Friday, April 12, 2013

Becoming the Ultimate Me...

Fifty-five days.  That's what I'm giving myself.  I've been on a bit of a quest of late, actually since the passing of my Nana, to better myself.  While my focus has been on my mind, I find it's time to expand my focus.  I've also learned enough about myself over the course of the past 35 years to know that without a challenge (betting, double dog dare style, usually work best) I fall away from my goals.  So 55 days worth of eating like a Timothy Ferris, whole foods addict and regular exercise is my promise to my lovely wife and my challenge to myself.  I'll let you know on June 2nd whether I win or lose this challenge, but making it incited me to share some of what I've learned over the past few months regarding memory, cognition and some mentalist type fun.
If you've visited the What I'm Reading page on my blog you have seen the list of books I read regarding memory and cognition.  Some where quite helpful and insightful, some just plain fun and others a bit more on the psychology textbook side.  Altogether though, they enabled me to memorize some pretty useful things related to my work amazingly fast (like in the course of an afternoon), easily remember large numbers, become more observant and even remember what exactly my wife sent me to the grocery store to pick up.
Photograph by Sasse, Author; UPI; March 14, 1941
There is a common misconception that smart people are born that way.  That Einstein was always a genius and Newton the farmer, who did so poorly in school he was eventually removed and was even a miserable failure on his family farm, was born to be a mental incompetent.  Albert Einstein didn't even speak until he was four years old and couldn't read at age seven; his parents and teachers believed him to be handicapped.  Sir Isaac Newton quit farming, found his way to Cambridge and became the father of modern physics.  Sure, people are born with certain innate abilities and as such have advantages over those who aren't quite so lucky.  But the advantages of some do not equate to the limitations of others.  In fact, studies have shown that a person's innate intelligence is far less important than what a person does with their mind.  The work they do in study, their exposure to new thoughts and ideas and their personal motivation.  A less "intelligent" person can far excel the knowledge and intellect of a born genius through study, action and perseverance.

Which brings us to some of the things I have learned over the past few months.  Although by technical definition, using IQ scores and Mensa type classifications, I may be considered a genius, I am far from being as productive or even intelligent as I could or should be.  Just take a quick look had how bad I am at spelling and grammar if you need an example.  A lot of this comes down to laziness.  I never had to try in school and so I rarely did.  I have found in my middle thirties that I have done myself a great disservice and have acquired far less knowledge than I could have.  It saddens me that it took my grandmother dieing to come to this realization but the first thing I learned and will mention, is that it is never too late and regret is a useless emotion.  As a practical learning tool, regret can be quite valuable, but not as an emotional state.  It will only hold you back.  Looking forward then, how does one improve their memory, knowledge and overall intelligence. 

Step one: Read.  Read some more.  And then...keep reading.  There's no shortcut to this, no way around it.  Reading is the best way to improve the way you think, expand your mind and outlook, and learn knew things.  If you don't like to read...too bad.  Start with a subject that interests you, it doesn't matter what it is, and get started.  Even subjects which seem polar opposite of an intellectual endeavor  will lead to crazy things like thoughts and ideas and then to new subjects to explore.  The best thing about reading is that the more you read, the better you get and the more you will enjoy.  Your vocabulary will increase, your knowledge base will grow and before you know it you'll be a much more intelligent person.

Step two: Pay attention.  Might seem like an unusually simple step.  After all, your teachers and parents have probably told you to pay attention countless times.  But that isn't exactly what I mean, or a least isn't the whole of what I'm getting at.  In order to truly experience all the things happening around you, to learn and expand your mind and mental acuity, you have to take an active role in what you see and experience.  As our hero Sherlock Holmes once put it to Dr. Watson, but could have said to any one of us, "you see but you do not observe."  A great deal of the reason people don't remember all that they could or even notice things which might be of benefit or interest to them, is that they don't pay attention.  They go through life on autopilot.  Taking the simple step of actively being attentive will do more for an immediate effect to your memory and retention than any trick or mnemonic you'll learn in the books I've suggested.  In fact, most of those books tell you exactly that.

Step three: Try new things.  People who keep active, both physically and mentally, with knew hobbies, sports and activities, live longer, stay sharper and remain happier.

Step four: Which is really a part of step three, but deserves singling out: Play games.  Crosswords, Sudouko, Video Games, Luminousity, Word-searches, Cards, Boardgames.  All of these activities are simply mind expanding and enhancing workouts for your brain in disguise.  Want to think faster, smarter and longer?  Play games.

Step five: Play around with the myriad of memory devices out there.  From loci, mnemonics and memory palaces to peg systems and mind mapping, you'll be amazed that the feats of memory you can accomplish.  The best book to start with is The Memory Book, but don't stop there.  Dozens of good books are out there and each has a spin that just might resonate with you and open new doors to memorization and learning.  See step one!  

Step six: Eat good stuff.  I'm not talking about dieting to lose weight or build muscle here.  More of that to come after my 55 day experiment.  What I'm talking about is a bit simpler, but often overlooked in today's diets.  You need to add things to your diet that you know are good for you.  Now obviously you can pick up any two diet books and get more contradictory information than you would at a political debate but I'll break it down for you.  You know what things are good for you.  It's the stuff your mom made you eat before you could get up from the table.  Need help?  I'll make it even easier.  If it's it.  If it's red, orange, purple or it.  If you can eat raw...add it to you diet.  The result is the addition of crucial vitamins and micro-nutrients that will keep your brain running at peak. 

Now I'm not an expert by any means, but hopefully I've helped get you started.  Remember step one.  That's where you'll find the expert advice to go with my bit of rhetoric.  I've noticed a great improvement in my life and my desire and ability to learn new things and even hone the knowledge I already thought I had.  Give it a try.  Worst thing that will happen is that you'll read a book you didn't mean to read.  With rare exception, that never hurt anybody.


Addendum:  I wrote this post 7 days ago but had not had the opportunity to send it.  That said, I have only 48 days to go in my experiment.  Just to remove any loopholes I might give myself.    

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant my son, brilliant...and inspirational...You are so smart.. My only argument.. some people are just born and two beautiful girls in your house just like you.... but they grow smarter and wiser with age and with reading.... as my father always said.. no learning is ever a waste... GREAT POST