A person’s mind is their most powerful tool. Yet very few people take intentional steps toward “upgrading” their brain and trying to become smarter. Here are some scary statistics from an article in The Economist:
- In 1991 a worker with a bachelors degree earned 2.5 times as much as a high-school drop out.
- In 2010 a worker with a bachelors degree earned 3 times as much as a high-school drop out.
There is an obvious trend toward paying people who have “upgraded their brain” more money. This probably isn’t too surprising, but consider this:
- 42% of people who graduate from college never read another book.
Wow! 42%!? To me that says that a good number of people get out of college and just assume they have arrived–no need to work on getting any smarter. Obviously there are ways to learn other than reading books, but books have traditionally been and still are one of the main ways you acquire formal knowledge. If you aren’t reading, it is very unlikely you are growing. It is even less likely that you are actually getting smarter in ways that have value outside of the tasks you do on a weekly basis.
In this post, we are going to look at seven ways to upgrade your brain. They are:
- Get a degree
- Seek out new experiences
- Do things that are hard
Reading is the primary way we educate ourselves. If you aren’t reading, you are doing yourself a huge dis-service. With only a few exceptions, I’d go as far as to say that if you aren’t reading your brain is dying. Reading is the fundamental bedrock of upgrading your brain and becoming smarter. You have to read regularly.
Not all reading methods and not all reading contents are equal. There is a very big difference between reading on a computer and reading a physical book. A few months ago I read a study that compared reading on an iPad or Nook to reading a book and the researchers found that people remembered less when reading from the iPad. It had something to do with the way we perceive a lighted surface vs. a reflective one. Perhaps because we associate lighted surfaces with TV and are less engaged.
Reading on the Internet is also quite different from reading a book. A book presents a clear start and end point. There are also more barriers to publishing a physical book than getting something up on the web. Chances are a book will have more thought behind it than an article published on a web page. In addition, it is much easier to jump from place to place on the web so Internet articles don’t typically require or inspire the same level of concentration as what you might need for an intense book.
I’m not saying that reading from the Internet is bad. The web is an incredible tool and gives us access to information that would have been impossible in the past. However, we need to take care to not let it crowd out our traditional reading. We also need to be careful to use the Internet for things that the Internet is good for and use books for things books are good for. The Internet is great for looking up a single fact–something that can take a very long time with a book. Books are great for deeply studying a subject. (Obviously there are exceptions depending on what you are researching, but this is still true in general.)
So what should you read? Here are some suggested categories:
- Classic books
- Books related to your area of your current expertise.
- Books related to the expertise you will need to be competitive in 10 years.
- Books on topics from a completely different field.
For example, a computer programmer might read The Scarlet Letter for category 1. A book on advanced features of their programming language for category 2. A book on business management for category 3 and a book on neuroscience or physics for category 4.
An entry level accountant might read:
- Moby Dick
- A book on best accounting practices
- A book about preparing for the CPA exam
- A book on social media
This type of approach will help make sure you are getting a well rounded reading experience that helps prepare you for today AND tomorrow. Obviously there is nothing to keep you from reading other books like current fiction, etc. However, if all of your reading falls outside of these four categories, you probably are reading more for entertainment than for upgrading your brain.
Get a(nother) degree
If you don’t have a college degree, get one. However, keep in mind that not every degree is equal. You can get a diploma without necessarily learning very much just like you can become very smart without getting a diploma. You need two things from a degree:
- You need the recognition that comes from having a formal college degree.
- You need the knowledge that comes from having worked hard at an academic pursuit.
Society has decided that everyone should go to college. Because of this people without a degree have a much harder time at getting jobs. Colleges have responded by lowering standards so a degree doesn’t mean as much as it use to–particularly from some institutions.
This is why it is worth putting the extra effort into getting a degree that is well recognized and that will give you the best educational experience. We will discuss choosing a good school later on.
If you already have a degree, the same thing applies. Get another one. To be competitive in todays job market, most people are going to need the training and recognition that comes from studies beyond the bachelors level. Usually a master’s degree is a good choice, but there are graduate certificate and citation programs that can be excellent options. Even if you are pursuing a master’s degree, a graduate citation can be an excellent stepping stone that gives you a way to quantify your education as you pursue your master’s degree. A resume that shows a graduate citation in X is better than a resume that shows you took some random classes.
When you get a degree, you are taking on the reputation of the school where you studied. The expectations that people have from a Yale graduate are different than the expectations of someone from a small community college. These expectations can strongly influence how people perceive you. If people think you are smart you will appear smart and they will think your ideas are good. (See this experiment for a better explanation of this phenomenon.)
This means that where you go to school can determine your ability to get interesting work. Having interesting work can be one of the best ways to upgrade your brain because it keeps you mentally active. So choosing a school is about more than just the academics and the educational experience. It is also about what type of opportunities it will give you and how rich those opportunities will be.
In the same spirit, you need to choose a school based on what type of academic experiences you will have. Generally you want to attend somewhere that you will be in the middle to top 75%. If you are the best student, you won’t have the same push toward your maximum capabilities. It is very healthy to have at least a few people in every class who can outperform you if you don’t try very hard. However, you don’t want to go to a school where everyone is so far above you that you can’t take advantage of the special opportunities that surround the academic environment.
If you are getting your first degree and just starting college, I’d suggest getting it in person at a traditional university–especially if you are a recent high school graduate. State schools offer reasonable tuition and can be very affordable. There is a local school here where one can pay for everything without loans while working full time during the summer and part time during the school year making minimum wage.
For your second degree, you may find that online degrees or some of the programs like an executive MBA are more suited to your social, family, career and employment situation. You have to be a bit more careful in selecting a school for an online degree as their reputation can vary much more than that of established traditional institutions. I would highly recommend pursuing something like my Master’s Degree from Harvard. It was very cost effective, fairly flexible and Harvard generally keeps a good academic reputation particularly compared with the reputation of some other online schools.
The real “brain upgrade” value of a degree is the way that it will force you diversify. You can’t just study the stuff that comes easy to you. A degree from a good academic institution is a well designed package to give you a well rounded education including studying things that you might not study on your own. My undergrad degree is in music composition, but I had to take a lot of classes outside of the topic of music. At my school I even had to take a physical education class and run three miles each semester in less than 21 minutes. To graduate you also had to prove you knew how to swim well enough that you wouldn’t drown should you accidentally fall in a lake. Obviously making sure I could swim wasn’t directly related to music composition, but it is part of what the college decided a well rounded person should know how to do.
At Harvard, I was studying software engineering. One of the required classes was on computational theory. It studies the theoretical aspects of what type of problems can be solved by a computer and what type of problems can’t. For the most part, it isn’t something you need to know to write typical software. However, the real value is in the way it changed my thinking. It forced me to learn a different area of mathematics. I can point to turning point insights I’ve had in areas unrelated to software engineering that were only possible because of the different way of thinking I learned in that class.
Seek out new experiences
Our brains grow when we do something new with them. If you aren’t doing anything new, your brain is not growing. Reading new books, studying new topics, going back to get another degree are all things that can help give your brain new experiences. But what about more mundane things? Here are some ideas of simple things you can do that will help give you new experiences.
- Brush your teeth with your non-dominate hand a few times each week.
- Read a section of the newspaper or a magazine that you’d normally never touch.
- Go into a store that you’ve never had any desire to visit.
- Draw pictures
- Draw pictures with your non-dominate hand
- Drive to work a different way.
- Cook a type of food you’ve never had before.
- Watch a few movies that are in a different language.
- Attend a lecture on a topic you know nothing about.
- Spend a few hours in municipal court as an observer.
- Attend a city commission meeting.
- Go to a restaurant that is primarily frequented by people who aren’t in your age group.
- Learn to juggle. (I highly recommend this.)
- Do your work outside for a few hours.
- Strike up conversations with people you normally wouldn’t talk to.
- Visit a library you’ve never been in.
- Browse a section of a library that you’ve never been in.
- Attend an art display in a style you don’t particularly care for.
- Attend musical recitals for different instruments and a modern composer.
- Take the stairs in a building where you’ve only taken the elevator.
- Listen to a different radio station.
- Spend some time reading in the room in your house where you spend the least amount of time.
- If you have land or a yard, go stand in part of it where you don’t think you’ve ever been before.
- Try out a different operating system. (Many can run from a CD. See Haiku and Ubuntu)
- Go to a school board meeting.
- Go star gazing.
- Write a letter to someone you’ve never written to before.
- Ask an older relative about the things they remember when they were your age.
None of those activities are likely to be life changing. However, each one will change you just a little bit and each one will give you brain something new to think about and process.
We think all the time, but most of us don’t spend any structured, intentional time just thinking. We think just enough to start our next action. There is great value in taking the time to deliberately sit and think. One of the reasons we don’t do this is because it usually just becomes day dreaming. Day dreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t as directed as what we are trying to achieve by sitting and thinking.
The funny thing about thinking is that there really isn’t that much information on how to go about doing it. There are books like How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci that are interesting but tend to focus on how to be creative less than on how to just think. On one hand this is disappointing, but on the other it makes sense. Thinking is a huge category and it is going to be very difficult for one person to explain how they think to someone else. What I’m going to do here is to try to give you some guidelines for productive thinking that work well for me. Obviously you’ll have to find what works for you and adjust things to fit your personal needs, but these should give you a start.
1. Decide what you are going to think about
To be really productive your thinking needs to be directed. Here are some things you might want to spend some time thinking about:
- Your career plans and how to get the most out of your current job.
- A business idea.
- Personal goals – clarifying what you want to achieve and life and how to reach those achievements.
2. Find a quiet place without a lot of distractions
What qualifies as a distraction is going to be different for different people and may vary depending on what you are thinking about. A distraction free environment for clarifying your personal goals might be a coffee shop, but if you are working on coming up with a mathematical theorem, the same coffee shop might be full of distractions.
3. Write down what you hope to accomplish
Without a plan you won’t know if you accomplished what you set out to do. Get it down on paper to make sure you are clear what you want to get out of this “thinking session.” Your goal can be as specific or as general as necessary, but try to choose something that you can tell if you succeeded or not. Writing down “think about businesses” isn’t something that you can really quantify as having done or not–or at least it is hard to tell if you really accomplished anything. “Come up with 3 ideas for a business I can run from home” is a bit easier to claim success.
4. Take notes
This may sound funny. Why would you take notes of your thinking? Getting something down on paper lets you see your though process much more easily than when it is just in your mind. Thinking is the process of interacting with information and getting some of that information out in front of you is a great way to focus and be creative. These don’t need to be formal notes. You can jot ideas, draw diagrams, doodle pictures or create mind maps to help clarify what you are thinking.
Musicians and sports figures constantly practice, but most other people never practice. If you can find a way to practice your skills, you can become better at what you do. Practice can make you faster, more efficient and better at your job. The trick is to find a small unit that you can repeat in a way that will increase your skill.
Here are some ideas of things you might be able to practice:
- If you are slow at typing, practicing typing for 15 minutes per day can have a great return on investment.
- Public speaking is something that can be practiced and good presentation skills are essential to many careers.
- Writing is a skill that can be practiced. Few people wouldn’t benefit from being able to write a bit better.
Some fields even have competitions setup to help you practice. For example, TopCoder lets programmers compete to solve short programming challenges. Other disciplines have competitions or other ways that you can potentially practice.
Writing is underrated. The discipline of getting thoughts from your head onto paper is very valuable and you can learn a lot simply by writing down your ideas and observations. Writing is the process of making your thoughts concrete and visible. it allows you to clarify what you are thinking and refine your ideas. Writing makes you smarter because it forces you deeper into a topic and shows you areas of your topic that you don’t fully understand. For example, I recently wrote a post about finite state machines to help clarify my understanding and make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything in the 5 years since I took a class on the topic. Not only was the exercise good for me by forcing me to think deeply about the topic again, but the interactions with people who read it and had suggestions, corrections or disagreements was personally rewarding.
I started Productivity501 in 2005 and the practice of writing on a regular basis has been extremely valuable to my career. I highly recommend starting at least a personal blog. A personal blog can cover pretty much any topic and gives you a way to get your content up where others can benefit from it and interact with you. It is a lot easier to have the motivation to write when you know someone might/will read it and a blog gives you that type of exposure without needing to do any type of extensive setup or expensive publishing.
Do things that are hard
I’ve talked about the importance of reading things that are hard, but the same concept applies to doing things that are hard. Doing things that are difficult raises your ceiling and increases your capabilities.
I’ve heard of basketball coaches that put a smaller ring inside of the basketball hoop during practice. This makes it a lot harder for players to make baskets during practice, but when the game comes and they are practicing on a normal sized hoop it seems much easier to make shots. They make practice harder in order to raise the bar on their performance when it really matters.
In some ways, this suggestion sounds like the suggestion to find things to practice and there is some overlap. However, doing things that are hard can involve doing big projects and larger scale work than finding something small that you can practice over and over again. If tackle writing a 100 page research paper, the 5 page papers you are subsequently assigned will seem trivial in comparison. A builder who completes a 10,000 sq. foot luxury home is probably going to find managing the construction of smaller sized homes much easier after they have stretched themselves to manage the larger construction project.
If you want your brain to be operating at its peak capabilities, you need to constantly be asking yourself, “When was the last time I did something where I felt truly challenged? When was the last time where I was seriously worried that I might fail?” If you haven’t had any of those experiences recently, you may need to seek out a difficult assignment or project in oder to make sure your brain isn’t becoming stagnant.
Your brain is your most valuable asset. Many people leave their brain’s development up to chance. If you want to safeguard against becoming stale and irrelevant you need to make a conscious effort to upgrade your brain, develop your skills and insure that you are moving forward–not backwards.
I usually give you a hard time about things, and I know that I focus on opportunities for improvement rather than things that are working or done well; it is how I think and how I get paid…well. I, as many others, read your posts and follow your blog, so you are doing well and overall quite effective and productive in your efforts. I do want to make a particular point about his post.
Having crossed ways with people who have not graduated from high-school for various reasons and, due to my nature, made a point of knowing their story and them personally; I found it rather disappointing that you would us the “…high-school drop out” phrasing to describe someone that did not finish their high school degree. The particular phrasing you chose connotes failure, dropping-out of the “rat-race” that is American society, a mark of shame and inferiority, a branding similar to a scarlet letter in its ignorantly insidious, counter-productive manner. I understand it is easy to use the phrase thoughtlessly as it is a commonly used one in our society, but, in it’s essence, it is quite not productive.
People do not complete their high-school education for many, widely varying reasons; all of them not due to their own fault or doing. Beyond that fact that scientists have long determined that the brain and decision making does not fully develop until well into the 20s and later for men and that our own government “leadership” and society holds the position that people under 21 cannot make proper decisions about alcohol; people who do not complete their high-school education all have one thing in common, they were failed by those immediately around them and society at large. If the word “dropped” is used in reference to that topic, it should be similar to “…high-school dropped”. It sounds silly at first, but it is a proper identification of responsibility.
I am sure some, maybe even you, will think that personal responsibility has to surely play a role, but that is due to our society’s pervasive inability to properly connect the dots and draw connections to causation, which has led to such fallacious reasoning. Blaming or holding individuals responsible or tagging all individuals with a negative label that becomes the singular identifier, for reasons that were not their own is generally unintelligent. It does not help their situation, which is usually fraught with low self-esteem and low confidence, often compounded by uniquely traumatizing events or situations, and it does not help society address the consequences of its collective failure. In essence, the above type labeling is the same process, albeit more subtle—hence insidious—as any number of examples where the “victim”, i.e., the individual who has been wronged or injustice brought upon, is blamed for their circumstance.
If you find yourself automatically rejecting the above, I suggest doing something that is similar to your advice, do something hard, challenge your rejection and views.
Mark Shead says
I appreciate your comment, but the phrasing isn’t mine. It comes from the source I was citing in the Economist. My goal wasn’t to look at the reasons that someone might drop out of high school, but rather look at the overall trends that such a choice would have on their earning potential relative to people who completed college.
It appears that you are saying that personal responsibility does not play a role in the failure of someone to graduate from high school. Is that actually what you are suggesting?
One brother dropped out of high school. He later obtained his PhD.
Another brother dropped out of high school and is now working on his doctoral thesis.
I forced both my sons out of high school at 17. They each chose to go on to college.
I finished high school a year early. I started – and stopped – my college education 5 times. I never attained even an Associates credential. For several reasons, I ‘dropped-out’ of that ‘rat-race’. Luckily for me, I learned very young how to learn on my own. I’ve used these seven techniques repeatedly for more than 40 years, and they work. Even without the credentials my brothers possess, my family considers me ‘the smart one’.
While I understand Marc’s perspective, I have to add that ultimately it is the individual’s response to the surrounding world that leads to any future.
Great points. I read to exercise my brain and it helps a lot. I will try to apply your suggestions to upgrade my brain and see if I get any smarter. Thanks. Good read.
jackson rodgers says
Income and level of education are correlated. Those with a professional degree (MD, JD) tend to make more than those with a Master’s degree who make more than those with a Bachelor’s who make more than those with a high school diploma. The key though isn’t just formal education but continued learning throughout life. Does your job offer training? Can you take on new responsibilities?
It is interesting that two of the world’s richest people are college dropouts:
Bill Gates: dropped out of Harvard
Larry Ellison: dropped out of U of Illinois.
I wouldn’t count on being one of them, though. Better to get an education if you can.
AE Thanh says
You’re totally right that the brain is your most valuable asset. Most people don’t see it that way. It wasn’t till I started reading books about the brain how powerful it really is. Especially once you understand the basics of how memory, learning, and belief systems work you can literally alter your brain.
I like reading and writing as my way of training my brain. I also try to avoid calculators as much as possible, especially when I have to calculate the tip for something. Little things like that exercise my brain enough.
Mark Shead says
Avoiding calculators is a great suggestion.
Laura Pearle says
As a librarian, I was a little startled to read “42% of people who graduate from college never read another book.” Where ever did you find that statistic?
Your exhortation to not read fiction (current, genre, otherwise) and stick to classics was interesting. Current fiction can expose you to new ideas, new ways of thinking. Genre fiction can give you new ways of viewing the world. Both can expand your vocabulary. And why, later on, do you suggest “# Visit a library you’ve never been in.
# Browse a section of a library that you’ve never been in.” if you don’t think that many sections of the library are worth reading?
Mark Shead says
The stats I referenced were said to be from the Jenkin’s group. I’ve had several people doubt that they are accurate and I’m looking into it. A couple people showed me sites citing the same statistic (with no reference) for high school graduates which seems a bit more believable–particularly if you are only measuring graduates from the last 10 or 15 years.
I didn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t read modern fiction–it just wasn’t in the categories I suggested. I don’t think I said it was bad to read other things that weren’t on the list of categories. However, as I said, if 100% of your reading is outside of those categories, you probably aren’t getting the maximum brain boosting benefit. It isn’t that other categories are bad, but it is very easy to get in a rut and just read the same type of book. Most of the time you are going to benefit from reading a book in a new genre. However, if after 10 years that is the only genre you’ve read simply reading another of the same type of book isn’t going to be as beneficial as reading something completely new.
Here are some reasons I’d encourage people to look into the classics:
The cultural relevance of an older classic is going to be much greater than a modern work. For example the word “quixotic” means a lot more if you’ve read the book that inspired it.
It is more difficult to know which modern books are great and which are not. Popularity isn’t always the best measure.
People who like reading modern fiction are probably doing so already. Reading something different is going to be the most beneficial.
Curious, where did you find the stat about 42% of college grads not reading another book?
Mark Shead says
The statistics were originally published by the Jenkin’s Group if I remember correctly. They are listed here. Someone pointed me to an NEA study that might be more accurate, but I haven’t looked it up yet.
Excellent article. I have been reading your blog since last several months, and I should say that I have improved professionally and personally. So, thank you.
Mark Shead says
Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate the positive feedback.
I like the overall ideas of this article. Another new thing to try might be to go volunteer at an inner-city shelter, or volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club. This might give you a wider perspective on socio-economic issues and life… I think this would be beneficial since you recommend people get the Harvard MBA too.
Andrew Hoeveler says
I appreciate the article, but I’m not sure about taking advice on ways to upgrade my brain from a writer who has a spelling error in the 6th sentence.
I’ll give you a hint: “to” or “too”?
Another tip: Don’t depend on spell check.
Mark Shead says
Thanks for your suggestions. Years ago I found that if I obsess about proofing everything and making it perfect, I’ll write much less. If there is anything too drastically wrong, someone always tells me and I can fix it. Thanks again. :)
Nice article. I enjoyed it and it makes sense to me. One question, though. What benefit do you get from reading the classics do you get that you don’t get from reading more contemporary works? For instance, Da Vinci Code sparked interest in forms of art for me. I’m currently enjoying Laura Hillenbrands book “Unbroken”. What would I get from Moby Dick or the Great Gatsby that I don’t get from these examples?
Mark Shead says
Keep in mind that I’m not saying you shouldn’t read anything modern. If someone only read the classics I’d recommend they read something written more recently. The main goal is to push yourself to read things you haven’t read before. Many people have a passing familiarity with the classics, but have never actually read them.
One of the biggest benefits of the classics is that enough time has passed to identify the really good books–something that is difficult to do with modern literature. Also there are many parts of classics where our culture makes reference to them in ways that you won’t fully understand if you haven’t read the work. The word “quixotic” and the term “tilting at windmills” are two examples from Don Quixote that come quickly to mind. You’ll find references to the Scarlet Letter in many places as well. If you look carefully you’ll find references to Moby Dick as well. Probably most are related to Ahab and being overcome with revenge.
All of these references allow us a way to communicate and convey a great deal of emotion, point of view and back story in just a few words. If you aren’t familiar with the classic work being used, you probably won’t notice what is being said. However, if you are, you’ll enjoy a much richer understanding of what is being said.
Now the same thing can happen with more modern works and movies as well, but the time tested older books are still the foundation of much of our culture and that knowledge less likely to be fleeting than some of the modern works.
When you look at the cost of a college degree versus the benefits, there are many cases in which it no longer makes financial sense. Many graduates don’t catch up with non-college graduates until they are well into their thirties.
Another issue is that the debt can be overwhelming, especially for those graduating now and cannot find a job. Although it’s important to be proactively using your brain, there are more ways than going to college. As other people have commented, there are billionaire dropouts who decided to forgo the “protected professions” and start something new. That requires more mental effort than settling for a job and working for someone else after graduating.
Half agreeing with you on this one. Whilst I see some people who does not have a degree made it up with experience, personally I do see the value of having a degree. I think the real question is “What do you do with your degree” after you get it. Some people put the skills that they have learnt in the process and apply it in their jobs, and some just did jack all with it. Obviously you can see which group gets ahead.
Graduates that does not have a degree can get ahead because of practical experience, AND their willingness to use their experiences to leap to the next level. Having said that, without a degree, it’s harder to go further as potential employers still want education on everyone’s resume even if they don’t need it.
My conclusion is, it’s ok to have or not have a degree, it’s what you do with your brain that gets you ahead, not what paper you have.
Nicky Spur says
Wow, comprehensive post. What I find really interesting is how each of the seven upgrades improves your brain in a different manner. I’d argue for example that getting a degree isn’t really upgrading your brain per say, just telling society you’re smart enough to make it through college. Reading provides theory and actual practice gives you feedback which in my opinion really rewires your brain to learn something.
The new experiences on is also critical but something else that sticks out for me here is that these all dovetail into one another and are usually done together or one followed by another. It’s hard to upgrade your brain (or your life really) without doing most of the above activities.
Mark Shead says
There are some colleges that are little more than places where you can prove you can show up for class for four years. However, a good education from a challenging institution will teach you to think in ways you were not able to previously. This is very valuable and something that can be difficult to achieve in other environments.
Interesting comment that people recall what is written in print better than what they read on a PC screen, I always felt that way but it’s reassuring to see it confirmed. So much for “save a tree”!
Mark Shead says
I think that it has to do with the difference between reflective and light emitting surfaces. So basically you’d remember what you read from an e-ink device like a Kindle better than on an iPad.
Can you cite this study? Interesting article, BTW. I love anything that encourages thinking.
Mark Shead says
I can’t seem to find the place I originally found it discussed. If I remember right the basic idea was that the easier something is to read the less our brain thinks it is important. That is discussed a bit here and you can follow the links to find the original researchers. However, seems to be pointing toward the idea that ebooks are easier to read than paper so Kindles are worse for comprehension than a real book.
I thought I saw a comparison between backlit and reflective devices that showed reflective surfaces resulted in higher comprehension, but I can’t seem to find it. It is possible that it was just someone’s analysis of the original study and not something that had specifically been tested. If I find it I’ll post it.
Ah – the brilliant Jonah Lehrer! That’s all you have to tell me. I’m sold! Thanks.
Emo Phillips says
“I used to think that the brain was the most fascinating part of the human body. Then I reallized, “well sure, look at what’s telling me that…”
In general this is a very good post. Yet, there are some points I’d like to comment upon. Good reading can be made on internet, too. In the beginning if you’re not used to reading on your PC/Mac it may indeed be a little slower or uncomfortable for your brain. It’s not the luminosity of the computer’s screen as much as it is a natural tendency of the brain to resist any new activity/habit. And more, there are entire free resources of online libraries filled with classical books, like Project Gutenberg (http://www.projectgutenberg.org) where you look up for the classics of literature on-line.
Second of all, there is no other activity that can upgrade your brain better than Thinking, so I think it should be the number one activity for developing the mental faculties. The ability to think for oneself, to form high values and an open horizon and to constantly keep an open-mind is the greatest and truest sign of maturity.
Mark Shead says
Thanks for your comments. Actually the research I was referring to said it was the fact that the backlit screens do provoke a different response from the brain–not because they are novel but because they are experienced differently.
If its about improving your brain power, then whether it is Harvard or the local college shouldn’t matter. Mentioning harvard is just being snooty.
Read the classics, snooty again or maybe pretentious is a better word. I read Steven King, in 200 years people will say, have you read the classics by Steven King, Daniel Steele and Sydney Sheldon LOL.
42% never read another book, I would question that statistic.
Good article though.
Mark Shead says
If you think a better use of your time would be to take community college classes and read Steven King, then by all means do so. I’m not saying you can’t learn from any of those things, but I think most people will get more benefit out of the things I have on my list.
I love your insights into reading a book vs reading on an electronic device. I had to read a book for a college class I’m in and I found that I could remember almost nothing from the e-version. I had to physically go out and buy the book to remember. My Kindle is great for mindless reading, but it doesn’t stay with me.
Joe Paz says
With all due respect, I think you set your priorities wrong. For example, you recommend people to get a degree to upgrade their brains.
All of your suggestions are basically about performing certain mental tasks and creating new mental skills. But if there’s one thing that we can take away from all recent neuroscience as it relates to brain enhancement, it’s this: physical exercise is just as important as mental exercise if you want to have a healthy, powerful brain. And it should be at least in the number two spot on this list. What’s also missing is healthy eating (and again, I’m not just talking about general health, but about brain health and performance).
So while I applaud you for listing these 7 things and going into great detail – I think you would have done your readers a greater service if you actually would have put 7 suggestions in here that address the other two aspects as well, because all the mental activity in the world can only do a mediocre job as compensating if these other two areas of brain health aren’t taken care of.
Mark Shead says
Excellent point. If you don’t maintain your physical well being, it is going to be very difficult to push your brain to the next level. Another important physical habit is getting enough sleep.
Great article, enjoyed upgrading my brain with it… :)
Would you suggest reading all 4 book categories at the same time or one after the other?
Mark Shead says
Interesting question. I find that I get more out of a book when I’m in the mood for that particular style of reading. So I wouldn’t avoid reading multiple books at the same time if it means you are able to read them when you will get the most benefit from them. On the other hand if you read too many books at the same time, it can be more difficult to finish just because your time is so spread out. So if you have 30 minutes every day you are dedicating to reading, I think I’d only work on one or two books at a time. If you are reading for and hour here and 15 minutes there, I think the multiple book approach might be more appropriate.
Of course the real test is what works for you. You might try both approaches and see which is most comfortable for you personally.
By ‘read a book’ do you mean novels or what, because I dont like fiction and maybe thats the 42%. College people wont just read anything thats a book.
Plus, were they only considering reading as finishing a whole book? I usually only read select topics.