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Fast Company

Leadership Now

5 Surprising, Science-Backed Ways To Get Smarter Today

Your intelligence isn't fixed; it's fluid. Here's a handful of ways to improve your brain flow.

So it turns out that, contrary to what your SAT scores told you, we can actually get smarter day by day—depending on what we do with our days. As Annie Murphy Paul reports, intelligence isn't set in stone—it's fluid.

This fluidity comes from all sorts of things: the way we think about ourselves, the expertise we develop, the people we surround ourselves with. In short, the way we live our lives shapes our minds, in some seriously mysterious ways.

1) Your mind-set makes you smarter.

Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychologist, has identified two mind-sets that shape, well, our minds. There's the fixed mind-set, in which you think your thinking abilities can't change. Then there's the growth mind-set, in which your thinking abilities can be developed.

"These beliefs matter," Paul observes, "because they influence how we think about our own abilities, how we perceive the world around us, and how we act when faced with a challenge or with adversity."

The question, then, is how to own our development—which is a matter of deliberate practice.

2) Your concentration makes you smarter.

If we consider intelligence to be our ability to solve complex tasks, then we need to appreciate how to deal with complexity—namely, with sustained focus, since that's the only way we can load difficult problems into our heads.

This requires being able to stay with a task. You can do that externally, for example, by finally shutting off your distracting phone, or internally, for example by training your attention. If you don't attend to your attention—for instance if you're multitasking all the time—then your brain will lose its ability to focus.

Then you won't be able to solve complex problems. Or, put dumbly, you'll get dumber.

3) Your food makes you smarter.

Eating the right breakfast (hint: it's protein rich) correlates with higher cognitive functioning.

4) Your rest makes you smarter.

Getting enough sleep lets you make more memories—which you can recombine into new ideas.

5) Your relationships make you smarter.

Having a partner makes you smarter. As Paul puts it:

You’ve experienced (the way relying on others makes you smarter) if you have a spouse or significant other: it’s likely that one of you is "in charge" of remembering when the car needs to go in for inspection, while the other is "in charge" of remembering relatives’ birthdays. This is called transactive memory, and it’s just one of the ways that relationships with others can make us smarter than we would be on our own.

Having lots of friends makes you smarter, too. People with diverse connections have better ideas than people with homogenous connections.

Why? Because, as any network science nerd will tell you, they're able to share their ideas with a broader range of people who have a broader range of perspectives and give a broader range of feedback, helping the idea take a more considered final form. The proof in the conversational pudding: Darwin talked about evolution for 20 years before setting his ideas down in the Origin of Species.

How do you make yourself smarter? Please share with us—and other readers—in the comments below.

Hat tip: The Brilliant Report

[Image: Flickr user Justin De La Ornellas]