Getting Smarter

This weekend I flew back from Amsterdam to Berlin, a trip I take on a monthly basis. I picked up a Newsweek print edition, and came across an article that promoted 31 ways of getting smarter, including a lot of hacks.* Unlike many people, “hacking” something does not have a positive ring to me. I believe in solid basics, and this is often harder, more time-consuming, or expensive than looking for the easy way.

Let’s take intelligence, the focus of the article. There is this idea that you can hack this as well, by solving Sudoku puzzles, practicing mental arithmetic, eating certain foods, playing video games, etc.

While I’m sure you can identify some metric on which you will perform better after doing these activities, why bother in the first place? If you focus on the basics – like the simple joy of walking – you will score better on these arbitrary metrics too (if that’s your goal).

Therefore, here is my list of things worth doing in their own right. And oh, they will also make you smarter. As a side-effect.

  1. Eat well
  2. Sleep a lot
  3. Walk a lot
  4. Move naturally*
  5. Low-information diet
  6. Go into nature
  7. Off-path hiking
  8. Write by hand
  9. Seduction
  10. Learn a new language

5 thoughts on “Getting Smarter

  1. Some of your points are solid, and some are just tactics.

    For instance, writing by hand doesn’t make you smarter if it is not done mindfully. Writing by hand is a tactic to become mindful of what your doing, thus improving your concentration / continuous mindful capacity and thus making you ‘smarter’. That’s why meditation (relaxation, concentration, and/or insight) should be part of everyone’s routine.

    That doesn’t mean Pali chanting, but it can be something as simple as staring outside of a window observing your own thoughts.

  2. I really like this article and your list.

    There are two things I would like to add:
    – Solving the little problems in your daily life yourself.
    That can mean anything, in example your drainage is blocked or you have a computer problem, or your socks got a hole. All problems you can solve yourself and in the process you will get smarter (whatever that means…)

    – Do things yourself
    There are numerous crafts and learning the entry level of the most basic crafts like backing, cooking, sewing, carving, carpentering, forging, gardening, making fire, masoning etc. will provide you with new practical skills and makeyou smarter, because they all involve abstract thinking, imagination and your ability to adapt to new situations.

    What do you think?


  3. @Tom – Handwriting is the most tactical activity in the list, but don’t throw it away. It’s a small way of changing your life that can still have a big impact. Especially when combined with dumping electronic to-do lists, calendars, and notebooks.

    I can’t say anything about meditation, because unlike this list, I have not tried it out for myself. I am a big fan of being in-the-moment though, like the Stoics and the Zen masters, whatever you do.

  4. Okay, I’ll try handwriting. Let’s see how that goes.

    Life is awesome when we don’t think but just do. If you’re practicing being in the moment, or being ‘mindful’ (whatever you want to call it), you’re already ahead of 90% of the people who just wander the earth reacting to external stimuli yet thinking they are in control of their life.

    Most people would be shocked at how much of their life they’re wasting if they’d just regularly ask the question ‘Is this thing I’m doing right now actually contributing to something worthwhile in my life?’ (idleness fits into this description, mind you)

    Ofcourse they’d play it off with some mayor cognitive dissonance removal tactic like ‘Okay, well tonight I might be watching TV all night, but tomorrow I’ll do something productive’. Which of course turns into an endless loop until they’re 75 and crippled, living in a foster home unable to go to the toilet by themselves and looking back at their life with regret.

    This post is starting to become a bit long, but I just want to back up what Joseph said. It’s really awesome and undervalued to learn how to fix stuff. If I take a look at my friends for example, they’re all so theoretically gifted (finance, law, marketing, etc.) but some of them literally can’t replace a light bulb. (no joke).

  5. @Joseph – This article was by no means exhaustive. Solving your own little problems seems like a great way to avoid becoming a specialist, one of modernity’s curses. And of course you don’t really have to go out of your way to implement it – see my comment about handwriting.

    Regarding doing stuff yourself, I would put artisanry in the same category. Both learning a variety of basic crafts and mastering a particular one. Perhaps the 80-20 rule could be applied here.

    @Tom – I wouldn’t draw the conclusion from being in the moment is good, ergo introspection is always bad. To question one-self and one’s actions, that’s where wisdom starts, right? When introspection leads to analysis-paralysis and therefore passivity, that’s where I agree that it’s a bad thing.

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