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How to Get Smarter: 5 Proven Strategies to Boost Your Brain Power

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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What Does It Mean to Be Smart?

Have you ever felt like certain coworkers, friends, or family members learn new skills easily? Somehow, these individuals seem brighter than the rest of their peers. You might be wishing you had these smarts. But what does it actually mean to be intelligent? And is it really an innate trait or something anyone can develop?

Defining Intelligence

Intelligence encompasses a wide range of cognitive abilities. At its core, it refers to how swiftly and accurately a person can absorb, process, apply and adapt information. Some key markers of intelligence include:

  • Speed of learning
  • Depth of understanding
  • Problem-solving ability
  • Communication skills
  • Capacity to connect ideas

Intelligence is often tied to “book smarts” – facts, data, academic knowledge. But there are many expressions of intelligence including emotional, spatial, creative and more.

Ultimately, being “smart” is not a fixed destination. It’s an ongoing process of learning, understanding and applying knowledge to respond to variable real world demands.

Knowledge vs. Application

There’s a difference between accumulating knowledge and being able to act on it. You could memorize an entire medical textbook but not grasp how to diagnose an illness. Application is the real test of intelligence.

Bright individuals don’t just possess information. They constantly figure out how to use it. Their minds make connections others miss. They fluidly analyze new data and infer intelligent solutions.


It’s this ability to take knowledge and generate real world value that makes someone come across as truly smart.

Traits of Smart People

While cognitive abilities play a key role, certain habits and skills also make people seem bright:

  • Curiosity – passion for learning how things work
  • Mental clarity – ability to focus despite chaos
  • Innovation – connecting ideas in creative combos
  • Intentionality – mapping knowledge to concrete goals
  • Adaptability – morphing strategies based on new inputs

So intelligence relies on continual learning and growth. With the right tactics, anyone can tap into their brain’s power and seem smarter over time.

Why Focus Makes You Smarter

We all want to be more intelligent. But what really contributes to smarts? Turns out focus and brain power are deeply interlinked. Sharpening focus directly correlates with enhanced information processing, better decisions, and increased intelligence over time.

Here’s why your ability to direct attention makes you smarter:

Focused Learning Boosts Retention

Ever crammed for an exam, memorizing facts one night? Without focused learning, those facts soon fade away.

Concentrated focus allows your brain to convert new information into lasting memory. Like a laser beam absorbing details, directed attention packs more cognitive punch.


Focused learning cement details better through:

  • Active engagement not passive review
  • Challenging your understanding
  • Linking information to existing knowledge

The result is moved from rote memorization into meaningful learning where data becomes actionable knowledge.

Focus Filters Distractions

We process a tremendous amount of sensory stimuli everyday – noises, notifications, moving objects and more. Much of it is irrelevant.

Your prefrontal cortex acts like a filter determining importance. Strong focus puts more control over that filter.

With a high quality filter, your brain captures essential info while screening out what doesn’t matter. This prevents overload allowing you to digest high value data.

Focused Choices Boost Judgement

Daily we face endless mini-decisions influencing bigger outcomes. Choosing what to focus attention on determines cognitive direction.

  • Scattered attention paralyzes decision making capacity. You bounce endlessly weighing options, overloaded yet unable to judge effectively.
  • Directed focus brings clarity. By purposefully concentrating cognitive energy, your brain clears limiting fog. Your lens becomes sharply targeted.

Judgement improves dramatically simply by the quality of what you pay attention to. Bringing consistency narrows down choices, speeds up cognitive velocity and enhances intelligence.


Just as top athletes train muscular strength, harnessing focus tones mental muscles making you smarter over time. Decisions become easier, learning sticks better and your filter against chaos sharpens significantly.

5 Practical Pillars for Building Intelligence

While some believe intelligence is fixed, human potential science proves we can grow our cognitive capabilities through lifelong learning. Committing to train these mental muscles paves the pathway to expand your intelligence.

Let’s explore 5 science-backed ways to build intelligence and become smarter.

1. Flex Your Mental Muscles

Physical fitness relies on strengthening muscles and building stamina. Your mental capacities require the same progressive training. Just as lifting weights stimulates physical growth, resistance training for your brain enhances neural connections and intelligence.

By flexing your mental muscles, you increase focus, quicken cognition and improve memory formation.

Here’s how to pump mental iron:

Add Weight to Your Cognitive Lifts
  • Start by identifying your current cognitive comfort zone. These are the mental tasks you operate within daily without much struggle.
  • Now add a little weight. Take on challenges stretching your mental limits. Learn complex topics, practice intense focus periods, have debates requiring quick reasoning.The key is incremental progress. Start small then increase degree of difficulty.

It’s like slowly incrementing weights lifted at the gym. You allow your brain to adapt without risking burnout.

Overcome Mental Obstacles

Resistance training requires actual adversity to promote growth whether physical or mental.
See daily problems as opportunities to build mental grit. Handle complex assignments, resolve ambiguities quickly, navigate uncertainty.

Conflict and difficulty prompt neural activity keeping your brain agile. Without resistance, your cognitive capacities remain dormant and underdeveloped.

Set Goals Requiring Mental Discipline

Elite athletes use discipline to sustain energy despite fatigue. Your brain needs similar regimentation.
Pursue clearly defined goals necessitating focus and perseverance. Then actively track progress through measurable metrics.

Setting intellectual goals keeps your mind enacting within a growth zone. Too simple, you revert to coasting. Too ambitious incapacitates through overwhelm.


Build a lifestyle where small mental wins accumulate. Before long, your mental stamina has exponentially increased along with your IQ.

2. Adopt Mental Models for Smarter Thinking

Cluttered thinking overwhelms cognition, creating paralysis. Mental models provide frameworks to organize information for optimal brain performance.
These thinking shortcuts simplify complex decisions based on underlying structures. Let’s explore models that upgrade intelligence:

First Principles Thinking

This technique involves breaking down problems into basic elements. You examine root causes without constraints from past assumptions. Solutions are then rebuilt from the ground up based on foundational truths.

First principles thinking promotes clarity through simplicity. It’s like hacking a maze by starting from the end point and working backwards. This model enables innovative ideas unshackled by preconceived notions.

Retrograde Analysis

With retrograde analysis, you reverse engineer solutions by starting from desired outcomes. You trace backwards to identify root causes, surface insights and pinpoint issue origin points.

Imagine wanting to improve sales. A retrograde approach investigates what marketing campaigns created existing revenues? What products were sold? This unravels blindspots.


By questioning assumptions chains, retrograde thinking reveals game-changing perspectives.

Diminishing Returns

Diminishing returns recognize that after a certain point, increased effort no longer yields proportional results. Like over-sweetening coffee – more sugar doesn’t enhance flavor.

This model prevents wasted exertion. If solutions aren’t scaling, diminishing returns signals a need to pivot strategies. Your efforts realign with activities demonstrating traction.

Circle of Control

This focuses attention on aspects within your influence while accepting elements outside of your authority. Pursue goals only harnessing direct capacities.

The circle of control alleviates frustration. Rather than stressing over external chaos, this model keeps you grounded in your own capabilities promoting action.

Mental models upgrade intelligence by enabling complexity navigation previously impossible. They tame chaos and optimize decisions through simple but versatile thinking frameworks.


3. Hack Your Awareness

Harnessing raw mental power is crucial. But optimizing it requires lifestyle balance through mindfulness and strategic energy use. When the demands on our attention overwhelm our abilities, it’s natural that our mental processing speed takes a hit. That’s why self-awareness is key. It’s like a monitor to keep your brain on track and preventing it from going on overdrive.

Mindfulness Sharpens Focus

Modern chaos constantly juggles our attention, draining our capacity to concentrate. Mindfulness practices train skills to manage distractions and sustain focus. Meditation helps strengthen our ability to block excessive stimulation while concentrating deliberately.

Free from constant disruptions, our minds preserve resources for deeper thinking. Just 5-10 minutes of daily mindfulness compounds over time into significantly improved attention control and heightened intelligence.

Strategize Around Energy Levels

Proper energy management maximizes cognitive output similar to athletic training. As the main decision-making organ, mental overuse risks fatigue, diminished productivity and information overload.

Account for energy drains when planning days. Rotate complex problem-solving with simpler planning/administrative tasks using less strained focus. Schedule recharging activities to replenish depleted reserves.

This balanced energy approach achieves peak performance by avoiding exhaustion and underutilization for peak IQ.

Learn to Thrive in Chaos – A Smart Tactic for Brain Growth

Life throws curveballs that can derail anyone’s progress. Surprises and uncertainty happen all the time. When caught off-guard, it’s natural to obsess over disruptions we can’t control. But that knee-jerk reaction won’t make you any smarter.

Dwelling on problems you can’t change squanders precious mental resources. This overload restricts your brain’s ability to develop sharper skills.


Instead, work with the cards you’re dealt. Accept uncertainty as inevitable – you can’t eliminate surprise factors. But you can control how prepared and resilient your mind is to handle unpredictability.

Build routines for self-improvement – like learning new skills, solving puzzles – that strengthen your cognitive abilities. Stick to these no matter how chaotic life gets. They create reliability, preventing chaos from stunting your intelligence growth.

Bit by bit, you’ll get better at navigating disruptions while upgrading mental capacities in the background. It’s like building up smart muscles and resilience through cognitive training. Before you know it, unexpected changes won’t derail your brain gains as easily.

4. Multitasking is Not the Path to Intelligence

Modern life makes multitasking look essential to handle all our demands. But spreading attention thin by constantly switching tasks actually shrinks your intelligence.

While juggling multiple things feels stimulating and efficient, mental resources deplete rapidly without ample focus.

How Multitasking Drains Brainpower

When multitasking, your brain floods with excessive stimuli from different tasks as attention scatters every which way. Mental performance suffers across the board from inadequate focus on any single activity.

Even alternating between tasks forces your cognition into overdrive, suppressing concentration power, critical thinking and creativity necessary for intelligence gains.

Regain Focus to Grow Smarter

The myth of multitasking = productivity hampers your intellectual development. To get smarter, stay focused on one task before moving to another. Eliminate constant context switching.

For intensive cognitive activities, dedicate extended periods of unbroken focus. This enables deeper thought connectivity essential for intelligence advancement.

While singular focus contradicts our impulse to multitask everything, it trumps distraction when you want effectiveness over efficiency to maximize brain gains.

Train Attention for Distraction Resistance

Cultivating intentional focus strengthens control, resisting impulse-driven task switching. Blending daily mindfulness, along with fewer distractions, reclaims authority over where you place attention.

Multitasking might feel more engaging, but concentrating cognition breeds genius. To transform your mental prowess, consistently prioritize activities demanding rigorous thought connectivity.

The brain grows smarter by going deeper, not wider. To excel cognitively, treat attention as the precious resource it is. Eliminate needless drains towards distraction no matter how normal they seem. With this mindset shift, your focus generates unmatched intellectual expansion.


5. The Smarter Way to Rest Your Brain

In the relentless quest for productivity, we often overlook rest as unproductive. But science reveals proper rest fundamentally expands intelligence.

Through consolidation, unplugging and reflection, downtime strengthens connections between brain cells securing knowledge gains.

Consolidate Through Quality Rest

While awake, your brain rapidly absorbs information from the environment. During quality rest, it consolidates memories enabling factual retention and creative linkages between them.

Without adequate rest, data remains scrambled and disorganized. Mental fatigue also hampers application functionality.

To learn optimally, alternate focused learning periods with recuperative downtime leveraging consolidation.

Unplug for Neural Rejuvenation

Incessant digital stimulation interferes with consolidationsimilar to interrupted sleep.

Establish tech-free blocks revitalizing attention centers. Nature walks boost cognition further by reducing mental strain while stimulating brain growth factors.

Reflect to Strengthen Connections

Reflection catalyzes learning by actively connecting new information with existing frameworks anchoring it to long term memory.

This integration also builds associations strengthening contextual application for intelligence gains. Schedule reflection continuously, not just sporadically.

By properly resting, you enable raw mental capacity building through training to transform into permanent and accessible intelligence.

Getting Smarter Starts Now

Becoming smarter relies on more than reading textbooks or memorizing facts. Real intelligence comes from focused effort that optimizes how your brain takes in, connects, and uses information.

Start small by adding these tactics into your daily habits:

  • Switch between learning sprints and rest to exercise your brain
  • Use simple thinking models to make smarter choices
  • Avoid doing multiple things at once. Stick to one task with deep focus
  • Take regular tech-free breaks to refresh your brain
  • Organize important info flows around health, work, family

Keep challenging yourself with more complex mental tasks across different areas. But be patient as gains build up gradually over time.

This journey means steadily growing your mental abilities. It takes sweat and perseverance. But all that effort unlocks an incredible mind ready to compete with the sharpest thinkers.

More Tips about Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: David Iskander via unsplash.com

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