Why I’m smarter because of a buff notebook and a blonde girl

Anyone can be smarter if they want to be, and can be determined enough about it. What’s for sure is that you won’t get smarter by staring out of the window; it takes a combination of desire and determination. Our blogging partner Stuart Pearcey recalls two school day memories that set him on the path of writing for a living, and offers seven valuable tips to help you to pick the path to ‘smart’.

Two memories in particular linger from my school life. The first was a small buff notebook; the second a tall blonde girl. I didn’t know it at the time, but both were to have an impact on the course of my professional career.

Let’s start with the small buff notebook. Everyone in my class was given one. Our English teacher instructed us to write in it words we came across whose spellings we might find awkward. She instructed us all to start with the same word. It was ‘immediately’. That was more than 50 years ago, and I remember it as clearly as if it were this morning.

Ways to Get SmarterBut you don’t want to read about the small buff notebook. You’re more interested in the tall blonde girl, and want to read about her. Immediately. OK. She features in the story when we were both in our mid-teens, and she’s memorable neither for being tall nor blonde, and not for being an outstanding student – none of us were, to be fair. What made her memorable was her habit of writing a word in the corner of the blackboard on Monday mornings, and announcing it as her ‘word of the week’ for use as often as possible, (once we’d worked out what it meant).
It taught me to be hungry about words, that they exist in near-innumerable quantities, they’ll never be used up, and that I could make a living arranging them in different ways. I’m far from being the smartest guy around, but by applying myself to just one thing, and never giving up on it, I’ve become smart at it. I’ve never been out of work in more than 40 years. And anyone can do that if they want it badly enough.

How to make yourself smarter

1. Read. Anything at all. Novels, magazines, breakfast cereal packets. Who cares what it is; everything has something to teach you. The more words you know, the better you can understand and express yourself, and the more you can learn.

2. Listen to others. Thanks to the technology there’s a wealth of good stuff available on line, on the TV and on the radio. Take Ted Talks, for instance, on the internet. There are thousands to pick from in what amounts to an online video library at which you can watch presentations by experts in their fields; experts you’d probably never get to see otherwise. Watch TV quiz shows (the ones that deal in facts and not hype), and listen to factual talk radio.

3. Play board games. Seriously! Pick the right ones – Articulate is a great example, because it’s stuffed with facts and can be hilarious. You’ll be introduced to new words and new facts, and Get Smarteralthough you may not realise it, you’ll remember them. And you’ll have a great laugh too.

4. Challenge yourself with a new hobby. How do you know you can’t do it until you try? Pick something that encourages you to learn new vocabulary and techniques, and is different from what you do in your normal routine. I’m a qualified sailor, beekeeper and unqualified classic car nut and stained glass artist as a result of doing just this.

5. Do the numbers. Practice makes perfect with maths. Record your spend with a money management app like Solo Expenses – it’s free to download – and work with it to make yourself a better expense manager. Don’t want to do the addition and subtraction? That’s fine; Solo Expenses will do the expense management for you, but there’s nothing to stop you doing the sums yourself and checking that you have it right by comparing it with the app. And you’ll find you’re a better money manager in the end!

6. Take a night class. This is a more structured way of starting a new hobby, but perhaps attending night classes could become a new hobby in itself, as you choose to learn something new every term or every year.

7. Do less social media. You’re likely to learn more by being selective about your social media use. So much of what’s posted is hokum and prejudice, so there’s a real danger that you learn inaccuracies or others’ opinions. You’ve no doubt already seen that in spite of its name, it can be very anti-social media indeed. Use the time you save for one of my other six tips. Facebook isn’t going to miss you…

Make the smart move, and start something new today. Who knows, you might surprise yourself at just how smart you can actually become – and the effort will certainly be worth it in the end.