How to Boost Memory and Upgrade Your Smarts

By Mary Jaksch

Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. ~Steve Job, SEO

New research shows that intelligence can be boosted. Brain scientists divide intelligence into two different aspects, fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is the ability to step outside of our beliefs and use information which does not fit into our previously accepted view of reality. It is the ability to find meaning in confusion and to solve new problems, independent of previous knowledge.

Fluid intelligence helps us to solve problems. It was previously believed that this ability cannot be enhanced. However, new research shows that carefully designed brain training tools can improve this ability. The health blog Dose the Nation says:

A joint team of US and Swiss researchers designed series of computer games to train working memory. It is believed that working memory is very close to fluid intelligence and it is based on the same brain circuit.

Tests results showed that those who trained more showed significantly more improvement compared to those who trained less. The research suggests that training branches up cells and form more connections between them.

Fluid intelligence is connected to the short-term memory. Programs that aim at boosting fluid intelligence, also try to improve the working memory.

Forget about brain age: current research shows that we can improve intelligence at any age.

How to Boost Fluid Intelligence

1. Become an early adoptor

Do you sometimes feel left behind by new developments? Take the Internet as an example. New trends appear just about weekly. Just think of the development of social media.

There are two groups of users, early adaptors and late adaptors. Early adaptors learn about new trends, study them and try out new software or gadgets. Late adaptors wait until the mainstream culture has caught up with a trend.

A way for your fluid intelligence to improve is to become an early adaptor.

2. Think Outside the Box

Whenever you want to solve a problem and can’t find an answer, search for a solution outside the box. If you do that, you become an agent of change. DeBono’s technique of Six Hats is particularly useful.

3. Learn new skills

When did you last learn a completely new skill? It’s easy to become complacent with skills we have mastered in the past. However, it’s essential for brain growth to learn learn new skills. Because learning allows the brain to create neurons and new pathways.

3. Practice brain gym exercises

Fifty years ago, gyms that focused on strength training were unknown. Nowadays we know that it’s important to exercise our muscles and boost fitness at any age. However, it’s less accepted that we need to train our brain regularly as well.

Exercises focused on improving fluid intelligence are called Dual N-Back exercises.

  • Get a free training program .  You can download a version for Windows version, or for Mac. Don’t forget to download the tutorial!
  • You can check out how an exercise to boost visual memory works.
  • Another highly rated program is MindFit. It has been endorsed by leading neurologists, but I haven’t tried it yet myself.
  • Find more good ideas on how to exercise your  brain in this excellent book: The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness
  • Forget Nintendo: Brain Age – it’s laughable! The exercises include simple math, for example 1 ? 2=3. Yes, you guessed it, 1+ 2=3! They also include playing along to a song on a touchscreen keyboard, or writing down a word that you hear spoken (you get six tries!)

Buddha and bamboo

4. Learn to meditate

When I was researching this post, I came across a new brain gym in San Francisco called Vibrant Brains. This is an actual gym people can go to, in order to improve their brain power. Jan Zivic, the founder of Vibrant Braines writes:

After my auto accident and emergency brain surgery, these kinds of exercises changed my life. I’m still using these programs and they’re still helping.

I imagined a lively place with computer work stations on which students complete special exercises. But when I looked at their program, here is what I found:

Guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices: sitting and walking meditation, body scan and gentle yoga to wake up to the present moment. Awareness exercises to promote physical & mental health.

So after all the hightech exercises – we’re back to meditation!
One of the reasons meditation helps with brain fitness, is that it trains attention. That is, the ability to focus on one thing for a prolonged period of time.  Obviously, this is useful when training the working memory. If someone says their name and your mind is elsewhere, there is no way you will remember it!

5. Nutrition

We can support brain health by good nutrition:

  • Increase your water intake
  • Restrict your calories
  • Eat natural antioxidants such as blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, Brussel sprouts, red peppers, avocados, etc.
  • Include Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, found in deep-sea fish and fish oil.

As you can see, there is much we can do for brain fitness. The most important factor is the attitude we have. If we keep a positive outlook and keep on being willing to learn, our brain will develop, no matter what age we are.


Related Post:

9 Ways of Developing Your Intelligence at Any Age

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  1. Kye says:

    That was a delicious twist, Mary–meditation as the exercise of choice in the brain gym.
    .-= Kye´s last blog ..raison d’etre =-.

  2. sarah says:

    great tips! Thanks

    btw I think you probably mean “early adopter”

  3. This is something that I very much follow.

    Quick note about brain age. That is the level it starts at. It is designed to get progressively harder. Those sounded like the test questions for the computer to guage how fast your responses are.

    Thank you for including the link to the free games. I had been using in order to practice, but that is a paid membership sight.

    Another note is that you are never to young to start working on this stuff. Alzheimer’s can show early symptoms in the teen years, but they don’t get caught because teenagers are expected to be scatter-brained.
    .-= Justin Dixon´s last blog ..The Hidden Value of Difficulties =-.

  4. janice says:

    Thanks , Mary. This was a timely post as I recently turned 50.

    I have quite an agile, problem solving brain; I like thinking outide the box, learning constantly, connecting and communicating, designing and creating, responding to challenges and analysing and solving problems. But like any kind of ‘gym’ work, we also have to know how to rest our brains and when to have a wee break. (I was pleased to see your section on meditation.)I’ve had a bit of a health and wellbeing meltdown these last few weeks and I know it was my brain saying “Overload alert!” Illness and burnout became a circuit breaker.

    It’s good to be back – but like any torn ligaments, sprain, strain, illness or fracture, getting the balance is the key to recuperation for the mind as well as the body.
    .-= janice´s last blog ..The House of the Thousand Horrormoans =-.

  5. Hello. Thanks for these tips. I especially identified with tip number 1. Sometimes I feel like I’m out of the loop with all the new technologies that come out on a weekly basis. Usually, to feel safe I will wait for mainstream to give me feedback. But usually it’s the people who aren’t scared to try things out first that have a better edge. I will try to be more of an early adaptor.
    .-= Tristan Lee´s last blog ..Lessons I Learned from Playing Tennis =-.

  6. Out of the box thinking… wow, great stuff!

  7. I suggest a different route and that is invest in a smart-phone with basic features (not like the iPod). I have a Palm Treo 700P.

    It’s a bit outdated but has the basic calendar, notepad, recorder, and contact list so I can jot my flood of thoughts down and get them out of my head.

    I used to enjoy memorizing everything, but it became too taxing when I began needing to important decisions on the fly.

    If I just backup my phone once a week, then my brain is free to think creatively without the jumbled mess of random information in my head.

    Your thoughts?
    .-= Pete | The Tango Notebook´s last blog ..Tango Shoes Contest – 3 Days Only! =-.

  8. Sharon says:

    Another great way to keep your brain healthy didn’t make Mary’s list. That’s writing. Nearly any kind, but preferably about some aspect of your life. Grocery lists aren’t useless, but they aren’t the best medium. A study of autopsied brains from deceased sisters of a convent at Notre Dame shows that those who wrote the most, solved crosswords, and generally worked with words were often able to keep symptoms at bay even when Alzheimers was physically present in their brains. This is a huge topic, way too much for a comment or even a single post. But do get those fingers moving in between game sessions!
    .-= Sharon´s last blog ..A Worthy Aspiration =-.

  9. Sharon,

    Have you ever read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron?
    .-= Pete | The Tango Notebook´s last blog ..Tango Shoes Contest – 3 Days Only! =-.

  10. Sharon says:

    Pete, you bet I read The Artist’s Way. That got me addicted to Morning Pages. 🙂
    .-= Sharon´s last blog ..A Worthy Aspiration =-.

  11. Yes! You certainly did read it 🙂 I loved it!
    .-= Pete | The Tango Notebook´s last blog ..Tango Shoes Contest – 3 Days Only! =-.

  12. @Kye
    Yes, I had a good laugh when I saw that this ultra-modern brain gym offers techniques that are more than twothousand years old 🙂

  13. @Sarah – thanks for your gremlin alert! I immediately dived into the post and changed it into “early adopter”

    @Justin – what’s your experience with Luminosity?

    And could you please try out the free program and report back to us?

  14. @Janice – I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been poorly. I think your point about resting the brain is a very interesting one.

    I think the problem of brain strain is that we often carry too much around in our mind. That’s why meditation is so restful. We can allow our mind to quieten down and just be present…aaah!

  15. @Tristan Lee –
    It’s only through writing this post that I suddenly realized that I’ve moved from being a late adoptor to being an early adoptor.

    It’s actually much more fun being an early adoptor! Partly because you have a hand in shaping the future.

  16. @Eli Simpson
    I’d like to write a whole article on how to think ‘out of the box’.

    I think that using mindmaps helps us to think out of the box… thanks for planting the seed for a new post, Eli

  17. @Pete – thanks for this timely reminder. I’m still a late adoptor when it comes to phones. I’ll investigate your suggestion as soon as I’m back home in New Zealand.

    My (preconceived) notion is that it takes a lot longer to write a note into a smart phone, then into an ordinary notebook. Am I wrong?

  18. @Sharon – I actually had a para in my post about writing but took it out again. Thanks for bringing it back in 🙂

  19. Madeleine says:

    I’m fascinated and encouraged by the research which refutes the myth that mental function inevitably declines rapidly with age. I agree completely
    with the points about learning new skills and eating a healthful diet. The brain is a real energy hog–so you have to nourish it well if you want it to work well. Great information.
    .-= Madeleine´s last blog ..Five Fabulous Veggies That My Mom Never Cooked =-.

  20. thankyou for this. i like these ideas. “think outside of the box” makes me think of a guiding principle i’ve had for a while–Questioning Everything. i try to question every norm, every expectation. & then i question myself–i stay loose & flexible & open to criticism. this has been a great practice for me
    .-= steve [i dance for ten years right now]´s last blog ..[ listening to food cook ] =-.

  21. @Steve
    “Question everything!” That’s a great motto for a flexible life. Thanks for that.

  22. Oh dear. I realized that I’ve given less thought to the food that I’m having that would probably help increase memory and smarts. 🙂

    The food area caught my attention! I’ve been taking fish-oil capsules without knowing what they are for… Now I know!

    I’ve once read somewhere that Almond does help too.
    .-= Daniel Richard´s last blog ..Suddenly Unemployed: 4 Steps To Cutting The Leash + 7 Sins That Will Be Tempting You =-.

  23. @Daniel
    As long as you remembered you were taking some capsules, everything is still well…

  24. Patrick says:

    Mary, great overview of possible ways to keep your brain fit and young. I especially like the mixture of outer focused tools (software, etc.) and inner focused methods (like meditation).

    For me there is always one key ingredient, that made sure that I’ve been an early adaptor and liked constant learning. That is curiosity. I guess if you develop your curiosity, then you don’t have to worry about your brain getting old.
    .-= Patrick´s last blog ..The 2 Most Important Steps to Revitalize Your Relationship from Death =-.

  25. Let me add a number 6: Use your imagination – often! I think one of the worst advice a teacher can give to a student is… wait for it… to stop day dreaming! There are ample studies showing the benefits of day dreaming and why we do it (I’m not going to delve into that here) yet it’s stigmatized in the classroom.
    .-= Andre “Brain Fitness Coach” Auerbach´s last blog ..Brain Killing Food: What You Eat Can Deteriorate Brain Function =-.

  26. Well, I think meditation is one important aspect that most of us had left out. Meditation can also be in form of relaxation by sitting in a park with ease of mind. The world we’re in now is too fast paced and everyone needs sufficient rest and clear state of mind. As such we can boost intellegence!

    Muren @
    feng shui , singapore
    feng shui singapore´s last blog post ..Columbaria

  27. Jenny says:

    I need help. My son was recently diagnosed with low crystallized intelligence. After doing some research I have found out that this could be due to him having repeated mild trauma to the head. Before you think he was abused it was actually from him having the need to hit his head when he was young. I did everything I could to stop him but I would just catch him banging his head against the wall (an NOT lightly). I did seek help from pediatricians and they all said that there is a small percentage of children who do this to sooth and what I was doing was all I could do. I really want to be more active in this and not just leave it up to the schools. Please give me ANY suggestions or places that I can go to get more info.

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