What does it take to function at your cognitive best?
The good news is, your capacity to learn new information, retain it, then use that new knowledge as a foundation to solve the next problem, or learn the next new skill, can be developed with time.
A study published in 2018, Improving Fluid Intelligence with Training on Working Memory, by Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, and Perrig, proved that it’s possible to increase your intelligence to a significant degree through training.
Intelligence encompasses many related mental abilities, such as the capacities to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend ideas and language, and learn.
Lets talk about two types of intelligence.
The idea of two distinct types of intelligence was first proposed by the psychologist Raymond Cattal in the 1960’s. Raymond first dissected intelligence, identifying two types: crystallized and fluid.
Fluid intelligence was further developed by Cattell and his student John Horn in the 1970s and 1980s.
Fluid intelligence has found its way into almost all major models of intelligence.
General fluid ability is commonly defined as the ability to solve problems in unfamiliar domains using general reasoning methods (Carroll 1993; Cattell 1963).
Your ability to use use learned knowledge, skills and experience is called crystallised intelligence.
Crystallised intelligence relies on information derived from long-term memory. Your ability to reason using words and numbers improves over time. Experiences in your lifetime contribute to the growth of crystallised knowledge.
Experts believe there is a certain age where crystallized intelligence peaks.
It then declines as forgetting outpaces the acquisition of new knowledge.
Fluid intelligence (i.e. fluid reasoning) on the other hand is the general ability to think abstractly, reason, discern relationships, solve out-of-the-box problems, recognize patterns and evaluate problems by piecing together information that isn’t necessarily formally taught.
It’s also indicative of one’s memory capacity and ability to focus and sort through information.
Fluid intelligence is trainable.
Whilst fluid ability decreases with age, crystallized intelligence increases with time. But you can improve fluid ability over time to make the most of your creative skills.
Christopher Bergland explains:
“In a digital age — that puts a premium on facts, figures, and data — crystallized intelligence has become disproportionately valued over fluid intelligence. A wide range of new studies are finding that motor skills, hand-eye coordination, aerobic conditioning and daily physicality are important for maintaining working memory and fluid intelligence.
Fluid intelligence is directly linked to creativity and innovation. The book smarts of crystallized intelligence can only take a person so far in the real world. Depriving children of recess and forcing them to sit still in a chair cramming for a standardized test literally causes their cerebellum to shrink and lowers fluid intelligence.”
People with high fluid intelligence can sift through new problems and create logical solutions by identifying patterns and relationships that cause such problems.
Fluid intelligence is essential in problem-solving that requires logical thinking (e.g. technical, scientific, mathematical problems).
The Cattell-Horn theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence (R. B. Cattell, 1941, 1950; 1971; Horn, 1965; Horn & Cattell, 1966a, 1966b) proposes that general intelligence is actually a conglomeration of perhaps 100 abilities working together in various ways in different people to bring out different bits of intelligence.
It makes people innovative, creative and exceptional.
The world’s disruptors and change-makers who break the status quo and create something people don’t even know they want yet use fluid intelligence in different ways.
Fluid intelligence is not dependent on educational attainment, acquired experiences, and stock knowledge.
Psychologists believe that fluid intelligence is governed by regions of the brain responsible for attention and short-term memory such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
While it might be simple to figure out how one can increase their crystallized intelligence — study, read books, and learn from experts — it might be a bit more difficult learning how to open the door to your fluid intelligence.
Fluid intelligence is grounded in physiological efficiency and is thus relatively independent of education and acculturation (Horn, 1967)
Use your whole brain
In our modern age, with so much technology that helps with many things, we often don’t use our brains as much as previous generations.
You could take a break from technology every now and then to work on building your fluid intelligence.
To achieve maximum neural growth, you need to use all areas of your brain.
Use it or lose it!
The brain is often described as being “like a muscle”. It needs to be exercised for better performance.
Without mental stimulation dendrites, connections between brain neurons that keep information flowing, shrink or disappear altogether.
If you stop using it, it begins to decline.
“Neglect of intense learning leads plasticity systems to waste away,” says Norman Doidge in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself.
Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of plasticity research, and author of Soft-wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life says that going beyond the familiar is essential to brain health.
“It’s the willingness to leave the comfort zone that is the key to keeping the brain new,” he says.
Seeking new experiences, learning new skills, and opening the door to new ideas inspire us and educate us in a way improves mental clarity.
If you are generally analytical in your thinking, start seeking challenges outside logical reasoning.
If math is your comfort subject, maybe you should try experimenting with painting.
Conversely, if you are comfortable with writing, you should try studying or learning a new skill. Example, you could learn a new language or learn how to play the piano or take a course in a different field.
Andrea Kuszewski, a Behavior Therapist says, “Always look to new activities to engage your mind — expand your cognitive horizons. Learn an instrument. Take an art class. Go to a museum. Read about a new area of science. Be a knowledge junkie.”
Start embracing new challenges.
Don’t shy away from new experiences that force you to think outside your comfort zone.
When you try new things, you challenge your brain to work in new ways and to create new neural connections.
Once you know how to do something new, it becomes routine.
However, doing something novel makes your brains work harder to develop new skills. Basically, the brain used more energy during training and bulked up in thickness — which means more neural connections.
So exploring as many new ideas and activities as you can is a good way to improve your fluid intelligence.
Don’t rob yourself of the fullness of your own intellectual capacity.
Originally published at medium.com