How can I stimulate my intellect?

Do your hard work FIRST.

According to scientific research, the brain’s peak performance happens 2-4 hours after we wake up. Early work allows the brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, less inputs from our environment, and with fresh energy that we’ve gained from a restful night. Adjust your morning schedule so that you don’t waste your peak hours doing things that don’t require your complete focus:

  • Stay away from checking emails first thing in the morning.
  • Whenever possible, schedule meetings in the afternoon.
  • Make phone calls after lunch.
  • Listen to the news later in the day (while driving, for example) instead of first thing when you wake up.

Start each morning with this question: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?

This question sets the tone to your day. It encourages you to think strategically about your life, it keeps you focused on your goals, it forces you to prioritize, and it serves as a personal promise to yourself. Here’s what you can do:

  • Put it in writing. Write it in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall.
  • Read it out loud as you start your day, and come up with an answer on the spot.
  • As you follow your daily schedule, make sure that you devote time to work on the one thing you’ve identified as important to you for that day.

Maximize your “in between” time.

Whenever you are walking, riding the bus or train, or driving to school or work, all that time adds up. Your total commute time in one 24-hour period can add up to several hours. Why not plan ahead so that you can maximize it to grow your imagination, help you learn new things, get strategic about how to achieve your goals? Instead of listening to the news or stressing out because you’re stuck in traffic, queue up some podcasts to keep you alert, focused, and entertained. For example:

  • Optimize with Brian Johnson (condensed big ideas from the best books on optimal living and also micro classes on how to apply these ideas)
  • Achieve Your Goals with Hal Elrod (creator of The Miracle Morning, provides ideas to cultivate a morning routine and be productive early in the day)
  • Happier With Gretchen Rubin (a fun show led by bestselling author of “The Happiness Project” with small ideas you can apply to your life to exercise your happiness muscle)
  • Intelligence Squared (forum for debate and intelligent discussion on a variety of topics ranging from world politics to art to economics)
  • The Inquiry (a debate on a controversial topic in the news and 4 experts challenging each other with 2 views, for and against the topic)
  • Question of the Day (a show for people short on time and long on curiosity, with a lot of good humor in trying to answer the question at hand)

Always be in learning mode.

Don’t get complacent as you grow older, and don’t ever, ever think you know everything on a certain subject. There is always so much new material to learn, so teach your mind to be flexible and to grow. Create a habit for discovering new things by trying these things:

  • Set aside a small block of time every single day (start with 15 minutes, then increase up to one hour) to devote to learning something new.
  • Teach yourself a new skill, learn how to fix something that’s broken or to build something from scratch, research a topic that fascinates you, listen to a podcast on an interesting subject while you are driving or cooking or doing laundry, watch a foreign film and learn a few sentences in a new language, then practice saying them out loud.

Develop your critical thinking skills.

As we learn new things, we shouldn’t just take everything we see, hear, and read for granted. Instead, we should form our own opinions and ask ourselves why these things matter. Try incorporating the following habits:

  • Expose yourself to different points of view (f.ex., on world history, politics, literature, art, technology, etc.).
  • To better understand how things work, ask questions; not just questions that others can respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to; ask open-ended questions that begin with whyand how.
  • Distill from all the information you gather what is important to you (based on your own personal goals, values, and priorities) and figure out what you can learn from it.

Take ownership of your free time.

It’s not that uncommon – at some point in our lives we have all let television, commercials, and social media control the way we spend the little free time that we have in the evenings. Instead of just giving in to passive forms of entertainment, why not plan what we want to do with our free time? Reclaim your evening hours to do what’s important to you. For example:

  • Use an hour after dinner to do some strategic thinking. For example, if you’re thinking of setting a particular goal for yourself, outline the steps you’ll need to take so that you can get there in 6 months or a year. If you’re working on a creative activity such as writing, composing music, painting, or on developing another craft, this is a great time for being bold, dreaming, and letting your creative mind take over.
  • Watch documentaries on the ancient worlds. YouTube has BBC and History Channel documentaries; start by searching the topics that interest you. To get started, check out British historian Bettany Hughes and her series called The Ancient Worlds to learn about everyday life in ancient Alexandria, Rome, and Athens. Another excellent 3-part series by the BBC is Ibn Battuta: The Man Who Walked Across the World.
  • Read books. It doesn’t matter if they’re fiction or non-fiction. What’s important is that you feed your brain, learn new things, time travel, and absorb the life experiences of other people. If they’re excellent storytellers, you will soon be drawn into their world so that you cannot put the book down. To start, check out recommendations on the best books of all time on Quora. Or download the Goodreads app to get recommendations, add books to your bookshelf, and track your progress.
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