Like the popular quote says: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.”
What does this mean? Simply put: there are different kinds of intelligences, and we talk about it all the time. Some people are book smart, others are street smart; some are people smart, and others are emotional smart.
It was Raymond Cattell back in the 1960s who first dissected intelligence, identifying two types: crystallized and fluid. Crystallized intelligence is everything that you learn and experience throughout your life, while fluid intelligence is your inherent problem-solving intuition. And the goal? To increase both intelligences.
But while it might be simple to figure out how one can increase their crystallized intelligence—study, read books, do new and different things—it might be a bit more difficult learning how to open the door to your fluid intelligence. However, research has found that it is possible after all.
So how do you increase your mind’s inherent ability to solve abstract problems and identify hidden patterns? According to one researcher, Andrea Kuszewski, there are 5 ways you can exercise and improve your fluid intelligence:
1) Think Creatively
What better way to make your brain more creative than by thinking creatively?
You have to think of your brain as a muscle, and like every other muscle in the body, it needs to be used and exercised before it rots away. And this means you have to think creatively, using every part of your brain regularly.
When was the last time you listened to different music? Solved a puzzle? Played a fast-paced video game? Answered a riddle? These are all different types of problems that require the mind to stretch in different ways.
By thinking in ways that go beyond our usual scope of thought, we train our brain to become greater than what we are now. This increases our ability to generate original ideas and develop new and unconventional thoughts.
2) Find New Things
As an adult, it’s so easy to fall into a routine. Before you know it, your New Year’s resolutions are once again brushed off for the next year.
Even if you think you are in full control of your mind, routines can make you fall into a kind of trance—your brain works on auto-pilot while you drive to work, get your projects done, work on your usual hobbies and past times, and slowly but surely your life passes by.
This is why it’s so important to find new things. Introduce your mind to different activities, hobbies, and experiences.
This jumpstarts your brain into creating fresh synaptic connections in the brain, increasing what is known as your “neural plasticity”.
And the higher your neural plasticity, the more you can understand and store new information. According to Kuszewski, “Expand your cognitive horizons. Be a knowledge junkie.”
As we fall into our routines, we also fall into the same social patterns. Our interactions generally become more and more limited as time goes on—our social circle naturally becomes smaller as we leave university, get married, and get a full-time job.
But by forcing yourself to continue meeting new people and introducing your brain to new opportunities and environments, you can keep your neural connections growing.
This might be the hardest part for those who have forgotten what it’s like to socialize, and according to Kuszewski, the harder it is, the better. Other people naturally bring new challenges, and new challenges mean new problems that the brain has to solve.
4) Keep the Challenges Coming
Regulars at the gym know the mantra: No pain, no gain. Every week they increase their weights, do harder workouts, and admire the improvements happening all over their body.
But for those focused on their brain power, we don’t usually think of it the same way. We forget the importance of challenging our brain rather than just learning new things. But without this challenge, the brain will just learn to operate at a lesser degree.
In her article, Kuszewski talks about a 2007 study where participants were given a brain scan while they played a new video game for several weeks.
Researchers found that participants who had played the new game had increased cortical activity and cortical thickness, meaning their brain had become more powerful just by learning the new game.
When they were given the same test again on a game that was already familiar to them, there had now been a decline in both their cortical activity and thickness.
5) Don’t Take the Easy Way Out
Finally, perhaps the exercise you least want to hear: stop taking the easy way out. The modern world has made life incredibly easy. Translation software removes the need to learn languages,
GPS devices means you never have to use a map or remember a mental map ever again; and little by little, these conveniences that stop us from using our brain actually hurt us by doing exactly that: they prevent our brains from getting the exercise they need.