20 Tricks to Boost IQ and Build a Mental Exercise Routine


Why do people go to the gym? We didn’t evolve with treadmills and barbells, so why should experts recommend exercising every day? The answer would probably be because our daily life doesn’t challenge us enough physically.

I’d like to suggest that our daily life doesn’t challenge us enough mentally. Through setting aside time to visit the mental “gym” and organizing my life to work various mental muscles I’ve found it much easier to think logically, create new ideas and focus myself.

Research indicates brainpower is more than just genes

Science shows that intelligence is both environmental and genetic. Lab rats given more toys to interact ended up much smarter than rats left without any. Even more, studies are now showing that, contrary to an earlier belief, you can grow new neurons if given a stimulating environment.

The benefits of mental fitness

The benefits of physical fitness are obvious and visual. In my opinion, the benefits of mental fitness are even more important, although they might be more subtle. Here’s just a few benefits I’ve noticed from structuring my activities and hitting the mental gym:

  • Rapid learning. It’s no secret I barely study for exams. My grade point average for my first year of University was a 4.2 out of a 4.5 (my lowest mark was one B+). And this is while taking courses with high failure rates such as Calculus, Asian History and Computer Science.
  • Logical thinking. I’ve been told one of the biggest assets to this blog is my ability to discuss problems with a clear line of logic and reasoning. I believe this is an ability I’ve greatly improved over the last few years through mental training.
  • Creativity. This month I wrote about 25 articles for this blog, 15 articles as a freelancer and a handful of guest posts. The volume of posting ideas I get is large enough that I now need to put a more strenuous filter for quality.
  • Memory. I’ve gone from almost complete absent mindedness to above average memory. Learning memory tools such as linking and pegging have given me new methods to store information.
  • Focus. When I started meditating to improve focus over a year ago, I found it hard to control a visual scene or keep out distracting thoughts. I’ve since noticed huge improvements so that I can hold images, ideas or focal points even with a fair degree of distraction. I’m still starting out, but the future looks promising.

Creating a mental fitness routine

There are two major ways to construct a mental fitness routine:

  1. Balancing projects/activities to ensure all mental “muscles” are being worked intensely.
  2. Setting aside time to hit the mental gym with activities solely for the purpose of building brainpower.

I use a combination of the two. Unlike physical exercise which is hard to reach a high intensity in routine life, you can structure your day to ensure you are working mental muscles.

You just need to ensure that you are working all mental muscles, not just one or two. If you go to the gym and just work biceps, you’ll have big arms but be completely weak everywhere else. Varied mental exercises will ensure you can handle all problems and ideas.

Here are twenty ideas for starting a mental fitness routine. I don’t suggest trying to implement them all. Instead either set aside fifteen minutes a day for one of these or integrate one of them into your routine.

  1. Journaling – Writing down your thoughts is a great tool for problem solving. Every journal session I have, I leave amazed with the answers to tough problems I can come up with. Journaling is your Universal Machine of the mental gym, providing good workouts for creativity, logic and focus.
  2. Meditation – I’ve only recently started to find serious uses for meditation in my mental regimen. Before I saw meditation as a more spiritual than practical activity. Now I’ve come up with several different meditations to work different mental muscles:
    • Visualization – One I’ve been working on I call: eating the white apple. Visualize a white apple and hold it in your mind. Then imagine yourself eating it a bite at a time. Experience all the sensations of touch, taste, sound, smell and sight. The hard part is keeping the mental image of your apple consistent with where and how you eat it. I can usually only go about 10 bites before the mental image degrades.
    • Focused Breathing – Start by slowing your breathing to about 10-15 seconds per breath. Next focus on one specific part of your body on the inhale. Select a new focus on the exhale. You can then move this to noticing specific sounds or senses. A good exercise in focus.
    • Self-Dialog – Meditation makes it easier to talk with yourself. You can invent characters that can dialog with you, helping explore ideas. I believe journaling is an easier form of introspection than meditation, but they both have their strengths.
  3. Cycle Hobbies – Take up new activities regularly. This will keep your learning curve steep so your mind is always engaged at a high intensity. I’ve dabbled in painting, dancing, speaking, running, music, woodworking, programming, design and many others.
  4. Peripheral Activities – Don’t just take new hobbies, take ones that are vastly different from each other. Being a mile wide doesn’t just improve mental fitness, it gives you a broad base of metaphors for creativity.
  5. Read One Book Per Week – I strive to read one book each week. Sometimes this can be difficult with time constraints, but the benefits are impressive. If you want to save time on this one, learn speed reading.
  6. Engaging Fiction – Engage yourself in movies, books or television that makes you think. Television that makes you think might sound like an oxymoron, but the medium isn’t all bad if you know where to look. Engaging doesn’t just mean entertaining, but that it actively challenges your assumptions.
  7. Puzzles – I like to do crosswords and computer game puzzles. Solitary game playing can keep your mind sharp as long as the learning curve is steep and it doesn’t become routine.
  8. Competitive Games – Games that require strategic thinking are excellent ways to boost your logic and empathizing skills. Chess may be an intellectual favorite, but newer games can hold more promise by being much more diverse, and having a deeper range of strategic options.
  9. Explore Another’s Perspective – Empathy is a mental, not just an emotional, ability. Exploring another’s perspective hones your ability to think through another’s eyes. Although empathy is often dismissed as being touchy-feely and not logical, the ability to think from another’s perspective is an advanced mental ability that doesn’t develop until we are several years old.
  10. Create Regularly – I always like to have a project on the go. After finishing my latest e-book, I’ve been itching for a new challenge. I think I’ll be redesigning the entire website in the next month or two.
  11. Thought Experiments – Einstein was famous for thought experiments. This kind of reasoning ability is a mark of intelligence. Ask yourself, “What if?”
  12. Break Routines – Try consciously breaking one of your habits, just for a moment. Eat a different breakfast. Take a different route to work. Sleep in the opposite direction.
  13. New Cultures – Expose yourself to different worldviews. I found going to University and meeting people from vastly different cultures to have a big effect on my own ideas.
  14. Learn Outside Your Interests – Don’t stick to what you like. As a geek who knows C++ and watches Star Trek, I wasn’t sure whether I’d like dancing. But I took a Latin dancing course and found it to be both fun and interesting. People told me I was an introvert who wouldn’t make a good public speaker. I just finished my Competent Toastmaster and Competent Leader awards from the Toastmasters program.
  15. Friendly Debate – Discuss, don’t argue. When you are in a debate you should try to persuade, but welcome opposing ideas not as attacks but opportunities. Debating forces you to examine your opinions.
  16. Teach – When I used to teach First Aid as a lifeguard, I was often surprised at how much better I understood the material through teaching it. Writing articles for this blog organizes those ideas inside my head.
  17. Practice New Skills – Mastery may be useful, but I don’t think it is as valuable to mental discipline as just getting the basics. Unless a skill is useful to you, I’d suggest trying to learn different skills just to adequacy and then moving to something different. It can take six months to understand 80% of a subject and sixty years to understand 95%.
  18. Force Constraints – Try washing yourself with your eyes closed. Cooking without sauces. Reading upside down. Extra constraints make problems more challenging, ramping up the mental intensity required.
  19. Interlink – Holistic learning is about linking ideas together. Spend some time to explore a subject and ask yourself how the pieces fit into other information. This will organize your thinking and improve your understanding.
  20. Increase Mental Intensity – Force yourself to use your brain more. All these ideas are just specific implementations to increase the mental intensity you face. Focus, strategy, logic and creativity are just a few of the mental muscles you should be exercising more regularly.

Image courtesy of flickr.

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  • http://akmarston.wordpress.com Alan Marston

    Funny story…I was just blogging about this post, talking about how the brain is a tool that requires preventative maintenance to keep it sharp. Following along your theme. Then, instead of “publish” I hit “Clear Contents.” Sometimes, irony is a wonderfully fun thing. I guess I need more maintenance!

    I have become a fast fan of this blog of yours. I am learning more with each posting and look forward to the next!

  • Boss


    hey nice article i love getting smarter and challenging my mind. sorry to be blunt; well at first i thought you were a homosexual, but then you said you were a geek so that explains it. unless you’re both? but any ways you write well. but since you told me you are a “geek” i now must take everything you say with a grain of salt. geeeeeeez

    much love

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    Perhaps that’s how I secretly get all my posting ideas. Some cosmic force propels them from the recycling bins of other bloggers and into my head!


    No I’m definitely straight, although I don’t see how that equates with geek…

  • Marek

    Just one tip from your resident self-improving linguist: read not only books outside your regular interests, read book in other languages. This will not only help you progress in and maintain that language, but also expand you mental horizons culturally.

    And if you know only your native language, get out there and start learning another. I guarantee you, learning a new language is one of the most demanding, expanding and rewarding mental excercises in the world.

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    I’ve learned a bit of French, but I’ve always been interested in learning languages besides English.


  • http://www.essentiallifeskills.net ZHereford

    Fascinating post!

    Scott how is it that at such a young age you are so savy?

    Are you related to Peter, David or Anne Young? You look like you could be.

  • http://eric-blue.com/blog/ Eric Blue


    Fantastic post and some great tips! Have you ever tried out any of the mental fitness games out there (like MyBrainTrainer — formally ThinkFast).

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    I have an uncle and cousin both named David and a cousin named Peter. I’m afraid I’m not at the top of original surnames, so the chances are slim that I’m related to any other Young you happen to know.

    It took me months of blogging before I could even claim the top search engine ranking for my own name!


  • Kali


    Great idea about engaging all “muscles” in a novel routine… I plan to register for novel classes like dancing and painting during school semesters at the U of M. Hopefully, this will pull me out of the twister that equates coursework with success by keeping me present-focused. In the meantime, I’ll engage my muscles by checking out speedreading, journaling (which I guess will include thought experiments) more regularly, and exploring interlinking.

    Thank-you so much for the novel ideas!


  • Boss

    well because you never talk about chicks or parties, even though you’re in COLLEGE :)

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    You assume that because I don’t mention aspects of my social life on this blog that they don’t exist. I partied a fair bit in my eight months at residence and my best friend and I pretty much talk exclusively about women.

    But I’m not a dating expert and I am still sorting out my beliefs on social aspects of my life so I don’t write articles about those topics.

    Plus this isn’t a diary. I only do semi-annual posts that are specifically about myself, so I’ll have to apologize if the site makes me appear particularly narrow.

  • http://www.essentiallifeskills.net ZHereford

    Scott, you’re right the surname ‘Young’ is not what you’d call obsure. Sorry about that. The Youngs I mentioned are siblings originally from Windsor, Ontario so you’re probably not related to them.

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  • http://www.yabat.org/ Christian Jonassen

    You mention that you do memory training, but you do not provide any specific hints for this. I would recommend trying to visualise things, learning systems that translate numbers into images, and so on.

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  • mathew

    Learn languages the fun way :

    If you are interested in learning Arabic, French, Spanish or English the fun way, be sure to visit http://www.speakitall.com.

  • Max

    I think the suggestion of learning another language is a great one. It is indeed one of the most challenging and engaging tasks you can undertake, but once you are able to speak even at a basic level, interaction with native speakers will expand your abilities at an amazing rate. Since you know French (given that you seem like an ambitious and intelligent guy), you could probably be pretty confident with spanish or Italian in a matter of weeks. I also just started learning Chinese and it’s a very fun challenge. Given that there are 1.3B Chinese and counting, I figure knowing their language can’t be a bad thing. Great post, actually one of the best I’ve found of this kind. We’ve all heard to do one small thing to get better every day, and you summarize very well some of these things in the realm of bettering our mind. Thanks and keep it up.

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    Not sure where you got the idea I can speak French. I took basic French in school, but I’m far from fluency.


  • Max

    “I’ve learned a bit of French, but I’ve always been interested in learning languages besides English.”

    That’s where I got the idea, I guess I just missed the “a bit” part.

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    Perhaps I should have emphasized “a bit” more, as my French vocabulary consists of about ten token sentences and thirty or forty words.


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  • C.J.

    I noticed I’ve been forgetting many things lately and only in my 20’s that scares me. I’m glad I came upon your site to read about your mental exercises. I’ve always used meditation for headaches and other ailments however it never occurred to me to use it for mental strength as well. I could really taste that apple! :-) Thanks!

  • Martin s.s.
  • ross

    Not to complain, but you spelt flickr wrong. Flicrk?

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  • Adel shaker

    What a vital topic you are touching here and one of the most ignored subjects in the human civilization. Everyone perceives intelligence as a gift and not as a reward for an effort. These mental activitis should be essential sessions in the school and the kids daily activities and the daily lifeof the adults. What I have found useful as well, is to utilize thefull scale of your mind in the daily activities as suggested below;
    1) in the creativity, thinking out of the box during a business meeting to propose innovative ideas or much simpler than that by using new word in my email vocabulary or new phrasing structure.
    2) thinking deeply before taking actions. How to examine the different aspects of a certain subject in my mind firstly and come up with better understanding of it.
    3) usually I spent the commuting time in the morning to think deeply about the work and the emails to be sent and arranging them in my mind and the planning for what should be done.
    4) self dialogue. Talking to myself always was an effective way to stimulate my ideas.
    5) utilizing fully my mind in each single task. It could be ironing or talking or showering. Enrich these activities with smart ideas to improve them.
    6) daily life is the best court for improving our mental activities if we know really how to utilize our minds in the taken for granted tasks.
    7) listening carefully and for enriching our mind. Ask yourself What did I learn out of this discussion?

  • Richard

    Good Ways but there are many more such as Practice And Skills-All of the practices above generate new brain cells, prevent brain cell death, and foster general ‘brain power’. But applying intelligence needs to be targeted to specific types of cognitive problems in life and situations, and this benefits from practice. to read more click on the link below.


  • Simon

    I love your blog is interesting.i want you to hit the next article hard to challenge my spirit. am a nigerian.thanks

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  • KennyB

    If you would really like to boost your brain take this list of neuronutrients Along with following scottys system, for memory enhancements, mental sharpness, and preservation of your quality of life.

    Neuro PS- Also known as PHOSPHATIDYLSERINE(PS)
    Antioxidants-Not only good for aging skin but an aging brain as well.
    Glucose is also good for the brain.(BRAIN ENERGY)
    Vitamin B1 helps produce energy for the brain.
    I suggest One a day Mens health formula.

    And get on a healthy ORGANIC vegitable and fruit diet.
    Now I say organic because the pestasides and other chemicals cause cognitive impairment risk.

    Anything with omega-3 fatty acids are good.

    Fish&Chia seeds are good for Omega-3.
    and chia seeds help with communication between cells in your brain

    lentils have glucose
    avacados help blood flow
    And an assortmentt of nuts are great but brazil nuts are a good source of monosaturated fat and magnesium.
    Both good for a healthy brain.

    I suggest you look into the neuronutrients I listed above before you go out and buy them. You always want to whats being put into your body.

    Hope this is a major help to all who care about their brain!!!!

    And thanks for this site scotty. its been much help!

  • KennyB

    I knew I was forgetting something. For all of you smokers.. QUIT. Not only is it bad for your lungs but Smoking reduces brainpower by depleting neuronutrients and has also been associated with an increase in cognative impairment risk.

  • Girl across the globe

    Hi Scott,

    I accidentally found your article and it’s INCREDIBLY AH-MAZING Scott.
    You inspired me and I feel like I gotta do it right away.
    You make everything possible.

    Thanks a lot! :)

    Hoang Anh

  • solo

    if so, have got to do something to boost this 900000000000000000000000000GB brain of mine.

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  • Ayush Kr Singh

    I am very small in age than you in age, in class 9th and Indian by country .
    I want fullfill my all expectation from me. today i am a averagel mind boy in my class but i want to join indian civil services.but in this condition how can i say that i could be?my ambition is selected through a very hard examinations in India. i probably have a little interest in books but i want to make my brain such that it will know only book and no other thingh either than it.what are you suugestion towards me?

    with keenness
    Ayush kr Singh

  • Sarah

    Heah Ayush I am of your age and Indian origin But we differ becoz i like books. I think you should start reading books like mystery series by enid byton and the same like other stories . That will interest you to read more. But remember books aren’t every thing

  • Chanda Dobra


    Hello, this is my first time on your site. I am sixteen years old entering the eleventh grade in Arizona, United States. I think this is brilliantly put, and I am finding it extremely useful. I never thought that keeping my mind active is equally as (or even more) important than keeping my body active. I appreciate this work and your books as well, and I hope to see even more tips and information on this subject.

    With interest,
    Chanda E. L. Dobra

  • Ralph

    I really like ur blog stuff .uhmmm can you pls gimme a good routine for a day for a student who goes to school by 8am nd back by 3pm.thanks

  • http://steppenhund.twoday.net Hans Hartmann

    I agree with most of your statements but I really had to smile about “reading one book a week”.
    Then I calculated: 63 years – 6 (when I started to read) times 52 weeks a year sums up to 2964. I have around 4500 books in my home so that is about 1,5 books a week/average.
    And 1 would be sufficient probably. So I also agree with this point. But I figured out differently. Until the age of 35 I read two hours per day. 1 hour belletristic, one hour business, 1 hour in German, 1 hour in English per average. then I settled down to 1 h per day. And now I have troubles with my eyes so I mostly read on the screen.

    But basically reading is an absolute must!

  • Azania Lebotsa

    Hi, Love your blog. when are you coming to south Africa to learn sotho..I understand you travel you must come this side its a beautiful country.

  • maxamed Beerey

    hi it is really amazing

  • maxamed Beerey

    Hans Hartmann, i also agree with the most of the information but i would brefere to be announced the page of the book needed to read in a weak though we know books are in different capacity and have different pages, therefore that point seems to be unclear so please make it clear as to be understood thanks

  • Lense

    Interesting, I heard of something called the Road Map To Genius… it is suppost to increase your IQ using methods. Feel free to check this review I found – http://reviewroadmaptogenius.blogspot.com/