Since some years ago, every christmas, I write down 5 goals to achieve during the year. They are usually focused on acquiring experiences, but also some challenges that I want to put to myself.

This year I wanted to check how much I could improve my ability to perform logic problems through studying, training and diet.

The Mensa Association only admits the top 2% of the population based on their IQ. The IQ is measured by a standardised test that measures the ability of logical thinking.

So, the bar is high enough to give a try.

I researched all the scientific information posible to get all the hacks that I could apply for this pursose and now, I will share them with you.

In this post I will talk about Neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change and adapt), Brainwaves (the brain’s working modes) and some hacks to put our brain at peak performance.

1- How does intelligence work?

In psychology, crystallized and fluid intelligence are factors of general intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use experience and knowledge to solve a determined problem.

Fluid intelligence is the capacity to reason and solve new problems.

We need to train both in order to achieve the best score possible for us.

1.1- Master the rules of the game. Crystallized intelligence:

When we study for an exam,  we acquire information and learn processes that will help us to perform better on the test. 

In other words, we are acquiring experiences and knowledge that will be used by our crystallised intelligence to elaborate a better answer on the test.

Therefore, the best way to improve the crystallised intelligence is to know the basic rules and apply them repeatedly in order to interiorize the process. 

There are color changes, things that rotate and shape transformations.

It’s all about patterns. Usually the design consists of 3 rows and 3 columns that contain 8 figures so you have to guess the 9th.

The patterns go from left to right []→[]→[] , from top to bottom (↓↓↓) and usually, the rows are connected (the last element of a row connects with the first of the following row).

This is very important and useful when there seems to be more than one possible solution.

As long as we answer questions, they will become more and more difficult as more patterns are introduced.

For example, the first figures may have only a color or shape transformations. As we advance on the test, they will add more and more patterns that you will have to take into account to successfully make the correct figure.

This makes a lot of sense. Intelligence (in the way it’s measured in this test), is the ability to retain and process different thoughts at the same time.

Practice with as many tests as possible, but try not to repeat them or you will be training memory instead of process execution.

*It is a good idea to watch explanations or live resolutions of some tests. I will leave a link at the end of the post if you want to take a look.

1.2- Reinforce your neuronal synapses. Fluid intelligence:

We can get a new habit in 21 days, which is the time that takes the brain to create and establish a new circuit. This is called neuronal plasticity and it will help to  increase our fluid intelligence.

As we said, fluid intelligence is the ability to reason and solve new problems.

We can only improve this by reinforcing the neuronal circuits (synapses) responsible for that matter.

How can we do that?

The answer is simple, by reasoning and solving new problems. We can do this by playing logic games, puzzles, Rubik cubes, sudokus…

Whatever that forces you to think about a process to solve a problem.

Practicing this will reinforce your hability to solve complex problems. It’s important that we don’t look for processes or rules on the internet. For example, if you are solving a Rubiks cube, don’t try to find new ways when you get stuck. If you are playing chess, try to figure out by yourself the best moves for each situation. We are training our ability to reason, don’t look for shortcuts.

The golden rule is: “Don’t settle”, if it starts becoming easy, change the game.

2- Brainwaves. Go with the flow

There are cycles on everything!

The cycles of the planet’s path around the sun defining the seasons.

The day/night cycles due to the rotation of the Earth (That define our circadian rhythms).

The water cycle where ocean’s water is evaporated and form clouds, that latter on precipitates on the land and goes back to the ocean through rivers.

We need to realize that we are part of an ecosystem, that happens to have all these cycles that allows life to develop and thrive.

It is amazing how we, the humans, depend from these cycles. The regulate our sleep/awake cycles that connects beautifully how the brain works.

*ENLAZAR CICLOS CON BRAINWAVES* Here I will explain how the brain works from a brainwave perspective.

A brainwave is a measurement of the frequency which the brain works at.

Depending on the longitude of the brainwaves, we can classify them into different “working modes” of the brain. They vary approximately  from 0.2Hz to 30Hz: 

–       Δ Delta -> Deep sleep (<3*Hz)

–       Θ Theta -> Light sleep (3-8 Hz)

–       α Alpha -> Wakeful relaxed (8-13 Hz)

–       Beta -> Wakeful concentrated (13-30Hz)

These brainwaves alternate depending if we are sleep or awake and are the triggers (or the cause) of important processes in the brain.

There are usually triggered alternatively between our biggest working modes:

Sleep -> Delta – Theta

Awake -> Alpha – Beta – Gamma

In the absence of a better example, it would be a mix of hard/soft work and hard/soft rest. We can understand this a bit better looking the image below:

The idea here is that we cannot stay at the “hard work” mode for a long time. If we want to put ourselves into the highest beta possible, we have to start from a very relaxed/rested Alpha.

It is very important to take into account that the brain frequency has to be gradually increased or decreased.

For example, the same way a car engine cannot go from idle to maximum power, a human brain cannot wake up and start solving logic problems immediately. 

How to optimize the brainwaves to get most of it?

We want to maximize Delta and Theta waves while sleeping and Alpha and Beta while awake.

Delta waves while awake may be the reason of “brain fog”, Beta waves during sleep may decrease sleep quality and cause insomnia. It’s crucial that we acquire routines that help us to release every brainwave when they are suposed to.

Why is this important for solving logic problems?

Beta (and Gamma) are the highest frequency brainwaves. 

Beta waves mean that the brain is in a high state of awakeness and focus.

These are the waves that we generate when we are, for example, solving math problems.

The higher the frequency, the higher the focus. 

The most important point regarding the brainwaves is that one day is like one cycle through the spectrum, from deep sleep Delta brainwaves to high focus Beta. In order to reach one extreme, we have to be able to reach the other.

The bottom line is, the quality of the brain waves during sleep will directly affect the quality of our focus and problem solving capabilities.

3- Lifestyle

3.1- Nutrition

The brain, yet another muscle.

As any other muscle in our body, the brain will perform better if we fuel it with high quality foods. 

It is very important to provide the brain all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that it needs to perform at its best.

I wouldn’t focus on specific foods, just eat a wide variety of foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, etc..). The rule is: the less processed it is, the better. 

Avoiding trans fats and sugars is crucial (specially together). A bad nutrition is proven to generate free radicals and inflammatory cells. Studies have shown a correlation between high sugar diet and impaired brain function.

Recent studies have discovered that a healthy gut microbiome, produces some neurotransmitters that the brain will use.

Now, we know that around 90% of the body’s Serotonin is produced in the gut. Let’s remember Serotonin biological function is (among others) to modulate cognition, learning and memory. 

Yet another reason to eat that salad!

3.2- Exercise

Exercise is as important as the diet. When we exercise, the heart rate increases pumping more oxygen into the brain. Also, it promotes brain plasticity by stimulating the growth of new connections, regulates insulin levels and improves the mood and sleep.

Apparently, aerobic activities (running, swimming, cycling… ) are the best for this purpose.

Exercise increases the levels of Serotonin and BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor), this protein stimulates neuronal plasticity, which is essential for learning and memory.

3.3- Sleep

Why do we have to sleep?

Sleep is, without a doubt the most important factor of this equation. 

The reason why we have to sleep was unanswered until some years ago and though, we don’t fully understand how this happens.

The body releases growth hormone, which helps not only to repair the body cells but also brain cells, improving cognitive functions. From a brainwave perspective, while sleeping, the brain triggers theta and delta waves, the more we are at theta/delta zone at night, the more we will trigger alpha/beta during the day.

A good night of sleep is crucial for a brain and body recovery.

Latest researches have discovered that important processes happen in the brain while we are sleeping.

We convert and order the experiences that we have acquired during the day into long lasting memories by repeating them unconsciously while sleeping. 

4- Other ways to put your brain to work

Caffeine:

Replaces Adenosine (block the tiredness receptors) and puts your brain right on Beta mode.

Binaural beats:

The binaural beats are just stereo sounds that plays at different frequencies, where the difference between them is the frequency of the different brain waves. 

We can find binaural beats for every working mode of the brain.

In this case, we are interested in the beta binaural beats, especially if it starts at low beta and increases slowly (this way, we allow the brain to catch up).

So, the day of the test, while we walk around to get ready before it, we can start playing these binaural beats. If we have noise canceling headphones would be perfect.

My recommendation is to use these beats to focus before and during the test, helping you to put the brain at the correct state and isolating you from distractions.

Mental warm up:

When we go to the gym, right before starting a training session, we always do a little warm up. It raises the heart rate, fills the lungs of oxygen and pump the blood into the muscles – and basically prepares the body for a hard training.

The same happens with the brain.

A part of keeping the blood flowing and the brain oxygenated, we need to slightly put the brain on the focus mode (beta). 

How?

Starting from a relaxed state (alpha), we can start making some mental calculus. A simple addition with a two cypher number can work. 

If for example, we take 27 and add the same number we get 54. If we continue this way, each time we will have to handle mentally a bigger number, making use of the parts of the brain that we will use on the exam. 

IQ is basically how many “items” you can retain in your short-term memory. As long as the number gets bigger, more “items” you will have to handle in your brain, so you will be putting your brain in the correct wavelength for the exam. 

It’s amazing how many hacks we have available to put our body (and brain) on peak performance and most of them are things that we already know. 

5- Conclusion

Study and practice, exercise, eat well and sleep better. We (somehow) know that a healthy lifestyle is important for our performance and yet, we don’t realise how much.

We wait for kind of over explanation to do things. Stop doing that. Get started now!

Take this IQ test and set it as a baseline. After that you can check out this video to assure the logic behind the answers.

Start applying these techniques and let me know the improvements you make. 

If someone came to your mind while you were reading this post, share it with them. You have a 65% more probabilities to achieve your goal if you commit to someone :-)

No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain, we can change ourselves. Imagine the possibilities.

Carl Sagan