How to Become Smarter in 2024

How to Become Smarter in 2024

Joseph Darby
5 ways to give your brain a boost, according to research

Smarts matter, though most of what we hear about intelligence is a heartwarming tale of utter nonsense. For one thing, it’s just a myth you only use 10% of your brain.

Even what we know about IQ isn’t always right. IQ isn’t just all “book smarts” or academic ability with little application outside a lecture hall or classroom. It’s general problem-solving ability. Sure, other things matter, like motivation, curiosity, and personality.

IQ isn’t everything -- but it influences nearly everything

Not surprisingly, employees with higher intellectual abilities tend to perform better on average. However, this doesn't solely apply to complex job roles; even in less intricate positions, IQ plays a significant role in performance. Cleaners with higher IQs, for instance, tend to be more effective at their job. The impact of IQ on job performance is generally positively correlated without any apparent threshold. Contrary to some beliefs, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) does not, on average, outweigh the importance of IQ in job performance. Moreover, the advantages of higher IQ extend beyond professional success, as certain studies indicate that intelligence can even predict lifespan longevity, comparable to the impact of smoking.

It may seem like there is nothing IQ doesn't improve. However, that's not entirely true; individuals with higher IQs are more likely to require glasses, for example.

However, the challenge lies in the fact IQ is largely influenced by genetics, with a heritability coefficient of 0.5, essentially setting a range in which one will likely remain. IQ generally stabilises between the ages of 7 and 10, and significant changes in IQ are improbable, except in cases where addressing deprivations, such as lack of childhood education or iodine deficiency, lead to notable improvements. Most interventions aimed at enhancing IQ have limited effects, and any improvements are often short-lived, fading out after the intervention ends. For instance, listening to Mozart or engaging in brain training games has not proven to be effective, nor has providing children with preschool education yielded long-lasting benefits. Similarly, the concept of a "growth mindset" is often overhyped and may not have the profound impact it is purported to have.

While this information might be disheartening, it is essential to approach the subject realistically. It is unlikely most of us will reach the intellectual heights of individuals like Einstein, just as most of us do not possess the genetic makeup of professional athletes. However, we can take steps to improve ourselves within the constraints of our own genetic potential.

While we cannot alter our genetics, a considerable portion of our potential for improvement is self-determined. There are several proactive measures we can undertake to ensure we are maximising our capabilities and making the most of our existing intellect. While we may not be able to dramatically increase our intelligence, we have the power to reduce ignorance and avoid silly mistakes.

So, let's break free from any mental restrictions and explore ways to enhance our cognitive abilities! It's time to embark on this journey of self-improvement and tap into the full potential of our minds by looking into the top five ways to be smarter, according to Eric Barker, bestselling author of “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”.

Get Your Sleep

It may seem like stating the obvious, but despite its apparent simplicity, this fundamental concept often eludes us. Sleep researcher Matthew Walker from UC Berkeley reveals a significant portion of adults across developed nations fail to achieve the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep.

Sufficient sleep acts like a cognitive cheat code, enhancing our mental abilities. On the contrary, sleep deprivation severely hampers intellectual performance. Studies in education demonstrate missing just an hour of sleep can reduce a 12-year old’s brain function to that of a 10-year old. Moreover, there is a clear correlation between sleep duration and academic grades; A-grade students tend to get around fifteen minutes more sleep than B-grade students, who, in turn, sleep around fifteen minutes more than C students, and so forth. The adage "sleep on it" holds true, as a good night's rest indeed leads to better decision-making.

However, some may argue, "I don't get enough sleep, but I feel fine." This is akin to a drunk person insisting, "Gimme the keys. I'm okay to drive." Research shows sleep-deprived individuals consistently underestimate the extent of their impairment. Even after just a few days of inadequate sleep, individuals in one study reported feeling slightly sleepy but believed they had adapted to their condition. However, their performance had significantly declined.

Is there a quick fix, a magic pill for this issue? To some extent, yes, in the form of coffee and cigarettes. Both caffeine and nicotine temporarily boost brainpower, providing a fleeting sense of heightened alertness. However, they are a double-edged sword. Cigarettes, obviously, are highly detrimental to health. While moderate caffeine consumption is generally considered healthy, it can disrupt your ability to sleep. College students who indulge in partying might assume their lower grades are solely due to alcohol consumption, but studies reveal a considerable negative impact results from daytime drowsiness caused by caffeine and poor sleep.

So, what other strategies can we adopt to enhance our brainpower?

Get Your Exercise

Surprisingly or not, your brain is an integral part of your body, and what benefits your overall physical health also positively impacts your brain. In scientific terms, exercise stands out as the most effective means of enhancing cognitive function.

Engaging in physical activity triggers the release of something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which plays a crucial role in accelerating learning processes. Studies have shown exercise can lead to a remarkable increase in learning speed, up to 20%. Even a single exercise session can yield measurable improvements in cognitive control.

Moreover, if you wish to preserve your cognitive abilities as you age, physical activity is equally beneficial. A comprehensive analysis of sixteen prospective studies involving over 160,000 individuals revealed maintaining moderate levels of physical activity can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's by as much as 45%.

Outdated notions of "dumb rugby players" or similar thoughts about sporty or active people don’t stack up considering these findings.

Taking care of our bodies through proper sleep and exercise is undeniably vital. However, we can also enhance our cognitive abilities by making the most of our grey matter through thoughtful activities and practices.

Stay Calm

Imagine having the most powerful engine in your car, capable of propelling you to your desired destination, but if someone else seizes control of the wheel, reaching your goal becomes improbable. Impulsive emotions have a way of overpowering rational judgment, potentially leading to poor decision-making, even for individuals with high IQs. When engulfed in a tumultuous cloud of emotions, it can feel like a throwback to the turbulence of puberty.

However, the key lies in maintaining composure — what scientists refer to as "arousal control." Learning to remain calm amidst stress is crucial. One effective technique is deep breathing, which has proven beneficial even in high-pressure situations. For instance, teaching recruits to monitor their breathing resulted in a noteworthy increase in Navy SEAL passing rates, from 25 to 33 percent, as they were able to avoid panicking, avoid making errors, and refrain from quitting.

Preparation is another crucial aspect of staying in control. When anticipating challenging situations, taking the time to prepare can instil a sense of control, reducing stress levels and promoting clear thinking. It may seem simple, but its impact is profound. Even professionals dealing with life-threatening situations, such as bomb disposal units, emphasise the significance of always knowing the next step and remaining focused on it.

While IQ holds merit, it is not the sole contributor to good decision-making, especially when faced with complex choices. Rational, IQ-driven thinking may backfire in such situations. Interestingly, research suggests going with one's gut can often lead to better outcomes in complex decisions, particularly for experts in specific domains.

Emotions, while sometimes seen as an obstacle, can be valuable guides in making intelligent choices. It is essential to listen to our emotions without allowing them to dictate our actions completely.

If you're still following along and haven't gotten distracted by checking text messages, there's another issue we should delve into...


The internet serves as a dual entity, functioning partly as an enlightenment engine, but also as a concentrated source of mindless distraction and foolishness. Spending excessive time on social media, known as the epicentre of modern tantrum culture, can leave one feeling theatrically troubled. It often feels like a barrage of trash being shovelled into our brains, resulting in an odd mix of exhaustion and overstimulation.

Neuroscience has explicitly demonstrated multitasking is beyond the capacity of our brains. Despite the illusion of being adept at it, the truth is multitasking impairs our focus and attention. Each task switch takes a toll, equivalent to a 10-point IQ drop. Therefore, we shouldn't rely on our perceptions in this area, just as we shouldn't when it comes to the significance of sleep.

Interestingly, research reveals a common trait among highly productive computer programmers - they thrive in environments free from distractions. To maximise productivity and perform at our best, it's essential to silence our phones and distance ourselves from attention-stealing elements. By "batching" or “chunking” tasks such as email checking, texting, and social media into designated time slots and turning off notifications, we allow our brains to function optimally, increasing our ability to concentrate and accomplish significant work.

However, the most powerful and straightforward means of becoming smarter transcends our individual actions; it is not solely about us...

Ask For Help

Taking on life's challenges single-handedly is often seen as a means of building character, though it may come with its fair share of nightmares. Nevertheless, a complete education involves recognising the value of seeking guidance when needed. When uncertainty arises, it is wise to reach out for help rather than attempting to navigate every situation independently.

None of Us Are the ‘Full Package’

Gone is our time in school, where asking the person next to you in a test or co-operating is still viewed as cheating. In the real world, there is no universal smart way to handle everything without external input. Asking for advice and seeking help from knowledgeable individuals is a sign of wisdom and maturity.

One might fear people are too busy to offer their assistance, but research has shown this assumption is often misguided. People tend to underestimate by up to 50% the likelihood others would willingly provide help if directly asked.

Moreover, seeking advice not only demonstrates humility but can also improve our standing in the eyes of supervisors. According to Wharton professor Adam Grant, individuals who regularly seek advice and guidance from their colleagues are viewed more favourably than those who refrain from doing so.

Taking it a step further, finding a mentor can be an even more valuable asset. The idea that requiring guidance indicates a lack of intelligence is far from the truth. In fact, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his book "Creativity," interviewed numerous brilliant minds, including 14 Nobel prize winners, and discovered almost all of them had an important mentor by the time they reached university age.

Learning to seek help and seek mentorship is an essential aspect of personal and intellectual growth. Now, let's delve into the positive side of the negative news regarding how our intelligence evolves with age.


As we age, the scientific perspective on intelligence is both affirmative and nuanced. There are two types of intelligence: fluid and crystallised. Fluid intelligence, which involves raw problem-solving abilities, tends to decline rapidly from around age 25. On the other hand, crystallised intelligence, built upon accumulated knowledge and expertise, continues to improve and peaks around age 60.

Therefore, focus on building skills and expanding your knowledge base as you grow older. While your processing power may decrease, you can compensate by expanding your "hard drive" of expertise. Embrace the role of an expert in a subject you are passionate about and continue learning. By deepening your understanding in a specific field, you can stay ahead of the game and surpass younger peers in terms of knowledge.

The Bottom Line: Become Smarter

In closing, here's how you can boost your intelligence:

  1. Prioritise Sleep: Getting sufficient rest is crucial for optimal cognitive function and productivity.
  2. Engage in Physical Activity: Remember, what benefits your body also benefits your brain. Embrace exercise as a means of enhancing your cognitive abilities.
  3. Cultivate Calmness: Impulsivity hinders smart judgement. Work on staying calm and composed to make more informed decisions.
  4. Master the Art of Focus: Distractions rarely improve any situation. Practice single tasking, dedicating your attention fully to the task at hand.
  5. Seek Knowledge: Actively seek out advice and guidance. Learning from others' experiences can be highly advantageous.

Remember, IQ is just a measure of potential. What truly matters is how you utilise your abilities and knowledge. Embrace the wisdom of P.J. O’Rourke's words: "Smart people don't start many bar fights. But stupid people don't build many hydrogen bombs." In other words, focus on using your intelligence for constructive and impactful pursuits. Intelligence alone may not guarantee success, but your actions and choices will determine your path to greatness.

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