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5 Ways to Become Smarter Without Doing Crossword Puzzles

A handful of tips on how to overcome imposter syndrome and feel 'smart enough.'

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As an entrepreneur, you take pride in the fact that your brain works in a slightly different way. You like that you're innovative and a go-getter, that you're willing to take a few risks and build your own path and business. It takes and bravery to fight the elements over the long haul, especially when there are so many daily hurdles to overcome on the road to success. 

But are you smart enough? That nagging question tends to eat away at so many of us. It's called imposter syndrome, and it can be all-consuming.

Many of us begin purchasing every online training course we come across to address our supposed deficits. We constantly chase magic-pill strategies, hoping the next tutorial or coach will give us that single piece of information that provides all the answers and accelerate our business. We chase quick fixes to to boost our confidence, only to be disappointed, triggering that process all over again. 

When I was growing up, I always thought being able to the New York Times crossword puzzle was an indicator of how intelligent someone was. I was awful at it. I tried my hand at it many times, but I gave up after getting stuck time and again. "It just wasn't my thing," I told myself. But lurking deep inside my negative-chatter chamber was a recurring thought: "If I can't do that darn crossword puzzle, am I smart enough?" 

Smart enough for what is the question. To me, it popped up front and center whenever something requiring brainpower didn't work for me. Maybe if I had just pushed myself to work on that puzzle every day, I might have increased my intelligence. Yet the visualization of all those people dragging out dictionaries and encyclopedias to research the answers (or these days the Google search bar) turned me off as much as eating liver and tongue for dinner. No way!

After all these decades, I now know I was wrong. The crossword puzzle isn't the holy grail. Instead, I've found a few other things that have made me — and so many other people I coach or work with — smarter. I'm here to share some more unusual and engaging ways to build up that gray matter.

Related: How Can I Overcome Imposter Syndrome?

1. Read a business book — slowly

Don't just read and skim over the topics, extracting the bits and pieces that jump out at the time. Select a book with praise from critics. You want to make sure the reviews say the book offers insights, knowledge and information that's been proven beneficial. Then read a single chapter and meditate on it. Let the info sink in. Take the time to let your body absorb the information. Try to put your new knowledge into action immediately. It's a double whammy to your brain in terms of embedding the knowledge for long-term effect. If you skim when reading, your brain may skim when retaining.

2. Play the, 'What if I turn this upside down?' game 

Look at something you do in an automatic, rote way, and then try to do the opposite. Or try to do it in a completely different way. For instance, use your left hand instead of your right to hold the hair dryer. Or brush your bottom teeth last instead of first. This trains the mind to avoid complacency and shakes up the habit muscles. It's similar to the way you . If you do only straight-up curls, you're not using all the muscles in your upper arm. It's best if you use various approaches. Any trainer will tell you that mixing up your workout routine is the best way to overall fitness. I want you to do the same thing with habits your mind has formed. Shake those things up, and see if your mind doesn't get just a little bit sharper in the process.

3. Watch the Science Channel

Please seek out the driest show you can imagine on it. I watched one that showed how parking meters are designed and manufactured. Who cares, right? My only thoughts about a parking meter are whether I forgot the exact time I put my quarters in! The TV show was incredibly slow, to say the least. Still, after two minutes, I appreciated that the amount of focus and detail that goes into the process is astonishing. Out of nowhere, I was mesmerized by a topic I thought would put me to sleep. It made me realize I need to slow down sometimes and dissect the "givens" in my business. Where are we wrong when it comes to making assumptions about our daily business? By opening up the givens, you also open up your mind at the same time.

4. Think of the future

I mean, intensely think about it. What is the future of your industry, or even another industry? For example, cars. Years ago, if we thought about the future of cars, we might have considered it wacky that a car could automatically brake on its own. Or maybe that one with sensors on all sides could beep to indicate how close we are to another object. Or that perhaps a vehicle could feature someone giving you audible verbal driving directions. In 1980, ALL those ideas sounded nuts, but they're real now. Even self-driving cars are a reality (how nice would it be if we never had to go to the DMV again? I can't wait!). The important thing is for you to ask yourself what's next. Innovation comes from ruminating over the question: Where could this industry go next? Ask yourself the same high-level question about your industry. Expand your mind with what-ifs and see if it doesn't broaden thinking about your own business.

5. Let your mind ride in the middle for 30 minutes

Stop what you're doing at this exact moment (OK, after you finish reading this article). Stop the racing brain with thousands of thoughts at one time. That's your brain on overdrive. But also stop numbing yourself with TV, movies, drinks and games. Those two notions are on opposite sides of the mind-activity spectrum: overdrive or numb/stalled. Sometimes, you need to learn how to ride in the middle of those two extremes. To let your mind work — but not too much. To let your mind relax — but not too much. So go ahead: Pick a topic and live in it for about 15-30 minutes. It enables you to go beyond surface-level thinking and gets your brain into the habit of going a bit deeper. That exercise alone will help get your mind in the habit of exercising itself. 

Related: Don't Let Imposter Syndrome Derail Your Business

We all know that the more we do any form of exercise, the stronger we get. If we exercise our minds in new and different ways, we're sure to get smarter. With confidence, your head and shoulders stand taller and straighter. It's a domino effect. Use your mind, and it helps you move your business. Your IQ might even inch a bit higher! 

Give these five exercises a try. You'll move away from those feelings of unworthiness and start feeling you're smarter than you thought. Before you know it, you'll be raising your prices, and your business will take off, with you confidently at the wheel.

After all these years, I still see the benefit of crossword puzzles to improve your vocabulary, but to indeed be smarter, you need this other set of exercises, too. Take 15 minutes after reading this article to think about the implications. Even that's a step in the right direction. Are you feeling smarter already?
Lauren Hirsch-Williams

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Marketing futurist/strategist helping entrepreneurs understand how to better read and communicate with people in business. Background includes corporate executive at PepsiCo running worldwide advertising, entrepreneur/founder of MovieHatch and Global Media Fusion, consultant and agency management.