Intelligence Training: From Mind to Supermind
To understand is human.
Presumably, we would all rather be more intelligent than less. The problem is we aren’t usually given a choice.
We classify ourselves — or are classified by others — as bright, bright enough, or not so bright. But that may be changing.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have tied cognitive training to lasting improvements in fluid intelligence — or the ability to reason and problem solve — traditionally thought to be fixed at birth.
And yet, outside the lab, ideas on intelligence remain vague. Ask your friends the question “What is intelligence?” and you will get a dozen different answers: high IQ, good grades, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, genius, streets smarts, common sense. How do we improve intelligence if we don’t know what it is?
The Game Changer
Intelligence training begins by realizing that intelligence is modular.
In other words, intelligence is made up of skill sets. Rather than an unfathomable display (or lack) of brilliance, intelligence is ability in specific mental tasks. Once those tasks are defined, it’s a short step to begin training in them.
This became clear to me a few years ago when preparing for the Mensa exam. I realized that my scores weren’t just a reflection of “natural intelligence,” but a result of my own training regimen. I even prepared a Mensa training guide designed to help test takers achieve a perfect score.
In presentations on intelligence training, I highlight four main skill sets, or abilities, that I use daily and one big realization. Let’s look at the abilities:
- Insight: Yes, insight is an ability and a process. It’s little realized, but our thinking process is based on images (real or in our minds). Aristotle said: “We cannot think without images.” Likewise, every professional sports team “looks at the film” to improve. We can do the same. Using a “daily review” of images from events in our life — meetings, projects and personal interactions — we gain valuable and often overlooked insights.
- Simplicity: Thinking can be simple or complex. Unfortunately, much thinking is overly complex and inefficient. This creates confusion. A vital key to decision making is knowing how and when to think simply and when to think in detail. The main technique of simplicity is finding the “packed thought,” or blueprint idea, within the details of any problem, communication, or strategy. This is a practice of distinguishing “the forest from the trees” and is essential for moving forward on any decision. Once this is clear, we can choose to unpack the details as necessary.
- Speed: Our intelligence is a potential race car. Simplicity eliminates the repetitive loops and drag of complex thinking. Using packed thoughts filters the noise and clutter of complexity, allowing for much faster mental processing. This is the essence of speed reading, speed viewing (video), and genius in general.
- Truth: A right decision for one person, team, or organization may not be appropriate for another. These kind of “wrong” decisions can be disastrous. Clarifying core principles, values, and goals — to the point of second nature — is a priority. The next step is discernment. Ask, “Does this decision fit with who we are?”
Practicing these skill sets leads to an epiphany: Intelligence can be engaged at will. As a set of conscious mental actions, intelligence becomes available on demand. A trained thought process can be “switched on” when necessary, like an athlete shifting into higher gear on game day.
A History of Genius
Higher intelligence is a historical reality — the tool of geniuses and savants from every age. The ancient Greeks called this faculty nous, an ability to access “states of knowing.” To Latin writers, it became intellectus. Indian sages called it buddhi. Scholars of the Islamic Golden Age named it aql.
The word supermind — literally “above the ordinary mind” — originates from the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. To Aurobindo, this was a future stage in human mental development. In everyday practice, supermind is the conscious use of intelligence skills: insight and vision, simplicity, speed, and truth of thinking.
Like any training, there are obstacles: our rigidly held beliefs, opinions, and emotional patterns. A good diet, exercise, and restful sleep (on the plus side) help clarify the mind. Also useful is any practice that focuses our thoughts, whether through rigorous activity, sheer interest, or meditation.
Intelligence Is Meaningful
Intelligence is always an advantage in any career. But it also enlightens our daily lives and relationships. Insight and discovery — the essence of every “Aha! moment” — add meaning to our lives. They enrich our sense of who we are and the decisions we make. These insights can be the best part of our day. Cultivating our intelligence is a journey of steps. It’s a good one to start.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: Courtesy of Nathan Jaye, CFA