Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 17, 2020

How to Think Smart (If You Think You’re Not Smart Enough)

How to Think Smart (If You Think You’re Not Smart Enough)

If you’re reading this and you don’t think you’re smart, I definitely want you to reframe how you’re thinking about intelligence.

Being smart is about much more than acing an IQ test or being the valedictorian. Those are both great things, but they have more to do with being book smart.

In our modern society, it’s arguably more important to know how to think smart (to know how to critically think about things and be open to new ideas).

Here’re 9 strategies for how to think smart:

1. Be Open to Different Perspectives

Thinking smart means being open to new ideas. When we hold on too dearly to what we currently think, we are actually closing ourselves off to new ideas. And thinking smart is all about considering, evaluating, and analyzing new ideas.

For example, when I was in fifth grade, I wrote a journal entry about how amazing President George H. W. Bush was. I didn’t write it because I had critically thought about politics. I wrote it because my dad really liked George H. W. Bush. Therefore, I did too.

If I had known how to think smart as a fifth grader, I might be more inclined to consider the pros and cons of both parties.

Be very suspicious of an argument that only considers one side of an argument and doesn’t consider any negative points of that side.

That is the opposite of thinking smart.

2. Seriously Consider the Counterargument

It’s not enough to just be open to both sides of an argument; real critical thinking requires you to dig deeply into the other side.

I might have a hunch that Chinese herbs will be good for my winter cough, but I’m not thinking smart until I do extensive research that doesn’t just confirm my initial bias.

I need to find reputable sources (think academic journals and peer-reviewed studies) that pertain to my topic: Chinese medicine and cough. I can’t cherry pick and only include the ones that say Chinese herbs will help my cough.

I have to read and seriously consider the other side. I have to be genuinely open to being wrong.

Advertising

That’s a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow.

When we only look at evidence that proves what we already think, that’s called a confirmation bias.[1] It’s a great way to feel confident that you’re always right, but it’s a terrible way to learn anything new.

So if you want to start thinking smart, avoid confirmation bias and be truly open to the counterargument and to being wrong.

3. Ask Questions and Listen to the Answers

Thinking smart also means being curious.[2] Smart people are inquisitive about how the world works, what makes people tick, and what it all means.

So another trick for how to think smart is to ask lots of questions.[3]

Surround yourself with people you think are intelligent. Again, avoid confirmation bias here too. If you only surround yourself with smart people who think just like you, you’re not going to learn much.

My college experience was great because I didn’t go to a school where everyone was liberal or conservative. There was a big mix of perspectives, and this deepened our classroom discussions and thinking.

Once you have your smart people crew, you need to ask questions. Keep a list of things you’re genuinely curious about. For example, I’m curious about parenting, politics, education, creativity, psychology, healthcare, other cultures, religion, philosophy… The list goes on.

But don’t fake the funk; if you’re asking questions just to ask them, you’re not going to learn much. You need to be genuinely interested in the answers. Learn how to ask questions skilfully: How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions

Then, the second step is to really listen to the answer. Don’t just listen in order to respond. Listen to hear the other person. Don’t listen to confirm your bias either. You’re going to need to do some sincere deep listening in order to learn new things.

4. Read

For my money, smart thinking requires a lot of reading.

It all comes down to collecting more and more information from more and more perspectives. Read a wide-range of materials on a wide-range of topics.

I like to switch up and read informational books that relate to my work: psychology, education, theatre. Then, I read a novel or something not so directly related to my day-to-day hustle.

Advertising

Read multiple newspapers, not just the one that most closely mirrors how you already think. Go for breadth.

Read up on all sorts of topics.

Read, read, read.

Then read some more.

Watch out for disreputable sources though. There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts out there nowadays, especially online.

If you want to learn how to evaluate your sources and distinguish a reputable from a disreputable source, go to your local library and ask a friendly librarian. They would love to teach you all about evaluating sources to help you become a more-informed consumer of information.

5. Know What You Don’t Know

Truly brilliant people know what they don’t know. They don’t pretend to know everything. The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

The world is incredibly complex, and there is an almost infinite number of perspectives from which to analyze that world. So, it doesn’t make any sense when I meet someone who acts like they know everything about everything.

It’s just not possible.

The smartest people I know definitely know what they don’t know. And they’re not shy about admitting it. Those smart people are also curious and eager to learn more about what they don’t know.

I think Socrates said it best when he said,

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

In other words, if you’re truly smart, you know that there’s a whole lot that you are really dumb about.

Advertising

Okay, maybe Socrates said it better.

6. Put Your Smartphone Down

Our smartphones give us access to a lot of instant information. But that doesn’t mean they’re making us smarter.

Studies show that we need to put our phones down, mix and mingle with the masses, get out and enjoy nature, and just generally exist sans smartphones in order to bump up our brain power.[4]

The problem has a lot to do with focus. Just having their smartphones in the same room as them made participants perform more poorly on cognitive tests.

Smartphones are addictive. Think about those alluring push notifications. When we hear the chime, we drop everything and mindlessly pick up our phone.

Yeah, take a break from that.

If we want to beef up our focus on other things, it makes a lot of sense to put the phones down and put all our attention on other things for a moment.

Try these 5 Simple Ways to Unplug and Be More Mindful In Your Life.

7. Go for Depth

I know I’ve already told you that one strategy for how to think smart is to read up on a wide-range of topics. Well, it’s also important to go for depth.

Another trick for how to get smart is to dig deeply into a topic. Try to learn as much as you can about one narrow topic. Interested in the history of pants? Well, start doing your research and see where it takes you.

A lot of people already do this when they get sucked down a YouTube or Wikipedia rabbit hole. They start by clicking on one page, maybe all the people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award (EGOTs). Before you know it, it’s four in the morning and you’re watching a black and white film about a donkey befriending a mouse. How in the world did you get here?

This is what I’m proposing you do with your pants research. Only try to stick more closely to the topic at hand: pants. Read something about pants. Then see what sources that book or article used. Then read some of those. And so on and so on.

I think you’ll find that the more you learn, the more you’ll realize just how much you still don’t know.

Advertising

That’s the kind of smart thinking we’re going for.

8. Challenge Your Mind—Learn Another Language

Use it or lose it. That’s really the mantra when it comes to our brains.

So, if you want to think smarter, challenge your brain.

One way is to learn another language. Now, I’m a notoriously slow language learner, but I still find that the process helps my brain immensely.

And studies back this up,[5] learning another language helps our concentration and focus.

So if you want to think smarter, think in another language. Push your brain and really challenge yourself.

The added bonus is that you’ll know another language.

9. Get Out There and See the World

Finally, the last strategy for how to think smart is to get out there and see the world — See and experience new people and places.

Research has shown that becoming truly immersed in new cultures boosts our brain’s ability to consider multiple perspectives at once.[6]

This goes back to what we were talking about before. Seriously considering multiple, diverse points of view is, simply put, smart thinking. It’s critical thinking where you don’t just assume you are right. It’s the kind of thinking that honors the complexity of the world and is open to learning new things.

Final Thoughts

Thinking smart is about knowing what we don’t know. It’s about seeing all sides of an argument, or problem and honoring all perspectives. It’s also about being genuinely curious about different people, places, and ideas.

Thinking smart isn’t just about acing a test. It’s really a state of mind. It’s about approaching interactions with the desire to really listen and learn. And it’s definitely not about proving you’re right or about cherry picking sources that prove what you already thought.

So, admit that you don’t know that much. And that’s the first step to knowing a whole lot.

More Tips for Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: What is confirmation bias?
[2] Play Your Way Sane: Curious detective
[3] Play Your Way Sane: Just Ask
[4] Psychology Today: Are smartphones making us stupid?
[5] Live Science: Learning a new language at any age helps the brain
[6] Forbes: Science says travel makes you smarter

More by this author

Clay Drinko

Clay Drinko is an educator and the author of PLAY YOUR WAY SANE (January 2021 Simon & Schuster)

9 Types of Intelligence (And How to Know Your Type) 12 Ways for Slow Learners to Speed Up Learning aural-learner 7 Characteristics of an Aural Learner How to Avoid Binary Thinking and Think More Clearly 7 Characteristics of a Smart Auditory Learner

Trending in Brain

1 How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways 2 9 Types of Intelligence (And How to Know Your Type) 3 25 Memory Exercises That Actually Help You Remember More 4 What Is Social Intelligence (And How to Increase Yours) 5 How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways

How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways

Memory plays an integral role in our lives, both in the short and long term. If you’re wondering how to improve memory, I’m here to tell you that there are natural and effective ways to do so.

Despite what you might think, improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it.

Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve memory efficiently and reduce the risk of memory loss.

1. Meditate

We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts, and figures into our conscious minds.

Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder, then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. Research suggests that the more information and distractions you receive, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory[1].

Fortunately, meditation can help.

Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which, in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

While any amount of meditation will do something to help your memory, one study pointed out that “8 but not 4 weeks of brief, daily meditation decreased negative mood state and enhanced attention, working memory, and recognition memory as well as decreased state anxiety scores”[2].

Therefore, if you’re looking for the most benefits, try sticking with a meditation practice for at least 8 weeks.

However, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

2. Get Plenty of Sleep

If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then it’s likely that you’re not able to remember well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities, including your memory.

Advertising

If you want to learn how to improve memory, how much sleep should you be getting?

Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation[3], you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things[4].

If you want to improve memory, get plenty of sleep.

    Maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!), but if you care about improving your long and short term memory, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

    Try these three things to naturally improve your sleep cycle:

    • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
    • Don’t eat too late
    • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

    Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

    However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory.

    3. Challenge Your Brain

    When was the last time you challenged your brain?

    I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or under-sleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and memory games.

    To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

    Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-solving ability, and memory.

    There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

    • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
    • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
    • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

    If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

    Advertising

    Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it; try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

    4. Take More Breaks

    When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctly remember working all the hours under the sun—and many under the moon, too!

    At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat, and tears.

    However, if you want to know how to improve memory, taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative, and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

    Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

    One 2011 study from the University of Illinois concluded that “the brain is built to detect and respond to change…and prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance”[5].

    This is based on something called the “vigilance decrement.” This can be applied to many things. For example, we often don’t notice the feeling of clothing touch our bodies because our brain becomes accustomed to the sensation. However, if you change clothes, you’ll likely notice the difference in texture and temperature for a few minutes.

    When you take a break from memorizing information, it refocuses your attention and energy, leading to increased focus overall.

    It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart, and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

    Basically, make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

    5. Learn a New Skill

    I love this quote, as it’s 100% true but frequently overlooked:

    “Learning never exhausts the mind.” -Leonardo da Vinci

    From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

    Advertising

    Let me give you an example of this:

    Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day, many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

    Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

    The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you rather than letting you work in your own way.

    Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction into learning a new skill (computer coding).

    It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career, and the ongoing learning made the call center job much more bearable.

    Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus, and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking out new information. When learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly becomes a habit, too.

    If you want to know how to learn something new every day, check out this article.

    6. Start Working out

    If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

    Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory[6].

    Regular physical activities increase blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. A well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

    Even if you don’t have much time, research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines[7].

    Interested in getting started?

    Advertising

    Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

    • Join a gym
    • Join a sports team
    • Buy a bike
    • Take up hiking
    • Dance to your favorite music

    7. Eat Healthier Foods

    I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

    This applies to your brain, too.

    The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health, as well.

    Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery, and dark chocolate. But any fruits, vegetables, or foods high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory. Here’re some ideas: 15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

    Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain, leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

    If you want to improve your mental health, eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

    • Turmeric – Helps new brain cells grown
    • Broccoli – Protects the brain against damage
    • Nuts – Improves memory
    • Green tea – Enhances brain performance, memory and focus[8]
    • Fish oilFish oil supplements can increase your brain power

    Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

    Also, remember that your brain is about 75% water, so dehydration can have a huge effect on the way your brain functions. Stay hydrated if you really want to improve memory!

    Final Thoughts

    I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be helpful for you.

    You don’t need to implement them all, but you can try out the ones that appeal to you.

    But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory and avoiding cognitive decline, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested.

    More on How to Improve Memory

    Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next