Humans are survivors.

We’ve survived extreme desert heat, bitter artic cold and killer diseases. Our ability to adapt has allowed us to travel the globe and prosper all over the world – from the Sahara desert to the Artic wastelands, man has settled.

Over time our bodies have adapted to these different conditions: humans living near the equator have developed darker skin to protect them from the harsh sun; those living further away developed lighter skin so that they could absorb enough of the sun’s energy and vitamins.

But physical changes happen slowly. The key to our ability to progress and adapt quickly is our brain. And in recent years that has allowed us to plunge to the bottom of the deepest oceans and sore into the sky as high as the moon.

No other animal has come close to all our accomplishments.

Complicated Communication

The key ability that human’s have over other animals is our ability to communicate like no other species. A tiger can show its cub how to climb, and the cub will learn, but humans have more sophisticated means of communication.

Concepts such as farming can not be communicated by other animals, but human’s ability to use language has made the sharing of this kind of knowledge possible. Language, a key form of intelligence, has allowed us to prosper and survive in environments we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to survive in.

In modern times, the environment we live in has become increasingly complicated; humans have made it so. As we grow up not only do we have to learn to walk, talk and feed ourselves, we also have to learn to communicate with increasingly complex social groups (friends, family, colleagues, officials), we have to understand how money works, we learn of law and order and we have to learn how to use complex machinery such as cars and computers. The world we live in today is incredibly complex, yet most of us find these day to day activities easy.

One of the theories for the increase in visual intelligence among the new generations is the proliferation of computer games. A child growing up around computers must think in complex visual modes that stretch their minds. Therefore visual IQ improves. At the same time, children read less and so the verbal intelligence tests show that that IQ is going down.

In childhood these activities were not so easy. When we’re born we don’t know how to walk, talk, read, write, throw or catch, let alone the complexities of our nation’s political infrastructure. Practically all of us learn the former items, and most grasp politics to some extent, but generally we slow or stop learning once we’ve got to working age; we know all we need to know and our brains stop expanding.

Creating New Challenges

Yet some people continue to expand their minds. Those that seek higher goals in such things as scientific knowledge, business, sport and social standing must learn how to cope in more complex environments. When we test ourselves in this way, our intelligence improves to combat these new challenges.

An example of the affect of the environment comes from the entering of a person into a top university. If the people that the person mixes with are more intelligent and philosophise on subjects that are outside the easy grasp of that person, they must learn to understand in order to live in that new environment. The brain provides the flexibility to do this.

Another simple example is the affect of computer word processors on our ability to spell. There is a feature in my word processing software that automatically corrects common spelling errors. So if I type ‘hte’ it will automatically correct it to ‘the.’ When this feature first became available I thought it was brilliant, but recently I have disabled the feature. Why? Because every time I get away with typing incorrectly it increases the chance of me doing it again. My typing was getting sloppy.

I’m not against the use of machines to save us time. But I am against making our lives easier. Easier lives equal less life. A dishwasher shouldn’t be the aid that allows us to watch more TV. It gives us the time to cook a better diner; or read a book; or go for a run; or any number of things that will stretch us.

So our environment can affect us negatively or positively.

Fade Out

There have been many attempts to implement programs for improving IQ; but so many have been declared a failure. Why? Because after a couple of years the participants have experienced what is known as ‘fade out’. In other words, after an improvement in their IQ during the training, they’ve subsequently gone back to how they were before.

But is this really surprising? When you think about it, it’s inevitable. As soon as the program was over they stopped thinking how they were when they were doing the program. It never became part of their everyday lives.

Can you imagine how this would work with an exercise program? There would be an extensive program of exercise for 6 months. They would eat right, they would lift weights, they’d run laps, swim, skip… And after 6 months they would be transformed. Success!

The program over, they would return to their everyday lives. No more stretching; they could already touch their toes. No more lifting weights, they were already strong enough. No more running, they had excellent heart and lungs capacities.

Five years later there would be a reunion. The people running the program would look on in horror as they are confronted by a group of overweight, sweating, panting, lay-abouts.

A brain gym is no different. If you want this stuff to last, you have to challenge your brain everyday.

How do you do this? You change the environment.

Now there are two ways of doing this:

Firstly, you can change to a different environment.
Secondly, you can change the way you interact with your current environment.

The first suggestion is the most obvious. We can go to a university that will make us do complicated work, in order to survive on the course. Or we can change to a challenging job that will force us to be good in order that we survive in that industry. Or we can join a club that attracts intellectual members. Spend time with more intelligent people.

This is certainly worthwhile.

But what about the people who live in the same environment as you but who are clearly more intelligent? Surely something else, other than environment must be going on.

Some of this is probably genetics – although this has yet to be proven. But what we can be certain of is that it’s not all genetics.

Something is going on here that is far more subtle.

It’s subtle because it’s going on inside the heads of these people, so you can’t really see what’s going on.

It’s to do with the way people interact with their environment.

Let me give you an example: Whenever I used to read anything I always ignored any numbers that were presented; I couldn’t really conceptualise them and so they bored me. Likewise, I never used to take in dates either. By simply overlooking these small items I missed out on a lot of information. If it was talking about the depths of an ocean, I didn’t know whether it was as deep as a skyscraper was high, or more like the distance to the ozone layer. When hearing about the number of people hurt in an Earthquake, I didn’t know if it was the same as the number of people in my school, or the same as the crowd in a football stadium. And when reading about the Romans I didn’t know whether it coincided with the discovery of America, or the birth of Christ. Now I read the same book and take so much more in.

The way we interact with the environment seriously affects how much we are challenged by it, and how much we learn from it.

If we decide to read a book, read one that is likely to include new words, or difficult concepts. Or even challenge yourself to imagine the events of the story more clearly. When you encounter problems in your everyday lives challenge yourself to solve them.

Put self-imposed restrictions on yourself, but ones that, once you’ve learnt to handle the restrictions, will provide you with a preferable way of dealing with the task. For example: restricting yourself from looking at the keyboard would allow you to develop the skills to touch type.

Change your perception of success. If you go into any situation and believe that you have been successful you will stop getting better. This doesn’t mean becoming a perfectionist, rather that you should develop a desire to improve in everything you do. Someone who is very good at socialising is good because in every new encounter they want to come off better, they want to learn more about the people they are interacting with and they want them to have more fun that they’ve had with any body else before. With these kinds of goals, you have to keep getting better. It’s fun, and it’s rewarding. In every situation you should be asking how you can do this better. Pick one aspect and focus on it.

By challenging yourself you are raising your standards. And when you keep on raising your standards you will, sooner or later, have raised your standards above the majority of people who are not challenging themselves. When you are above the standard of the majority you will stand out and be more successful.

Look at the world in shades of grey, not black and white. And then begin to see the colours.

Rise to the challenges your environment presents; and your intelligence will rise with you.

- Alan Pritt

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