#1. Get in the habit of using an external brain. Don’t try and remember things and save your brain power for more important tasks. Whenever you have a thought or an idea, jot it down in a notebook, or voice record it as a memo on your phone. Personally I use Evernote.
#2. Release the Pressure Valve. You can gain experience by “working hard,” and you should. But you can be moving 100 miles an hour every day repeating the same thing, like a lot of people do, and not be stretching your brain out. Think assembly line or factory worker 100 years ago. Unless you allow time to be in a stress-free, silent place, then you don’t have a place to release the pressure valve. That’s why we get some of our best ideas in the shower or when we’re out for a walk.
#3. Stop Memorizing Facts. Information is cheap and credentialism is dead. How valuable is a regular education nowadays? The facts that you know are no longer important because everyone has access to very much the same information through Google. Your brain power can be used elsewhere.
#4 Turn off your notifications. Social media is a way to connect with people and I think generally speaking it’s had a positive net benefit on the world. But constantly getting the dopamine hit from each notification is slowing your brain down, and making you tired. Turn off notifications, better yet, turn off your phone at least 2–3 hours a day for deep work or focus-time. You can install an extension on your browser that blocks annoying FB and article notifications.
#5 Find the crossroads. Great scientists like Einstein and Feynman all had something in common. It’s not that they were the most technically astute (indeed, they had mentors they looked up to) or had the highest IQ’s, even though they were much smarter than average. Einstein loved music and Feynman had his feelers in so many other things — playing the conga drum, lock-picking, puzzle-solving, hypnosis, and a fascination with how dreams work. These other interests helped them form analogies, bridge concepts, and find intersections between abstract mathematical concepts and ideas that they could explain more simply.
Feynman playing the conga
#6. Ask “why?” Questioning things with a genuine sense of curiosity will take you down undiscovered paths. When the American Heart Association posts an article like “Coconut Oil is Bad for You,” you should ask why. Why is it bad? Is it really? Why are they writing this article now? Why did it take them so long to suddenly discover it’s bad?
#7. Pick a tough, long-term goal. Here’s a hypothetical situation: Who do you think is more likely to run a marathon? A) A grad student who has spent 2 years working on solving a math problem OR B) A student who is coasting through school and whose rich parents have paid for everything. With this little information, I would choose student A. Not because I know what their physical abilities are, but because if someone has shown long-term commitment to a goal, they are more likely to succeed on other long term commitments.
#8. 70/30 rule. Listen 70, talk 30. It’s very tempting to try and solve problems and give your 2 cents on everything. I mean, look who’s talking, I’m writing this post on Quora. But when you’re talking to people, what are you going to gain by telling them your opinion on every statement they make? Very little — you might feel better because you “vented” a bit. But the best days I have had were the ones where I met 5 people and learned something new from every one of them. No need to reinvent the wheel — people have so much knowledge they are willing to share. Everyone has their own story that they seldom get to share with others.
#9. Read every day. A flight attendant once commented that after years on the job she noticed that on all of her flights there was a trend between passengers sitting in different classes. People in coach would always be playing games or watching movies. People in business would always be working on their laptops. People in first class would always be reading.
#10. Answer questions on Quora. Reading answers on Quora is good too, but until you are forced to actually articulate your thoughts, you won’t know if they make any sense. It’s like when you have a dream and try to explain it and your thoughts are all jumbled. The key here is receiving feedback. Don’t get offended when people don’t agree with you or offer a different perspective, rather, take it into consideration and test your assumptions. Your brain will expand.