3 signs you are trending dumber in life

Your brain burns roughly 20% of your daily calories. This is why large, sophisticated brains are fairly rare in nature: they are too calorically demanding to maintain. They are also quite important for a species that is physically weak compared to others. So it would seem desirable to protect and enhance one’s brain.

Imagine two competing selves, living many years from now. One is a wisened self, full of dynamic thoughts, painting, writing, growing, and learning. The other is glued to their recliner, binging TV, imprisoned in a narrow way of thinking.

There was an alarming study in 2018, that found people’s IQ scores were dropping in developed countries. The good news is that their findings were mostly correlated to behavior, not devolution. Here’s how to stay on the right side of the curve.

Does a doctor’s skillset age like wine or milk?

There has been a long-running debate on whether doctors get worse with time. It isn’t without merit because research shows many lose their chops. Yet the answer still isn’t that straightforward.

Many doctors underperform later in their careers and it’s less about age than it is behavior. Medical School covers a wide swath of topics. But when you go into the field, treatments often fall into one bucket. My friend is a newly minted anesthesiologist and already frustrated that he is doing knee replacements and colonoscopies all day.

We tend to dive very deep and narrow in our careers. We become masters of a niche topic and its endless, changing variables that have minimal application outside of the office. Our minds have no choice but to adapt.

You can avoid being one-dimensional simply by taking up hobbies that are the opposite of what you do for work. For example, most of us are pretty removed from art. Adopting a creative hobby, even if you are terrible at it, is proven to be excellent for the mind. It promotes your ability to connect unrelated things and recognize patterns, a central element of intelligence.

Everyone deserves to have a passion. I love hearing someone light up as they talk about that thing they really love. It reflects a deeper caring and curiosity for life, a desire to be better than who they are today. Don’t be only as smart as your job.

My experience in the trucking industry

I worked as an analyst at a large trucking company back in my 20s. One of my duties was to monitor the GPS trackers for thousands of trucks. Every Friday, I received a “Termination Report” listing which driver was leaving and a quick description of the reason why.

You have never seen a more colorful report. There were fights and wrecks and crazily unpredictable things happening. One driver was at a bar in his off-hours and let a woman drive his truck because he thought this would somehow impress her. Even worse, it was a liquid nitrogen truck. She ended up flipping the truck and freezing the highway at 2 AM. Another driver arrived at the customer location, fully nude, except for his shoes. He knocked on the customer door holding only a clipboard. Needless to say, he wasn’t eligible for rehire.

This isn’t to detail that every truck driver is dumb or crazy. Their profession is very unhealthy. They are in a sitting position, alone on the road, living off of fast food. They are often sleep-deprived. These conditions are ripe for terrible decisions and often lead to drug use.

When you find yourself down, tired, or depressed, and you eat bad food or resort to stimulants, you are taking out a loan on your future cognitive performance and energy.

Your hippocampus suffers impairment after only seven days of eating high sugar and fatty foods. The sugar alone can impair your memory. It’s not that the bad food somehow spills into your brain. It’s that it screws up your hormone levels, which have a massive impact on your cognition.

If you want to prevent yourself from trending dumber, start feeding yourself good, natural food. The same balanced diet with fruits and vegetables that protects your heart also protects your brain.

The curse of mono-thinking

Social media has an insidious effect on cognition. Outside of pumping and dumping your dopamine levels, and hurting your executive function, it has a powerful siloing effect on your thinking. For example, when you see someone posting ridiculous political opinions on Facebook or Twitter, you often unfollow them. Over time, your feed morphs into more of what you already believe. This is why there are so many more anti-vaxxers than there should be. This is how that friend, who you remember being super smart, is suddenly spewing shockingly ignorant opinions.

Schools never limited our subjects to ones we liked. The entire purpose was to expose us to different things and be well-rounded. How can you expand your limits if you don’t test them?

Schools forced us to create lots of mental models to solve problems. After leaving, we are fed imagery through the various screens and sources we agree with. We rely on Google to answer every question rather than memorizing or learning things. The person who is glued to their sofa, watching the same news channel all day, has fallen into a cognitive trap.

Challenge yourself to engage with new information and consider it with an open heart and mind. Read a book rather than scrolling social media, unfollowing people you disagree with. It helps you create new mental models and sharpen your thinking. Test your mind. You could even do brain games, such as Lumosity, which are proven to enhance cognitive function.

The good news? You are here using your free time to read, so you already have one good sign in your favor. If you want to ensure things trend in the right direction, avoid these three things.

  1. You limit your learning to your job. Take up a skill or hobby. Be passionate about creating something.
  2. You are eating terrible food and relying on stimulants. Food that is good for the heart tends to be good for the brain.
  3. You are only consuming information you agree with. Don’t silo yourself into a narrow mindset. Have a diverse group of friends and sources of information. Keep an open heart and mind.

This article first appeared on Medium.