For a long time, it was believed that people are born with a given level of intelligence and the best we could do in life was to live up to our potential. Scientists have now proven that we can actually increase our potential and enjoy ourselves in the process. We now know that by learning new skills the brain creates new neural pathways that make it work faster and better.
Here is a list of seven hobbies that make you smarter and why.
1. Play a musical instrument.
Playing music helps with creativity, analytical skills, language, math, fine motor skills and more. While these are all great advantages, some people argue that playing team sports might do as many things. What playing musical instruments does that other activities don’t is strengthen the corpus callosum that links the hemispheres of the brain by creating new connections.
An improved corpus callosum helps with executive skills, memory, problem solving and overall brain function, regardless of how old you are.
2. Read anything.
The benefits of reading are the same whether you are enjoying Game of Thrones, Harry Potter or the latest issue of the Wall Street Journal. Reading reduces stress, which makes you feel better about yourself, and increases all three types of intelligence — crystallised, fluid and emotional. That helps with problem solving, putting different pieces of knowledge together to better navigate everyday life, detecting patterns, understanding processes and accurately interpreting and responding to other people’s feelings.
At work, this translates into better understanding how to make things happen and better managerial skills.
3. Exercise regularly.
Occasional exercise alone doesn’t do the trick. Regular exercise is much more effective than hard work-outs every now and then. When exercising regularly the cells are flooded with BDNF, a protein that helps with memory, learning, focus, concentration and understanding. This is also often referred to as mental acuity.
Some scientists speculate that sitting down for prolonged periods of time has the opposite affect and actually hinders our brain from working as well as it could.
4. Learn a new language.
Forget solving puzzles to improve your memory and learn a foreign language instead. Research has shown that people who are bilingual are better at solving puzzles than people who speak only one language. Successfully learning new languages enables your brain to better perform any mentally demanding tasks. This includes the typical executive skills such as planning and problem-solving.
Additionally, speaking at least two languages positively affects your skill to monitor your environment and to better direct your attention to processes. Many people are told that because executives speak languages, they should learn Spanish or French if they want to move up the ranks. Based on how the brain reacts to learning languages, it might be the other way around. Learning another language might be the last missing link people need to get their brain ready to take on C-level jobs.
5. Test your cumulative learning.
Many intelligent students in high school and college “cram” for finals and seem to have mastered the topic the day of the big test. The trouble with that is we tend to forget these things quickly because we are rarely, if ever, required to repeat that knowledge in that same way. One reason studying a new language makes us smarter is because it requires cumulative learning. Because we need them over and over again, the grammar and vocabulary we learn is repeated countless times as we improve our foreign language skills.
Apply the concept of cumulative learning to every day life and your work place by keeping track of noteworthy bits of knowledge you acquire. Go through takeaways from recent books, observations during an important negotiation, or keep a small journal with anything that strikes your attention. Start integrating cumulative learning into your self-improvement program.
6. Work out your brain.
Sudoku, puzzles, riddles, board games, video games, card games, and similar activities increase neuroplasticity. This encompasses a wide variety of changes in neural pathways and synapses that is basically the ability of the brain to reorganize itself. When nerve cells respond in new ways, that increases neuroplasticity, which allows us more ability to see things from different points-of-view andunderstand cause and effect of behaviors and emotions. We become aware of new patterns and our cognitive abilities are improved.
Considering that neuroplasticity is involved in impairments such as tinnitus, an increased amount can help prevent certain conditions. For instance, people with high neurplasticity are less prone to anxiety and depression while learning faster and memorizing more.
In 1992 the Dalai Lama invited scientist Richard Davidson to study his brain waves during meditation to find out whether he could generate specific brain waves on command. Turns out that when the Dalai Lama and other monks were told to meditate and focus on compassion, their brain waves showed that they were in a deeply compassionate state of mind. The full research results were published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” in 2004 and then in the Wall Street Journal, where it received an enormous amount of attention.
Meditation became interesting to ambitious people because the study implied that we can control our own brain waves and feel whatever we want to feel whenever we want to. This means we can feel more powerful right before a negotiation, more confident when asking for a raise and more convincing during a sales call.
The general idea is that the brain can develop further and you can do it on purpose. Different activities stimulate different areas of your brain, so you can work on becoming unbeatable at your strengths as well as improving your weaknesses. Focusing self-improvement on the brain is a good idea for anyone who feels they are at their professional peak (or maybe just have stopped getting better), ambitious professionals and of course entrepreneurs who are looking to maximize their potential.
Written by Christina Baldassarre, a contributor of entrepreneur.com