Becoming a mental juggernaut
TL;DR: Animated Video Post
It’s easy to understand why people exercise their bodies. Your physical appearance is observed every day when you look in the mirror. Failure to take care of the body has obvious repercussions. The mind is different. Unlike the body, maintenance failure is not as obvious. So why would one wish to expand their mind in the first place?
Expanding your mind allows you to have a more comprehensive understanding of reality, which in turn better equips you with the resources you will need to achieve your goals and live a happier life. Knowledge is potential power, and potential power is better than having no power at all. Simply put, you will have more tools and be more informed which will allow you to make better decisions.
1. Hang out with insightful people
The easiest way to become more insightful is to hang around insightful people. You become like the people with whom you surround yourself. You might have noticed that overweight parents tend to have overweight kids, or that athletic parents tend to have athletic kids. In many cases, the people with whom we often associate with are responsible for many of the beliefs and values that we uphold.
If the most insightful things your friends have to say have to do with ‘Game of Thrones’ fan theories, perhaps it’s time you start associating yourself with new people. You need to hang out with people that will give you new perspectives and make you contemplate higher quality thoughts. You don’t have to get rid of your old friends, just find some new ones.
There has never been an easier time to find insightful people. Through the powers of the internet, you can find your clan with a simple Google search. These people tend to hang out in niche forums or in dedicated Facebook groups. If you really want to find them, you will!
Meditation has been practiced in the East for thousands of years. The exercise is starting to gain more popularity in the West due to scientific backing and general open-mindedness.
There are many benefits that stem from meditation; some are more obvious than others. However, these benefits only become evident after you have made meditation a daily practice in your life. Just like in the gym you cannot expect to see a huge transformation in one week.
Some benefits include:
- Increased ability to focus
- Increased emotional stability
- Reduced stress
- Increased Gray Matter in the Brain 
Meditation allows you to observe your thoughts and choose which ones to follow. You will no longer be run by impulse. Consequently, you will become better at decision making. Meditation leads to the development of ‘meta-awareness’, which means being aware of your own awareness. Enhanced meta-awareness allows you to step outside yourself and to judge your actions as if you were an observer. This ability is critical for those who wish to expand their minds. In the pursuit of knowledge, one will be forced with the task of challenging their presumed beliefs and thought patterns. That is why meditation is essential.
Tools for meditation:
- Headspace app
- Guided Mediation videos on YouTube
3. Listen to Audiobooks and Podcasts
If you are serious about expanding your mind, you will be an adherent of the ‘Kaizen’ philosophy. It’s Japanese for ‘continuous improvement’. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day, but what separates us is how we spend that time.
You can learn almost anything with audiobooks and podcasts. You can download new information to your brain whilst doing everyday activities. I, personally, can get through and audiobook easily within 2-3 days. If I am consistent, that’s 2 books a week and over 100 books a year. Can you imagine how different your mind will be if you went through 100 books a year? You don’t even need to read that many books for your mind and perspectives to shift. Even 30 books is more than 90% of people would complete. Here are some activities you can do whilst listening to audiobooks:
- Commuting to work
- Vacuuming the house
- Cleaning your car
- Cleaning your dishes
- Walking the dog
There are plenty of opportunities throughout the day that will arise in which you can slip in an audiobook.
Podcasts are also good and have gained huge popularity over the past few years. The advantage of listening to a podcast is that they can cover specific topics that are normally difficult to research. Podcasts are a goldmine, and just like audiobooks can have the same influence on your mind.
Tools for Audio:
- Itunes Podcasts (contains over 250,000 different stations)
- Soundcloud (contains amateur podcasts)
4. Read Biographies
Imagine if you could sit down with some of the most influential people in history, and hear them tell you their life stories. Imagine if you could learn the lessons they have learned, or discover certain insights that they had. Well, this is possible with the aid of biographies, and more specifically autobiographies. You might never get a chance to talk to these people, but you can absorb their words. Biographies are incredibly useful in regards to expanding your mind because they allow you to consider different contexts.
The best thing about biographies is that they distill many of the lessons that would have been learned over a lifetime. You will not receive the same amount of insight as the person who experienced the events, but you will gain knowledge.
You might never become a boxing legend, or blow hundreds of millions of dollars, but you can learn the lessons from Mike Tyson’s biography. You might not be a president who spent twenty-seven years in prison, but Nelson Mandela’s biography might have something to say about it. You didn’t win the Mr. Olympia, and you weren’t the terminator or governator. But Arnold Schwarzenegger was, and he wrote all about it.
You get the picture; there are many life lessons to be learned through reading biographies! So what are you waiting for?
Tools for Biographies
- Goodreads (Find ratings and top lists)
- Total Recall (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography, a personal favourite)
- Long Walk To Freedom (Nelson Mandela’s biography, another favourite)
5. Watch Documentaries
I remember when I was a young man. I used to spend many hours a day watching documentaries. My favourite documentaries were ones that dealt with: Astronomy, Quantum Physics, classical physics, war history, wildlife, and crime investigation. I stopped the habit after the age of sixteen. Last year during my Mechanical Engineering course I was tasked with choosing an elective subject. I decided to choose Astronomy because of my prior interest in the subject. To my surprise, much of the content discussed in the lectures, I had already learned as a teenager through documentaries! Topics such as: gravitational waves, black hole event horizons, the moons of Jupiter, supernova, and nebula formation, as well as the expanding universe seemed like common knowledge to me. Long story short, I ended up getting a high distinction for the class. I didn’t get the mark because of natural intelligence; instead I got it through the documentaries that I had enjoyed as a teenager.
Documentaries are a fun means to expand your mind, especially during your downtime! The good thing about them is that they don’t seem like work. Many people can’t stand reading because to them it seems like work, it reminds them of school. Documentaries offer an alternative to the usual means of education, and you can find some good quality information in them as well. You can watch a range of documentaries on YouTube as well as a number of online websites for free. Do not ignore this medium; I try to watch one every couple of days.
Tools for documentaries
- topdocumentaryfilms.com (watch documentaries for free)
- YouTube Playlists ( many free documentaries )
- IMBb Highest rated documentaries (a useful list)
6. Read Philosophy
Reading philosophy is easily one of the best ways to expand your mind. Philosophy is derived from Greek and means ‘love of wisdom’. If you love wisdom you will not ignore philosophy. Philosophy challenges you to question many things in your life through the use of reason. The capacity to reason is one of the special human endowments that distinguishes us from animals. If you wish to expand your mind, you must learn to reason and use critical thinking to gain clarity. Philosophical inquiry can lead you to entertain deeper thoughts than you have ever imagined. You might find yourself asking questions such as:
- Is it worse to fail at something or never attempt it in the first place?
- If I could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
- To what extent do we shape our own destinies, and how much is down to fate?
- Does nature shape our personalities more than nurture?
- Should people care more about doing the right thing, or doing things right?
- What single piece of advice should we offer to a newborn infant?
- Where is the line between insanity and creativity?
- What is true happiness?
Luckily for us, we can also read the ideas and conclusions made by some of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived. We can read philosophy from both the East and the West in order to form our own personal world view. I highly recommend you read philosophy if you are serious about expanding your mind.
Tools for philosophy:
- Philosophy in minutes (introductory book that summarises key concepts)
- The pig that wants to be eaten (fun philosophical conundrums)
- The Republic (classic text by Plato)
- Meditations (classic text by Marcus Aurelius)
- School of life Philosophy (a YouTube crash course in philosophy)
7. Learn a new language
Learning a new language is an extreme workout for the brain, it’s like running a couple of marathons and competing in a strongman competition straight after. Language is complex, and in often shapes how we see the world. Learning a new language forces you to learn new syntax structures, and a completely new vocabulary and way of describing the world. Research has shown people who are multilingual often:
- have higher general intelligence
- are better at planning, prioritizing, and decision-making
- have better focus, concentration and attention
- have better memory and memorization skills, including better working memory
- exhibit mental flexibility
There are just so many benefits to learning a new language, and as society becomes more globalised you might be forced to learn a new one.
Tools for language learning:
openculture.com (free language lessons)
busuu.com (language lessons)
8. Learn programming
Programming, much like learning a new language, can be incredibly taxing on the brain. Steve Jobs famously said,
“Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer… because it teaches you how to think.”
Programming requires a structured and logical way to thinking, much like mathematics. Programming is advanced program solving that requires you to break down complicated problems into smaller manageable pieces that can be tackled. This structured way of thinking can then be applied to real-world scenarios. Good programmers are good problem solvers, and as the world becomes more technologically advanced, individuals with these skills will be rewarded greatly. Programming also requires incredible persistence as well as creativity. This is because small errors in a line of code can ruin the functionality of the end product. Programming develops grit due to the persistence needed for it. It has been said that a young Bill Gates (Before his billionaire days) would often code for twelve hours straight. Gates would often fall asleep on the keyboard, wake up and continue his coding.
Programming has never been easier to learn as there are many of online resources and communities that can help you. I personally like to use codeacademy.com as you can learn a range of languages from HTML to C++. Go and give coding a try!
Tools for programming:
- Codeacademy.com (learn to code online for free)
- MIT ‘Introduction to Computer Science and Programming’ (free online course)
- Codeschool.com (paid courses)
- Khan Academy ‘Computer Programming’ (free online course)
The Bottom Line
Expanding your mind is not rocket science. There is one common denominator between everything that I have listed. Everything challenges your mind in some way. Anything can be used as a tool to expand your mind, as long as it involves you learning something new. This list is by no means exhaustive; there are many things that I have omitted for example:
playing chess or any other strategy game
learning a new musical instrument
learning cognitive biases and heuristics
building up your memory
It’s up to you to figure out which tools you will use. I hope this article has been of value to you. Go out there and expand your mind!