Is it possible to become a genius? Aren’t geniuses born, and not made?
Becoming a genius is more than just increasing your intelligence. Genius is not just about being smart, or having lots of knowledge, it’s a level above that. Usually those who get called ‘geniuses’ have either a skill level that seems almost magical, or they have a creative ability to make connections between ideas that have escaped everyone else. The word ‘spark’ is often used in connection with geniuses. I think this implies that the genius’s mind seems to be working almost instantaneously, like a spark of lightening or an electrical discharge arcing between two nodes – like two ideas – linking them in an instant. Geniuses make leaps of creative thought that leave most people wondering how they did it. Sometimes these connections shock us. Another electrical metaphor. Geniuses think the unthinkable and turn our preconceptions on their heads.
All this sounds magical, and there is some truth, I think, in the theory that geniuses are born and not made. Exceptional aptitude often shows up very early in the life of a genius, particularly in the areas of maths and music. Nevertheless, there are some things you can do that will increase your chances of becoming someone who gets called a genius. Indeed, some of these things are probably what contributed to famous geniuses honing their skills to that high level.
Know your strengths
The best place to start in becoming a genius is to figure out what you are already good at. This may sound obvious but most of us don’t know exactly all the things we are good at without spending time to figure it out.
The first thing you can do is make a list of all the things you’ve succeeded at in the past. This doesn’t have to be dramatic things, e.g. like winning competitions, it can be more modest achievements, the key thing is that they might point to areas of untapped potential. Maybe as a child you were really good at drawing, or perhaps people often comment at your ability to explain things to others or come up with creative ideas. We often have a blind-spot about our strengths, because we take them for granted.
Another thing you can do is to look around your living environment, look at the books and films you own. What do they say about your interests and obsessions. Genius often involves obsession: a genius works away at a problem obsessively until they make a breakthrough. Or they spend enough time working away at an artistic medium obsessively until they breakthrough to new ways of making music or art.
You could also ask the people who know you best what they think you’re good at.
You’re best chance at operating at genius level is to build upon things you’re already very good at, not only because you’ve probably already put a lot of time into developing this skill, as well as it being something that you have a natural affinity for.
Boost your creativity
One of the ways that geniuses seem to arrive at their surprising ideas is by combining together concepts from areas that aren’t usually connected. We tend to pigeon-hole ideas into separate subjects, and this often blinds us to connections that could be made between these ideas. Also, experts tend to work and think within the confines of their discipline and many don’t have much experience in other fields. Breakthroughs in originality can be made just through combining together ideas that others haven’t connected before.
If you currently only think about a narrow range of ideas, and are stuck within one subject area, think about other areas you could learn more about. Read a book on a subject that you are interested in but don’t know much about. Constantly ask yourself the question: how does this relate to things I already know?
Another way to harness your natural creativity is to keep a notebook. Lots of geniuses, like Leonardo da Vinci, capture their ideas in both notes and sketches. We all have more ideas than we remember, writing them down in a notebook is a great way to capture and accumulate them. By keeping a notebook you will also learn more about your own interests and obsessions.
Lastly, learn to visualise things. Close your eyes and try to bring to mind a mental image of something – anything. You may find this easy, but most of us find this hard. Keep practising at it. Visualising things has been a secret trick of many genius’s, from Einstein’s imagining himself travelling on a beam of light (which led to his theory of relativity) to the genius inventor Nikola Tesla, who was said to be able to create a mechanical invention purely in his imagination, and set it running to see if it would work! (See my article on ‘image streaming’ for more on this subject: Using the power of the subconscious mind ). Geniuses draw power from their non-conscious minds, and our non-conscious seems to think more in images than words.
The 10,000 hour rule
One of the secrets of geniuses is that whilst their skills appear effortless, they are usually based upon many years of practice. In fact, many geniuses begin practising at their skill in childhood. By the time they are young adults they have put in thousands of hours of practice.
Researchers have found that there is a magic number when it comes to practice: 10,000 hours. The trick is to be constantly pushing yourself to become better. It’s not good enough to just spend time practising, you need to be constantly moving along a learning curve.
Nor would I say that practice alone will lead to genius. It may be necessary, but not sufficient. The 10,000 hour rule was popularised in Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’. One of the examples he gives for it is the way that the Beatles spent a lot of time playing music in Hamburg before they became famous. Gladwell argues that it was this practice time that honed their abilities to world-class standard. In an interview in 2010, Paul McCartney said the following about this theory:
“I've read the book. I think there is a lot of truth in it [...] I mean there were an awful lot of bands that were out in Hamburg who put in 10,000 hours and didn't make it, so it's not a cast-iron theory. I think, however, when you look at a group who has been successful... I think you always will find that amount of work in the background. But I don't think it's a rule that if you do that amount of work, you're going to be as successful as the Beatles.”
Whether or not the 10,000 hour rule is exact, the benefits of practice are unarguable. Many creative people stress the self-discipline and hard work that preceded their genius years, and inventors and scientists who discover knew things need a body of knowledge to build upon. The trick, however, is to practice and learn, but whilst also keeping an open mind to new approaches.
Ultimately, if you want to increase your chances of reaching genius level, any of the techniques described on this site - from meditation/mindfulness to lucid dreaming - will be useful. However, by concentrating on knowing and working with your strengths, nurturing your ability to think creatively and make original connections, and working hard on practising your skills you will be in the best position to become a genius.