Being smarter won’t just pump up your ego. Intelligence is commonly linked to life’s good stuff, such as happiness and high income. For decades, the generally accepted view was that you couldn’t really change the intelligence you were born with. You were stuck with that IQ score you got in childhood and have never, ever told anyone in your adult life about.
The current consensus is a little more optimistic. Sure, genetics play a huge role, but there’s growing evidence that intelligence is more malleable than we thought. We’re still at an early stage: There are ways to improve IQ scores, but it’s difficult to disentangle whether people are getting smarter or merely more experienced at answering certain types of questions.
Frankly, it’s making our brain hurt just thinking about it, but hopefully once we’re through this week-long regimen built on advice from brainiacs, it’ll become clearer.
People who understand that failure is a part of growth exert the effort needed to learn and succeed.
Day 1: Believe you can get smarter
Congratulations. If you’re reading this it’s an indication that you have a growth outlook, as opposed to a fixed one. This division was proposed by Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, in her book Mindset. It posits that those who think their intelligence is a constant will avoid tasks they can’t master right away, because it undermines their idea of how smart they are. People who understand that failure is a part of growth exert the effort needed to learn and succeed. This mental approach should help you increase your crystallized intelligence—the ability to deploy experience and knowledge, something that’s supposed to increase with age.
Day 2: Do the Dual N-Back
If only the Dual N-Back was the new dance craze sweeping the nation. It’s not. It’s a mindfuck of a game that trains your working memory and (maybe—it’s a hotly debated subject) the companion to crystallized intelligence: Fluid intelligence, or the ability to deduce patterns and apply logic in scenarios in which you have no prior experience.
The Dual N-Back is available to play on the internet for free, for instance at Soak Your Head. This version flashes up a square in one of nine positions and says a letter. You press one button if the square flashes up in the same space as the last one did, and press another button if the letter spoken is the same as the last but one. (The last-but-one aspect is called two-back.) As you improve, it increases the difficulty to be three-back—last-but-two—then four-back, then … well, you won’t get that far.
The Dual N-Back
Evidence of the game’s efficacy was first put forward in the paper “Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory” in 2008. Since then, more studies supported the view. Then the idea was rubbished in the New Yorker in 2013, then defended again. In 2014, a meta-analysis published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review claimed this and other training methods resulted in a small but significant increase in fluid intelligence. So start today. Play it for 20 to 25 minutes every night, and your working memory (the part of your intellect that deals with conscious processing of information) should improve. The game’s also fiendishly addictive—it makes for a fun game at dinner parties when you want to look clever.
Day 3: Go to work (and rethink your idea of retirement)
Here’s another way to keep your working memory in fine form—use it or lose it. In a Guardian interview with James Flynn (who contributed a lot of work to the idea of the Flynn Effect, which observes that general IQ has improved over time; more on that later), Flynn refers to an OECD study that made a national comparison of working memory in seniors:
“They divided the countries into those like France, where 80% of people retired between 55-65, and those like Sweden and Switzerland, where 80% were still in work, and the loss on working memory in France for that age was twice as great.”
(The other interpretation of this might be, don’t get old. Good luck with that.)
Day 4: Do a good cardio workout, and keep it going
It’s generally accepted that a decent cardiovascular system is linked to your IQ, because it keeps oxygen flowing to your brain. Scientists at the University of Gothenburg looked at the records of physical and intelligence tests taken by 1.2 million 18-year-olds in Sweden between 1950 and 1976, and he found a strong link between the two. Flynn, in his interview with the Guardian concurred: “There is no doubt that the blood supply to the brain, due to a cardiovascular system that is efficient, helps intelligence in the pre-frontal lobes.” Time to lace up those kicks.
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Day 5: Commit to eating better
There are many unsubstantiated claims that certain foods can boost your brain power, but it’s thought that in general, nutrition contributes to intelligence. It’s one of the factors that explains the Flynn Effect (remember that from earlier?). It says that the IQ of the population has increased over time, so if you were to take an IQ test from the early 20th century, you’d ace it. So eat well. Just know that there’s no magic edible bullet that’ll transform your brain. The best we can offer is from a group of authors writing on “Improving Intelligence” in The Association for Psychological Science’s Observer: “the herbs ginko biloba, ginseng, and an Indian herb known as brhami have demonstrated some capacity to improve working memory.”
Man Flow Yoga
Day 6: Practice yoga and mindfulness
Bad news: It’s thought that fluid intelligence peaks early in adult life and slowly diminishes. But taking part in a yoga session might help you forget that, as well as putting the brakes on the decline, at least according to a study published in Frontiers. The authors found that “fluid intelligence declined slower in yoga practitioners and meditators combined than in controls.” Translation: It could slow down the process of getting dumber. So clear your mind of thoughts for a few minutes today, and every day. If you’re new to meditation, download the Insight Timer app on your smartphone. It provides a simple meditation timer and a number of guided meditations, some of which are as short as five minutes. We’re also getting into Man Flow Yoga, a program that focuses on building muscle; the site has great video workouts for every skill level.
Day 7: Start faking it ’til you make it
By now, you’ve done as much as can be expected in such a short space of time. Even if the results are negligible, you may be able to shift the perception of your intellect by deploying your middle initial. A study by Wijnand A. P. van Tilburg and Eric R. Igou published in the European Journal of Social Psychology posited that “middle name initials enhance evaluations of intellectual performance” in regards to both writing and status. Bear in mind, though, that as far as we’re aware, there’s no data on whether the use of a middle initial increases the perception that you’re pretentious.
Join thousands of men and women who are dressing up for a good cause. Go formal with Made Man and Career Gear on Friday, October 9th to help empower men in need with resources, training and suits they can use to rejoin the workforce. Because for every photo posted to Instagram or Twitter and tagged #FormalFriday, we’ll donate a dollar to Career Gear. Learn more at mademan.com/formal-friday.