A while back, I posted a column describing five scientific ways to become smarter. Since then, I’ve been reading more about neuroscience, hoping to find additional easy techniques to improve brain performance.
The list below is the result of that research. All of the techniques in this column are easy to execute, cost nothing (or next to nothing), and require no great investment of time or effort.
1. Play Video Games to Become More Mentally Nimble
According to the cognitive neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier, playing action-oriented video games (in moderation) increase your ability to make analyze situations rapidly and make quick decisions based on your perceptions of the situation.
Video games increase your visual acuity and ability to perceive shapes and colors. Most important, they increase “brain plasticity,” the ability of your brain to change its structure in parietal lobe (focus), the frontal lobe (concentration), and the anterior cingulate (attention).
2. Practice Mindfulness to Make Smarter Decisions
According to Psychology Today, “researchers found that a brief period of mindfulness allowed people to make more rational decisions by considering the information available in the present moment, which led to more positive outcomes in the future.”
As I pointed out in “How Steve Jobs Trained His Own Brain,” Steve Jobs practiced a form of mindfulness meditation that’s taught in schools of Zen and martial arts. Interestingly, it wasn’t until decades later that researchers at Wharton confirmed the technique’s effectiveness.
3. Exercise More Regularly to Strengthen Your Memory
According to several studies cited in the New York Times, exercise increases the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that occurs in your blood and brain that “promotes the growth and formation of new neurons.”
Since BDNF in the brain creates and reinforces memories, regular exercise literally makes you smarter. Indeed, exercise creates a measurable increase in the hippocampus region of the human brain. That’s undoubtedly why so many successful entrepreneurs have regular workout routines.
4. Drink Caffeinated Beverages to Augment General Brain Function
According to neuroscience studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, caffeine blocks Adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, while increasing the release of two other neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine.
This stimulates the mind to think more clearly, according to Popular Science magazine. “Many controlled trials have examined the effects of caffeine on the brain, demonstrating that caffeine can improve mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance, and general cognitive function.”
5. Play a Musical Instrument to Hone Your Communication Skills
According to the Journal of Neuroscience, musical training “improve(s) nervous system function by focusing attention on meaningful acoustic cues, and these improvements cascade to language and cognitive skills.”
The reason is simple: Playing a musical instrument, especially in a group, engages and directs nearly every part of your brain into the activity of communicating via music, thereby honing your ability to communicate through other means.
6. Hand-Write Your Notes to Better Organize Your Thoughts
According to research conducted at Princeton and UCLA, “compared with those who type their notes, people who write them out in longhand appear to learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas.”
The world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, for example, keeps track of his huge business empire using handwritten notes, which he keeps in a series of meticulously cross-referenced journals.
7. Read More Fiction to Increase Your EQ
According to studies at the York University and University of Toronto, “individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them, and view the world from their perspective.”
This effect is probably because novels and short stories (unlike drama and non-fiction) “gets inside the heads” of multiple characters, explaining their motivations from an objective, omniscient viewpoint.
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