In this day and age, where competition for jobs and other opportunities is very stiff, one must have a significant edge over others. While talent is innate, skills can be learned and developed. Although being a genius might really be more of nature than nurture, a little self improvement won’t hurt.
One thing that is very important in the real world is one’s ability to think. Skimming through Facebook posts and comments, you will realize that not many people use their heads before they say, er, post anything.
I remember the thread about a parable — the story of a donkey that fell into a well, where the farmer who saw what happened decided to just bury the donkey in the well. In the story, the donkey was able to come out alive after shaking off the earth that was being shoveled into the well by the farmer and his neighbors. It was a parable about positivism — seeing an opportunity in dire situations.
I read the comments in that particular thread. There were people who were cursing the farmer and the neighbor for animal cruelty, missing the whole point of the story altogether. What a pity!
So, to keep yourself from turning into a laughing stock online (or even in the real world), why not try sharpening your thinking skills. Here are five ways, which may be of help.
1. Read a Good Book and Write a Review
To someone with a reading habit, reading is not only about recognizing letters and words. It must be about responding to the ideas contained in the book. This is very beneficial because, of course, before one can respond to any text, he has to interpret it, even compare the new information against his existing knowledge, culture, beliefs, and values. That way you are moving beyond comprehension and going up the hierarchy of cognitive levels — analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. This takes reading beyond absorption of information.
I personally view reading the works of other people as getting into the author’s mind. You get to see how the author sees. That means a wider perspective for you because you are seeing things that you don’t usually take notice of. To me, it is experiencing how to be another person aside from yourself. It mind sound weird but it feels like living multiple lifetimes. Imagine the cognitive development you may experience through this.
2. Keep a Journal
The website CriticalThinking.org calls it an Intellectual Journal and suggests the following steps in doing it:
Each week, write out a certain number of journal entries. Use the following format (keeping each numbered stage separate):
- Situation. Describe a situation that is, or was, emotionally significant to you (that is, that you deeply care about). Focus on one situation at a time.
- Your Response. Describe what you did in response to that situation. Be specific and exact.
- Analysis. Then analyze, in the light of what you have written, what precisely was going on in the situation. Dig beneath the surface.
- Assessment. Assess the implications of your analysis. What did you learn about yourself? What would you do differently if you could re-live the situation?
The advantage about keeping a journal (or a diary) is that it allows you to recall the events the you have done. It refreshes the mental pictures that have been stored in your brain strengthening your neural connections. Involving your emotions into your journal further allows any learning your have gained to sink deeper into your consciousness. More importantly, it allows you to evaluate your actions, your system of beliefs.
You can start with pen and paper or start a blog!
When I started blogging in 2003, my sole purpose was “to keep myself sane.” I believe that putting my thoughts into words is a necessary activity to keep my mind in shape.
3. Interact with People
Building healthy relationships with the people around you is also good for you mind. Interacting with them also widens your horizon. It allows you to adjust to the different personalities and sensitivities.
What is important in interacting with people is communicating with them. Engage in fruitful conversations with others. Learn from one another. Comfort each other. Aside from the possibility of experiencing healing through therapeutic listening, having a confidant or a clique provides you with an opportunity for collective consciousness. To me, that is like having an external hard drive where you can store other bits of information.
One thing more that is important in interacting with people is mastering non-verbal communication. Actions speak louder than words, right? What I mean here is that even if we don’t speak to other people, our actions — intended or not — actually send a message to those who see us. So, it is important to find a way to send and interpret non-verbal messages effectively.
4. Spend Some Time Alone
While spending time with people is beneficial, solitary moments also make your brain work better. Sometimes, when the stress I am experiencing is too much, I take a leave from my routine and spend a day by the beach, reading a book, or simply gazing at the beauty of nature. Sometimes, I take a trek somewhere alone.
Try traveling alone. I did that a few summers ago, when I took a road trip to Northern Mindanao. It was a wonderful way to learn about myself and others.
Being alone enables you to meditate, it frees your mind from all the hustle-bustle of the rat race. Usually, when I return to work after this so-called “soul-searching,” I have a renewed zest to finish all the backlogs and I am more confident to take on whatever challenges that life may throw at me.
5. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Our brain needs nutrients to perform its function. Natural sugars from fruits is its best source of energy. It must also have enough supply of oxygen that is carried by iron in our blood. Iron-rich food, therefore, is very important.
I have written in my personal blog about the link between brisk walking and mental health. Physical health is always necessary for our mind to function. Detoxify, shift to healthy diet, exercise once in a while. This will spare us from the mental burden when we start to get sick.
That is how you can be smart. The secret is to live healthy and happy. When your healthy and happy, your mind is open to receive new ideas. A mind that is well fed will never fail.