Can a person become smarter? Can a person become dumber?

It’s funny. I always was raised with this misconception that intelligence is something that one either has or doesn’t. And she who has it, can never lose it or have it be diminished, and she who doesn’t, no matter how hard she may try, will never really attain it.

I remember as a young child that we were given IQ tests. I hated those things and even though I was only about six, I remember feeling a terrible pressure that I needed to prove myself. I didn’t. My brother, however, did. He scored as one of the lucky few who was termed “highly gifted.” I, the ignoramus of the family, scored lowest.

And throughout my life, this stigma accompanied me. Of course my brother would attend an ivy league school, after all, he was “highly gifted.” It was my job to study that much harder and work that much more since I had to compensate for the inherent brilliance that I simply did not have.

Natural intelligence doesn’t count for much, whereas motivation and hard work count for plenty

Yet as the years have passed I have come to the conclusion that natural intelligence doesn’t count for much, whereas motivation and hard work count for plenty.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely something to be said about someone who has a leaning or ability to understand certain concepts. I don’t believe that someone without an innate intelligence will, through hard work and determination, become an Einstein. However, I do believe you can train your mind to do exceptional things, well beyond one’s natural capacity.

The funny thing is that we consider brain power to be stagnant, whereas we would never make the same mistake with other muscles.

For example, it really doesn’t matter that for the first 25 years of my life I weighed no more than 110 pounds, ever. It really doesn’t matter that I was always a natural size 4, could eat whatever I wanted, and never gained weight even though I didn’t exercise. It just doesn’t matter.

And why? Because for the past few years, ever since I gave birth to my first child, and certainly no better after my fourth, I haven’t been a size 4 or anywhere even close. And when I go shopping, it simply doesn’t matter what size I was, all that matters is what size I am. And I can hold onto my old clothing for as long as I would like, but if I don’t take some very practical measures to change my situation, it isn’t going to change on its own. At this point, I am simply wasting closet space.

Now, to go back to the original argument, perhaps it could be said that naturally I may have a faster metabolism than others and that is why I was always so small. Perhaps. And perhaps if that is the case, then if I am able to I can hold onto my old clothing for as long as I would like, but at this point, I am simply wasting closet space. lose weight and return to my pre-pregnancy size, then I will be able to keep it off. But until then, the person who may have always struggled with her weight and needed to work extremely hard to be a size 8, is ultimately smaller than me, even though I used to have a “natural” advantage.

What I mean to say here, is that I have also discovered with time, that the brain is a muscle that works the very same way as the one in our legs and stomachs. If we don’t use it, and maintain it, and give it the proper exercise that it needs, it will lose its strength, its fitness, and it will become flabby.

Our intelligence is not something that simply is. It is something that must be worked on, stimulated and used, or it will be taken away from us. We cannot rely on what we were taught or what we learned years ago, to inspire us and keep us motivated in our present, let alone our future. Our brains need to be constantly and freshly stimulated. We need to always be learning. We need to always be growing.

I could not believe how intellectually lazy I had become until the other day when my husband asked me to read a fairly difficult piece of literature, and I could barely make my way to the end of the page. I couldn’t keep my eyes focused. I kept wanting to skim, to pull out key phrases or words. I didn’t want to take the time or the effort to really think about what was being said. And more than not wanting to, I found I wasn’t even able to. I simply couldn’t make it past the first page.

That was when it struck me. We live in a world where everything has been made so easy for us that we don’t have to exert much effort. We have our fast food and our fast entertainment and our fast internet connections. We don’t have to use much output for a return of some very quick and filling input. But as we sit in one place and take the lazy man’s approach, our minds are getting drastically out of shape.

Not only will it take a pretty intensive workout routine and change in diet to start to get back to the brain power we once had. But in the meantime, we simply will not be capable of achieving what was once in our ability.

We are not going to be able to pass down the inspiration or knowledge that is now stagnant, stale

And the easiest place for this to take place is in our learning and growing and connection to Torah and to Hashem. It is not enough to rely on the education we were given when we were students. We are not going to be able to pass down the inspiration or knowledge that is now stagnant, stale. When our children ask us a question, we can’t give the same answer we received when we were a child, unless we have made it meaningful and pertinent to the here and now. We must constantly refresh what we know and our connection, give our minds a new workout, and one that is even more difficult than the last. Whatever routine we have been doing until now, even if sufficient for the present, is certainly not sufficient for the future. If we don’t increase, we will never grow. If a workout doesn’t stretch, doesn’t burn, it isn’t working. It isn’t supposed to cause pain, but you definitely have to break a sweat!

This is even why Jewish law requires that before every holiday we must review all the applicable laws. On the one hand this is practical so that they are fresh in our minds and we will be prepared for all the intricate details involved. But there is a deeper level. Each time a holiday comes around, it is not a repetition of the same thing from last year. It is new, and it needs to be treated as new, with a fresh mind, heart and soul. And the only way we can experience and fulfill the laws with a newness, is if our learning is new and our brain is in good shape.

So as I begin my new workout routine of going to the gym every day at 5:30 am, a feat I would have never thought possible, I am trying to remember not to only give my body a workout. And as each week passes and my stamina increases and I can handle another 10 lbs. more of weight, that is my indication that I better add something more to my learning, something that until now I considered too difficult. Because the same way I want to keep my body healthy so that I have energy and strength for my busy schedule and running after our four children, I must also keep my mind in shape for their questions. Because when my six year old is able to stump me, and when with a BA and MA in literature I still can’t make it through a difficult page of reading, that is my wake up call to get working out! So I look forward to the day when my mind can handle more and my connection to Hashem is intensified, and as long as I am thinking positively, I wouldn’t mind being a size four again either!

Postscript: To be perfectly honest, the 5:30 am workout routine lasted about a week. But, we did just buy a rowing machine and have started walking...