergent ways of thinking. That will make your thinking not only more acute, but more well-rounded. You will be forced make evaluations that are novel to you. Also, your vocabulary will increase and the more it does, not only will you be able to read faster and learn more, you will also be able to think about it in more expansive ways.
Statistics show time and time again that education actually raises your IQ. And the more education you get, the higher the numbers go. It may not make you a genius, but as we measure intelligence, it will make you smarter.
2. Take classes, tutorials, join discussion groups. For the same reasons as I gave for reading, participating in such new learning experiences will stimulate your brain and fortify your thinking processes. I mean face-to-face, real-world classes and discussion groups. You can do some on line, but real interaction makes a difference. Tutorials are fine on line (both written and video) or on CD/DVD.
3. Write and speak. Writing and speaking aren't the flip sides of reading and listening. They are each part of the continuing process. If you are reading and learning, it is the natural consequence that you must take notes and analyze what you're reading to truly learn it. The more you write, the more you remember. The more you write, the better you understand.
The same holds true of listening and speaking. The reason your teachers always wanted you to participate in class is that learning at its best requires dialogue. Speaking is another way of continuing the dialogue. When you're a speaker you are forced to put together your best ideas, express them in the best ways you know, and put them out in public for feedback and discussion. To learn and grow.
4. Create or invent something new. Paint a picture. Build a better mousetrap. Build a car from scratch. It doesn't matter whether it's useful, beautiful, or even works. What's important here is that you engage your problem solving skills in new and different ways, and expand your ability to think of innovative solutions to new problems.
5. Learn a new language. For the same reason that expanding your vocabulary in your native language helps you think better, learning a new language will help you think differently. Languages are culture-based. That is to say, native speakers of each language think differently from speakers of other languages because each and every culture has a different way of describing and thinking about objects and events and people. So if, for example, you are a native speaker of English, and you learn to speak Spanish; you will actually start to think differently when you're speaking Spanish. Amazing, but true.
Any of the above suggestions will help make you smarter. They are all effective methods, but the greatest effects will come from reading and writing. Whatever you do, though, choose something you can enjoy. Getting smarter is a good thing. But having fun is important to thinking and learning as well.