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Being smart can increase your chance of success. But what exactly does it mean when we say “smart”? To most, being smart means knowing a lot of information and being able to rattle it off without a lot of effort.

However, simply knowing facts is not necessarily a display of intelligence. A better measure of how smart someone is would be how quickly they can work out a new problem or solve a novel puzzle. This kind of adaptability in thinking is a true measure of how smart someone is and is more complex than simply being educated about a certain subject.

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But how do we achieve this kind of useful intelligence? Becoming educated is fairly straightforward: identify a subject or area of study, read, continue repetition until the facts are ingrained in your long-term memory, and then regurgitate the information frequently enough to keep it there.

Becoming an adaptive, flexible thinker takes some work.

According to neuroscience, when exposed to a novel situation, our brain searches for past experiences and knowledge to plan the next steps to take or how to solve the puzzle. These connections in the brain are formed every time we are exposed to something new. For example, the first time we see a zebra, our brains may make a connection to our ideas of a horse, other striped animals, and other animals with hooves. In this case, our brain works to integrate new information by comparing it to other known things.

In order to get smarter every day, it is important to give our brains many new pieces of information and experiences. They can be simple, such as reading a new book, tasting a portion of new food, or driving a new route to work. Or, they can be more complex, such as learning a new language or traveling. By actively seeking out new and different experiences, you give your brain chances to make new connections. Then, when you are exposed to a novel situation, your brain has many more connections to use in order to work out how to solve the problem.

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