How to Be Smart: Top 5 Ways to Get Smarter

By: Charles W. Bryant  | 
Albert Einstein made quite a name for himself in the smarts department.
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What does it mean to be smart? Some people judge smarts by standard benchmarks like test scores and grade point averages. Others think "smart" means common sense, problem-solving abilities and street smarts.

Standardized testing scores have proven unreliable and biased along racial and socioeconomic lines, and cramming for classes can lead to GPAs that aren't a true indicator of intelligence. So, can you teach the average person how to be smart, or are smart people simply born smart?


While we can't all agree on a standard for intelligence, we can agree that the human brain is the key to all of them. It has a great capacity to adapt, rewire and grow. Neural networks expand and strengthen through learning experiences. Stimuli make the brain stronger and more vital.

This reinforcement of the brain's power affects intelligence across all standards, from street smarts to testing scores. Here are five ways you can increase your brain's capacity to take in and store new data in your daily life.

5. Meditate

For thousands of years, we've known the benefits of meditation. The practice of meditation can be different for each person, but it generally involves quiet, focused breathing exercises in which the practitioner is able to achieve a state of mental calm.

Research shows that incorporating mindfulness meditation into your daily routine can also improve emotional regulation and mental health — important qualities for building interpersonal intelligence [source: Paley].


FMRI scans have revealed that regular meditation affects the brain structure. Researchers believe that working memory, cognitive function, attention span and focus all benefit from meditation. One study showed that regular daily meditation can even cause brain growth, increasing the size of parts of the cerebral cortex. Not surprisingly, some of the world's leading and forward-thinking corporations offer meditation classes for their employees.

Next time you have break time, try a guided meditation. This small habit can help you cope with stress, so you'll be ready for whatever problems life throws at you. And what is intelligence if not the ability to solve problems?

4. Exercise Your Brain

Figuring out two across is a great mental workout.
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Figuring out two across is a great mental workout.

Just like your body requires physical activity, your brain, too, needs regular exercise in order to maintain cognitive flexibility and mental fitness through old age.


Some more common brain-strengthening exercises include fun activities like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other word- and number-based brain teasers that ask you to solve problems.

Not into playing games? There are other, more academic, ways to practice your problem-solving skills, like completing math word problems and exercises relating to spatial relationships and geometry. Even simply reading this article gives your brain a slight workout.

If these ideas are a little too scholarly for you, try simple things like mixing up your routine. Just brushing your teeth with the opposite hand or walking a different way to work forces your brain to work harder than usual, pushing your mind outside its comfort zone.

Through the learning process, your mental capacity increases. So, spending time absorbing new ideas or learning a new language won't just help you gain knowledge, but may actually increase your cognitive ability.

Just make sure to focus your brain power on solving problems and accumulating new knowledge that actually interests you, which will help you stay engaged.

3. Ingest Bacteria

In June 2010, researchers at The Sage Colleges presented findings that show certain types of bacteria commonly found in dirt made mice "smarter." The mice given Mycobacterium vaccae performed better in maze tests and showed fewer signs of anxiety and higher levels of serotonin in the forebrain, the area that takes care of higher-order thinking. The bacteria seem to promote the growth of neurons as well.

Scientists believe there is a connection between the bacteria in our stomachs and the neurotransmitters in our brains.


Called the microbiota gut-brain axis, the mechanism tying gut bacteria to cognitive skills and mental health isn't fully understood, but a 2023 study suggests that infants' gut microbiomes may play a role in early cognitive development.

This doesn't mean that we should all go out and start shoveling dirt in our mouths: You can actually ingest it by doing yard work, gardening and even by simply taking a walk through the woods. Many delicious foods also contain living bacteria, from yogurt to kimchi.

2. Get Some Sleep

These guys are getting a little smarter, one nap at a time.
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Wakeful exercises for the brain are great and necessary to help improve brain function so you can get smarter. But what about sleep? Could improving your cognitive abilities be just a matter of resting?

Not a whole lot is known about sleep, but we know now that scientists were wrong for years with the belief that the brain simply shut down during sleep to recharge. Research now indicates that the brain may actually do a little nighttime filing during sleep.


The information from the previous day is catalogued and put in the proper mental folders so it can make the journey from short-term to long-term memory. This suggests that sleep may be a crucial component of learning new things.

Sleeping problems have been known to exacerbate other brain issues, so it makes sense that a good night's sleep can help increase the brain's ability to focus and problem-solve. Sleep also gives you more energy, which will probably make you sound smarter. The CDC suggests adults sleep at least seven hours each night.

1. Take Care of Your Body

The human body is all connected, so you can't take care of one part of it without benefiting some other part. Physical exercise is important for good health, for both the body and the brain.

Simply increasing your blood flow kicks up the oxygen and glucose levels in the brain. The coordination it takes to perform exercises also gives the brain a workout, especially if you're trying something new. Exercise also means you're battling a sedentary lifestyle, or one free from mental stimuli.


Food is also important. There are many foods that have been associated with brain health, including fish oil, eggs, protein and dark green vegetables. Green tea, herbal tea and nuts are also good "brain food." These foods contain fatty acids considered the "building blocks" of brain cells as well as antioxidants that have a protective effect on cells.

Eating right, getting the required amount of sleep and exercises — both mental and physical — are the keys to a healthy brain.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "The Human Brain." The Franklin Institute. 2010.
  • "Want to Get Smarter? Eat Dirt." 2010.
  • Campbell, Denis. " Simple ways to make yourself far cleverer." March 5, 2006.
  • Campbell, Denis. "How to get your brain up to speed." Dec. 2, 2007.
  • Cullen, Lisa. "How to Get Smarter, One Breath at a Time." Jan. 10, 2006.,9171,1147167-1,00.html
  • Lazar, Sara W et al. “Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness.” Neuroreport vol. 16,17 (2005): 1893-7. doi:10.1097/01.wnr.0000186598.66243.19
  • Paley, Carole A, and Mark I Johnson. “Perspective on salutogenic approaches to persistent pain with a focus on mindfulness interventions.” Frontiers in pain research (Lausanne, Switzerland) vol. 4 1188758. 29 Aug. 2023, doi:10.3389/fpain.2023.1188758
  • Tierny, John. "How to Get Smarter." Aug. 25, 2008.