9 Habits That Will Make You Smarter

By Lauren McGoodwin

“Motivation is what gets you started, but habits are what keep you going.” My mother hit me with this pointer on the phone last week during our regular call on my commute to work, proving yet again that moms really do know best. That catchphrase stuck with me throughout my day, leading me to consider my own habits and how they’ve played a role in my personal and professional life. It comes to this: The biggest misconception about success is that what you did yesterday will help you succeed tomorrow. We need a solid foundation to improve, but to truly become the best version of yourself, you need to keep innovating. It’s a bit of catch-22 — habits give you direction, but when routines become habitual? Not always a great thing. The key to propelling forward is to continue learning, exploring, experimenting, and, you know, letting your brain just think. Freely without constraints. Push yourself by developing these nine simple habits that don’t feel habitual at all.

Lauren McGoodwin is the Founder of Career Contessa, an online career development and mentorship platform for women. Through expert career advice, one-on-one career counseling, online workshops, and job listings, Career Contessa gives you the resources to find a job you love—and be successful in it.

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Tune into podcasts

Does your commute to and from work feel like a complete waste of valuable time? It doesn’t have to be. Podcasts are all the rage right now, and for good reason: they deliver a quick dose of knowledge in a convenient way on a variety of topics. So, stop calling Mom and instead try these 9 podcasts to help jumpstart a smarter commute today.

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Keep a journal

Turns out journaling isn’t just for waxing poetic about your 8th grade crushes or high-school nemesis. Taking a few minutes each day to reflect in writing has been proven to boost your brainpower. Grab a journal (or plain old composition notebook) and start tracking the following each day:

  • What you did or accomplished today
  • What you hope to accomplish tomorrow/this week
  • What you need to do less of this week/month

Reflecting on each month’s goals and accomplishments and writing a quick recap summary can improve happiness, confidence, and overall intelligence.

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Replace Netflix with online learning

Every break you take doesn’t have to involve checking social media or binging on Game of Thrones. The internet is also filled with awesome online learning tools. My current go-to is Skillshare because I can learn fun lifestyle skills or business skills that might, you know, help me increase my salary down the road. It’s a win-win if you can nourish your brain and advance your career at the same time.

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Say no

You can’t boost your personal or professional well being if you’re a “yes woman.” Creating healthy emotional and physical boundaries gives mentally strong people the room they need to grow. Even when they may disappoint others, smart women are still willing to say no as necessary.

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Sleep in more

Nope, that wasn’t a typo. According to a recent Career Contessa article, research shows that aligning work days around employees natural sleep cycles actually makes them more productive and innovative. Specifically, they’re “more focused, less stressed, and generally healthier.” One study found there are even implications regarding our honesty: “Night owls behave more unethically in the morning than at night and… early birds were more unethical at night.” The bottom line is: if you’ve never been a morning person, flex hours might be exactly what you need to up your productivity and make your work smarter.

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Hang out with people smarter than you

Believe it or not, socializing and working with people who are more experienced then you are is one of the fastest ways to learn. I personally experienced this working at an early stage start-up and it’s one of the reasons I now work out of a co-work space each day. A willingness to learn is one of the best personal and professional habits so learn it early and use it often.

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Take a Zumba class

There’s working out, and then there’s Zumba. Learning choreographed dance moves improves your intelligence by keeping your exercise active, instead of passive. A  2012 study showed that Latin-style dance like Zumba “improves mood and certain cognitive skills, such as visual recognition and decision-making.” More research confirms that dance “helps reduce stress, increases levels of serotonin, and helps develop neural connection, especially in regions involved in executive function, long-term memory, and spatial recognition.” Why? Because you aren’t just going through the motions, like running. The extra bonus is that a Zumba class goes by much faster than your daily run because there is literally no time to look at the clock! Again, I’ve personally tested this one.

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Do random new things

If Zumba isn’t up your alley, I’d still recommend finding at least one random new thing to try each month. I recently heard a story on the Fizzle Podcast about a guy working as a dishwasher in a restaurant who decided to take a job at a butcher shop so he could learn a few things about the industry. Well, now that guy runs a few very successful restaurants that focus on high-quality cuts of meat. The takeaway: You never know what will be useful ahead of time. You just need to try new things and wait to see how they connect with the rest of your experiences later on.

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Set aside time to do nothing at all

It’s no surprise that productivity experts recommend giving yourself space for your brain to process what it’s learned. Take some downtime from mental stimulation by practicing meditation or sit silently and reflect. A little solitude is essential to your well-being.

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