The word “genius” is one of the most misused terms in history.
While it’s often referenced accurately, the connotation that we commonly associate with it diverges away from the truth.
We correctly label intellectual brilliance and creative power as genius—and we should—but it’s about time we stopped assuming that those things arise from talent or inborn giftedness alone.
In fact, more and more research is showing that while talent is indeed responsible for some extraordinary results, most accomplishments generally result from a combination of practice, habit, and mindset.
Van Gogh was a genius. Mozart was a genius. Marie Curie was a genius.
That said, basing those assertions on their natural talent is not only plain wrong, but it also cheapens the daily work and effort that it took for whatever talent they did or didn’t have to manifest to the degree that it did.
Genius is naturally context-dependent, and it takes more than just the few steps that any article on the internet is likely to highlight, but general intelligence and creativity can be improved pretty easily by anyone.
In fact, all it really takes is an hour a day.
How often do you ask yourself why you do what you do?
This isn’t just regarding the tasks on your daily to-do list, and nor is the answer as simple as “because it pays the bills” or “it’s my passion.” Those are good places to start, but really, what’s the point?
What is it about the world that excites you? What do you not like about it? How much of your ideal life are you living? If a lot, what could go wrong?
These just scratch the surface, but deep, contemplative questions force you to go further than most people ever do when they’re daydreaming or casually dosing off, and they teach you to think with clarity.
There is also a reward in that there is usually a lot of joy that comes from figuring out things that will benefit you for a long time to come, and more often than not, you make your life a bit easier in the process.
You can learn a lot from the ideas you put into your mind from the external world, but you can arguably learn even more by breaking down and better making sense of the things that are already roaming around in your head.
Ask yourself one hard question every day and take time to ponder it.
Taking time to read online is a great way to keep up and get ahead.
The internet has a lot of good hiding in some of its corners, and there are many great minds that are sharing worthy content with the world.
That said, there is something magical about books that can’t be quite replicated, and it comes from the depth that they’re able to portray.
An article like this may engage you, and you may even learn something new and valuable—and I hope people keep reading them—but it can’t quite do the job of absorbing you like a good story or some detailed research might.
Reading is also as much about the tangents of thoughts that arise in your own mind as it is about whatever the writer is trying to tell you, and that’s where the brain does the real work of sharpening itself.
If you were to read for 20 minutes, or about 15 pages of a book, every day, then by the end of the year, you’d have completed between 15 to 20 books.
In my experience, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that a single book at the right time can completely change your life. With just a 20 minute commitment, you’re giving yourself up to 20 opportunities a year to do so.
That’s a greater return on time and money invested than any other activity.
Arguably the greatest teacher in the world is the process of mastery.
When you put your brain and body together and dedicate yourself to something, you give yourself a window of opportunity to refine your mind in a way that thinking and reading alone can’t compete with.
It’s natural to think that when a musician is focused on practicing a tune or when an artist is absorbed in the painting process that they’re honing their craft and reaping the rewards of their practice in their specific domain.
It actually goes further than that. In states of deep focus, when we’re being challenged and pushed by an activity, we’re honing our general mental machinery, too. We’re refining our ability to internalize information, and this process presents an intellectual edge that easily transfers over.
Learning to learn is one of the most important qualities required in a fast-changing world, and it comes from the ability to intensely focus on something that pushes you to ask more of yourself.
Whether it’s a hobby or a personal project, it’s worth dedicating even just half an hour a day to getting a little better at it in a tangible and measurable way.
It’ll not only make you more fulfilled, but it’ll also improve your mind.
At first glance, it may seem that most people already do these things.
In a way, that’s true, and that’s what makes this accessible enough to actually work. That said, most of us miss out on the benefits found in the details.
While everyone spends 10 minutes reflecting, they don’t do so deeply; while everyone reads for 20 minutes, they don’t read the kind of things worth consuming; and while everyone works on something for 30 minutes, they don’t do so with the aim of purpose and progress, without distraction.
Most people who we see as smart don’t get there suddenly or through magic. They just do the little things that are easily neglected by most people. Over time, these little things add up.
Not everyone is born a genius, but anyone can get smarter.
Want to think and live smarter? Zat Rana publishes a free weekly newsletter for 10,000+ readers at Design Luck.
This post was originally published on Medium.