The Key To Intelligence: Pay Attention

Girl Dressing

What color shirt was your roommate / spouse / significant other wearing this morning?

What type of car does your neighbor drive?

When is your boss’ birthday?

Was the girl in the above photo wearing a wedding ring?

If you had paid attention, you would know.

Most people go through life with their attention centered solely on themselves. If they are exposed to any piece of information that does not seem like it will have any lasting impact on their lives, they pay it no heed.

This is no way to live.

I have no illusions of being any less self-centered than the average man. In fact, I may be even more so than most. And yet I do pay attention. Not from any pretense about being an overly caring person, but because I understand the value of information.

Growing up, whenever I would get into the car with my mother I would instantly tune out the outside world. Whether reading a book, listening to music, or just having a conversation, I would not pay the slightest bit of attention to the route we were taking. Years later there were many times where I found myself in the embarrassing situation of not knowing my way around my own hometown. This embarrassment could have been avoided by simply paying attention.

There have been many times throughout my schooling experience where I have been required to sit in on guest lectures. While attendance was often taken at these events, they were seldom tested upon. As a result, it was commonplace during these lectures to look around the room and see people dozing, doodling, texting, or doing pretty much anything other than paying attention to the speaker. Yes, there were times when I was one of the doodlers. But almost every time where I have forced myself to pay attention I have been rewarded in some way.

A little over a month ago, I had been looking for a professor to start doing research and been having poor luck in finding one until I remembered one of these guest lectures. Over a year prior I had been required to attend a lecture on modern facial recognition technologies and, while at the time it had little relevance to me, it has turned out to be closely related to my current field of interest. Based on what I remembered from that lecture I was able to contact the professor who gave it, impress him with my knowledge, and now I am already involved in doing research under his supervision.

I didn’t get that job because I was smarter than everyone else who heard that lecture. I was just more attentive.

Society has a tendency to judge intelligence based on how much we know. At the same time, the human brain has a seemingly endless capacity for knowledge. And yet tremendous disparities in apparent intelligence in individuals abound, even in those with similar genetics or upbringings. Yes, some of this can be blamed on “good” or “bad” memories, but such attributions are like claiming that a body builder is just naturally stronger than his accountant brother. True, one may have a slightly different natural build, but the true difference between them is how much exercise they get.

Your brain is like a muscle, and it’s not too late to start exercising it. Pick one hour every day where you do your best to take in and remember every detail that you see or hear. No, you probably won’t be able to remember everything. But if you keep it up, you will start to find that you can indeed increase both the amount that you can take in and the ease with which you store it. It may take a good deal of time and effort, but the positive benefits that this practice will have on your life will soon make you realize how worth it it really is.

Pay attention.

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