Wired recently ran an article on Get Smarter: 12 Hacks That Will Amp Up Your Brainpower that’s definitely worth a read. While some of the advice is out there, some of the tips are valid (and do work). The tips were:
- Distract Yourself
A 2007 UCLA study found that students distracted by closely related material after being asked to perform a memorization exercise performed better on subsequent recall tests. Distraction in the form of slightly different information forces your brain to engage in information processing in an effort to permanently store the original information.
But be careful, the information needs to be related. You can’t go from reading about ethno-biology to nano-technology and expect the trick to work.
- Caffeinate with Care
Caffeine may jump-start the body and sharpen the mind, but small doses at regular tea breaks, as favored in the UK, are more effective than the 20-ouncers many North Americans like to suck down at Starbucks or Tims in lieu of a healthy breakfast.
As the article notes, your brain fills up with adenosine, a chemical correlated with mental fatigue, throughout the day. Caffeine blocks the adenosine-receptors, and has been found to reduce mental fatigue in many individuals who take their caffeine in frequent small doses (instead of mega-doses in the morning).
Furthermore, the kick is improved when glucose is added to the mix. So, add a small amount of sugar, eat a (chocolate chip) cookie, or a carbohydrate-rich snack for an extra jolt.
- Impressionistic Information
Make sure the material contains a reasonable amount of information that is relatively easy for you to learn. Facts, figures, or other information that your brain is good at absorbing.
- Think Positive
Learning new things strengthens your brain — especially when you believe you can learn new things. In other words, if you want unlimited potential, you have to believe you have it.
- Do the Right Drugs!
Recent studies indicate that drugs like aniracetam and vasopressin may improve memory. At this point I wouldn’t advocate the use of any of the drugs listed, given that the potential side-effects appear to outweigh the potential benefits, but it probably won’t be long before we have drugs that can enhance learning potential without the side effects of drugs like methylphenidate (that’s found in ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Focalin).
- Juice Your IQ Score
The article correctly notes (since there is no such thing as a true intelligence test, for reasons far beyond what a single post can elaborate), you can (significantly) boost your score by prepping for the verbal, numerical, and spatial problems on a typical psychometric test. Most of the questions fall into set categories, and by familiarizing yourself with a number of standard problems in those categories, and taking practice tests (found in numerous preparation books at your local bookstore), you can not only do much better on these tests than if you took them without preparation, but do them faster too (leaving you more time to focus on the harder problems).
- Pick Apart Your Brain
Another tip I don’t quite get. I’m not sure how learning about the various parts of the brain (the cortex, thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, temporal lobe, pons, medulla oblongata, etc) and what they do (memory, input translation, metabolic regulation, spatial navigation, emotions, speech, dreaming, autonomic functions, etc.) is going to help the average person increase her brain power.
- Don’t Panic
While a little nervousness can boost cognitive performance, periods of intense stress essentially turn us into Neanderthals. Douglas Adams understood this. Do you think he wrote The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy just for our amusement?
- Embrace Chaos
According to Robert Bjork, Chair of Psychology at UCLA and a recognized leading expert in memory and learning, superior recall results when information is learned in randomly ordered chunks.
I have to assume here that the chunks make sense on their own.
- Get Visual
Break up large images or chunks of information into manageable groups. Learn the 47 nations of Africa by learning the countries in the North, East, West, South, and Central regions of Africa in related groups. That’s how most of us remember telephone numbers, in groups of 3, 3, and 4, or our credit card numbers, in 4 groups of 4 (unless you’re talking about insolent American Express with their unique 4 3-3 5 grouping).
- Choose Your Exercise Wisely
Studies have found that more aerobically fit grade-schoolers also perform better on cognitive tests. Yoga and certain forms of Tai Chi, Chi Gong / Qi Gong, and Aikido are also believed to improve intelligence. (However, martial arts training that focuses on excessive exertion and / or strength training, like weight lifting, has no effect, except to tire you out).
- Slooooow Dooown
According to Wired, It should take you two and a half seconds to read this sentence. Any faster and you won’t absorb its meaning. While I disagree with the timing estimate, as it varies slightly for each individual, there is a limit as to how fast you can absorb information, even if you are a speed reader.