“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” – Salvador Dali
My article, “Ten Characteristics of Highly Successful High School Girls”, focused on commonalities that led girls that excelled in High School to attend the most elite colleges in the United States. After interviewing 460 elite college students, I recognized and outlined commonalities in terms of study habits, extra-curricular activities, family life and hard work. It is a fascinating read and I suggest you read, savor and share it. The bottom line is these girls work hard for everything they receive, take nothing for granted and always look forward to reach their goals. They unanimously agree that there is no substitute for hard and independent work and each one possessed the drive to attain their goal.
My quest into identifying successful habits of young women led me to inquire about intelligence, as well. After all my interviewing and research, I have come to learn that grit, hard work and determination, combined with intelligence, fosters a meteoric rise to the top and the achievement of ultimate success. I wondered if a synergetic outcome could be obtained if the variables were tweaked. I have spent much time researching and interviewing successful women on their interminable work habits and I have published several articles outlining them. That leaves one variable left to engage – intelligence. Is it possible to actually improve and enhance IQ levels?
I spent several months talking to researchers at the top Universities in the United States, Europe and Asia. I also interviewed some of the most successful women in the political realm, since there was a recent election year and accessibility was easily attainable. I spoke with Presidential, Senatorial, Congressional and Gubernatorial candidates and asked them if they had any commonality with the characteristics the researchers suggested actually increased intelligence. I was astounded to find that in every instance, these women tapped into scientifically proven ways to increase their intelligence. These women exhibit the other variables of grit, hard work and determination and scientifically backed methods of increasing intelligence and are the most successful in their respective field. Is there a correlation? The studies seem to back this up, but more focused research needs to be completed. I am listing the top ten results, based on the respondent’s answers. The results are stunning, backed up by science, utilized by these accomplished women and can be initiated in High School. After more than twelve months of interviewing and compilation, I have listed the top ten scientifically backed commonalities utilized by the respondents, to boost intelligence:
1. Music Lessons/Training – All the women I interviewed had some type of music lesson, either with an instrument or voice. In a recent study by Jennifer Zuk and Christopher Benjamin, musically trained children showed enhanced performance of verbal fluency and processing speed, and task-switching compared to musically untrained children. Overall, musicians show enhanced performance on higher level functions, and musically trained children also displayed increased brain activation during task-switching. Musical training may improve cognitive skills and academic achievement. There are several studies that show there is an advantage in the classroom in terms of cognitive abilities. Any advantage is just that- an advantage. There is also an added benefit: researchers at Northwestern University, that I interviewed, found there may be a correlation to reducing the detrimental effects of aging. It’s never too late to start music lessons. If you are already taking music lessons, don’t give them up and challenge yourself to be better.
2. Make Getting Enough Sleep A Priority – My parents are constantly stressing the fact that sleep is imperative to a successful life, and after careful research, I have found that science actually backs this up. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the brain repairs and makes new neurons during sleep, which helps the nervous system work properly and the brain work better. Sleep deprivation can cause nerves to malfunction and the overall functioning within your brain to become reduced. According to researchers, visual memory and the ability to learn are also thought to be diminished due to sleep deprivation. German scientists, in a research study in 2004, provided the first hard evidence supporting the belief that creativity and problem solving appear to be directly linked to adequate sleep, with eight hours being the key. All of the respondents told me that the quality of their sleep was a critical element to their success. They made it a point to wind down at night and break away from their electronic devices at least an hour before sleeping. Others mentioned reading before sleeping and making the bedroom as comfortable as possible, including it being dark and cool. However you choose to wind down, science proves that a good night’s sleep will actually ameliorate your performance.
3. Exercise and Stay Fit– Every one of these women keep active in some way. It varied between yoga, cycling, running, swimming and walking, to mention a few of the many responses. Researchers from Stanford University, that I interviewed, found that even a casual walk will increase your creativity. The Alzheimer’s Association advocates exercise to combat cognitive decline. Exercise elevates the heart rate, which increases blood flow to the brain, which keeps you mentally sharp as it may reduce dementia risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Studies have shown that after exercising, vocabulary words are picked up 20% faster and after three months of exercise, the brain capillary volume in the memory area of the hippocampus increased by 30%, increasing learning abilities. Duke University researchers confirmed to me that their studies reveal exercise is as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. Even if you are not anxious or depressed, a sedentary lifestyle gives you a higher chance of becoming depressed than an active lifestyle. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interface with the receptors in the brain that reduce the perception of pain. Endorphins make you feel euphoric and less worried. Start moving and the science says you will be smarter and happier.
4. Eat Smart -. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”- Hippocrates
It looks like Hippocrates was onto something and the science backs it up. Not only can food heal and nurture the body, which increases output, eating certain foods may make you smarter. Fish is one food that actually has scientific merit for its brain-boosting benefits. A research study in 2014, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that eating non-fried fish once a week increased control cognition and memory. However, researchers found that no additional IQ points were gained by eating fish more than once a week. Berries contain bioflavonoids, which have powerful antioxidant properties. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers concluded that the chemical compounds found in blueberries, blackberries and raspberries might help to improve memory, learning, decision making, reasoning skills, and verbal and numerical comprehension. It also turns out all those leafy greens you are supposed to be adding to your diet may increase IQ levels. According to researchers at Tufts University in conjunction with the USDA, folate-a B vitamin found in leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and collard greens protects against degenerations in cognitive skills. Green tea and proteins in general, improve memory and overall brain functionality. Protein contains high levels of amino acids, which are associated with mental alertness. Eating breakfast has been proven to improve concentration, problem solving abilities, mental performance, memory, and mood. Breakfast is the first time the body has to refuel its glucose levels after several hours without a meal and glucose is the brain’s main energy source. All the women interviewed made conscious and deliberate food choices. Let today be the day to start making yours, as well.
5. Give Your Brain a Workout – The brain has a great ability to change, adapt and grow. Neural networks grow and get stronger through various learning experiences. Studies show that a stimulated brain becomes stronger and more vital, which affects intelligence. The key is to increase cognitive ability to get smarter. The science is not in agreement that engaging in brain games can actually make you smarter, but there is some research that is interesting and may suggest delays in early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that scientists concur that the brain can be shaped, even as we age. Stimulating activities like mastering a new skill or taking classes can strengthen neural connections and stimulate the brain. If you truly want to exercise your brain, study a foreign language, build something from the ground up, or learn a new strategic game, like chess. Those neural connections in your brain may be strengthened, you’ll certainly have fun in the process and you will learn something that may come in handy for your college interviews.
6. Relax and Take a Break – Mental calm can actually make you smarter. Giving your brain a time out that includes quiet, focused breathing through meditation or observing something pleasing, results in mental calm. Brain scans have shown that regular meditation affects the actual structure of the brain. Researchers have found that memory, function, attention span and focus all improve through meditation. One research study showed that regular daily meditation can even increase segments of the cerebral cortex. The women interviewed all found time to achieve mental calm through meditation, soaking baths, visiting art galleries and watching nature, to mention a few.
7. Never Give Up Active Learning– Research shows when students are actively involved in their learning process, they do better in school. Older adults that engage in challenging mental activities actually improve their cognitive functioning, according to a University of Texas at Dallas study. Undertaking new activities which required learning, showed improvements in memory. Learning stimulates memory and high-level thinking in the brain, according to the researchers. A 2013 study by Michigan State University found that childhood participation in arts and crafts leads to innovation, patents, and increases the odds of starting a business as an adult. The researchers found that people who own businesses or patents received up to eight times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public. It is imperative to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, that provides mental and social stimulation. The takeaway here is, find your creative side and try something new. You and your brain will benefit from the challenge.
8. Practice Self-Discipline and Willpower – Studies show, over and over, that willpower is the single most important habit for individual success. Willpower is defined as the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. University of Pennsylvania psychologists explored self-control in eighth-graders for an entire school year. They found students who ranked high on self-discipline had better grades, better school attendance and higher test scores, and were more likely to be admitted to a competitive high school program. The researchers found that self-discipline was more important than IQ in predicting academic success. Students who exercised high levels of willpower were more likely to earn higher grades and gain admission into highly selective colleges. These students also had fewer absences and spent less time watching television and spent more hours on homework. At the high school level, the highly self-disciplined students outperformed their peers on every academic-performance indicator. Duke University researchers found that people with high self-control as children, grew into adults with greater physical and mental health, fewer substance addictions and criminal convictions, and were more financially secure.
9. Be Conscientious and Develop Grit – Every indicator of success, in my research, comes down to one trait: Grit. Grit and success are synonymous and grit can be developed. Research suggests that your ability to work hard, endure struggle, fail, and try again may be the key to determining long-term success and happiness. Grit seems to be much more of a significant variable than IQ in highly successful people. University of Pennsylvania Professor, Angela Duckworth, is my inspiration for the study of grit and self-control. Her research shows that grit is a great predictor of goal achievement. She has implemented a “Hard Thing Rule” in her own home, where her children constantly work on something challenging and they are not allowed to quit because something becomes difficult. The most successful people in the world have failed numerous times, but it’s the ones who never give up and persevere, who achieve great success. The women I interviewed unanimously told me that failing only made them work harder and they did whatever they had to do to complete their goals. Conscientiousness relates to your moral code or that inner voice that tells you what to do and what not to do. It is a key component in your decision making. Conscientious people excel academically, commit fewer crimes and they stay married longer. They also tend to live longer and not just because they smoke and drink less. Research shows they have fewer strokes, lower blood pressure, and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Who knew making good decisions and working hard would also help improve the quality of your life? Now you do.
10. Happiness Comes from Within and Your High School Peer Group Really Matters – In this case, peer pressure is a positive. Studies show that surrounding yourself with highly intelligent and genuinely good peers has a positive effect on you. A study on college students found that when students with low grade-point averages simply began rooming with higher-scoring students, their grade-point averages increased. They concluded that the high scoring roommate’s study habits rubbed off on the others and ultimately, the student with the high grade-point average dragged upward the G.P.A. of the lower-scoring roommates. Make a conscious choice to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Find kind friends who like to volunteer helping others and encourage you to do so, as well. Surround yourself with high achieving friends whose goals go beyond college and into highly selective graduate schools. Stay away from negative people and find ones who respect you for having big dreams and working hard to achieve your goals. Happiness comes from within and there is nothing stopping you if you have grit, determination and self-discipline. Once you realize that, nothing is off limits.