Intelligence and smartness differ in one aspect – their innateness. Smartness seems more innate than intelligence because of the notion that “not all intelligence people are smart.” But smartness only seems so because it’s more flexible and adaptive to experiential learning. This kind of learning begins in children while they constantly absorb the ways of the world. Every activity – every experience – in these early stages adds to this bank of smartness.
Every time you’ve tagged someone as smart, chances are they are so because of the way they’ve grown up. So does this mean all hope is lost for an adult? Not at all. As adults, we have to learn actively what children do passively, and we have a word for this – hobbies. They are simply activities that, in this case, make you smarter. Interested? Well, read on.
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The most obvious result of voracious reading is increased knowledge. But the effect that reading has on your mind seeps down to a subtler level. When you learn a new fact, are you aware of the feeling you get? Don’t you go, “Wow, I didn’t know that!”? Reading taps into the reward system of the brain that is responsible for positive reinforcement, which is essentially learning. This is the reason why we ‘feel’ smarter after having read something. This reward of feeling smarter is reinforced and we read more to reinforce it again. Reading – fiction or non-fiction, pleasure reading or extensive reading – gets us to start thinking more, to question more. We become less ignorant and more critical, unwilling to accept everything as fact. Now, is that not the definition of smart?
Writing involves functions in the brain that are quite different from those activated while reading. You don’t of course have to write a novel to tap into its benefits. Simply writing down your thoughts can bring about significant changes in the way your mind functions. Writing requires focus because it forces you to filter those chaotic thoughts on paper. Think of it this way: your thoughts are the bullets shot in your direction and you have to catch them in mid-air. To make things harder, you’re only allowed to catch the hollow point bullets among the round nosed ones. Difficult much? When you write, you slow things down, filter them, and then analyse them. It hones your focus, memory, and creativity. It brings about clarity in thought and communication.
Every day there is new research that brings to light all the cognitive benefits of learning a new language. It has been found that bilingual adults show better auditory attention. This means that when you learn a new language, you’re teaching your brain to focus on relevant information. The more languages that you have to switch between, the more attuned you have to be to auditory information. This means that learning a new language helps to comprehend and respond to information better, making you better equipped to handle simple and complex conversations.
Learning a new language has also been shown to improve memory and problem-solving skills. A Russian translator rewired her brain to learn mathematics by applying the same techniques required to learn a new language.
Playing a musical instrument is “the brain’s equivalent of a full body workout,” according to Anita Collins, as it requires the visual, auditory and motor reflexes to work in unison. It has also been found to improve problem solving skills because it increases activity in the region of the brain that connects your left and right hemisphere. Higher levels of activity in this bridge, means a better and faster flow of information, allowing you to solve problems more effectively and creatively. Moreover, playing an instrument requires discipline, an ability to strategise, and being able to recognise emotions – traits that you could always use.
Travelling to a new place involves a state of constant alertness. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, you’re constantly absorbing information, making sense of it, and adapting. You become more spontaneous and broad-minded because you’re forced to solve unexpected problems on the go. Your communication and people-skills improve, and you’ll also be reaping the cognitive benefits of learning new languages. Being exposed to new cultures opens your mind to new ideas and perspectives, both of which are essential elements of smart people.
Involving yourself a 100 percent in almost any activity you partake can change and improve the way your mind functions. The only tools you really need are curiosity and a keen interest.