How to de­velop your men­tal abil­i­ties

All it needs is lit­tle prac­tice and try­ing things that you have never done be­fore.

Alive - - Contents - by T. Ra­jagopalan

When I was in the col­lege, my English lec­turer B. Laxmiku­mar Reddy who used to put on stage Shake­spearean plays on the col­lege stage on spe­cial oc­ca­sions se­lect­ing good English speak­ing stu­dents to play im­por­tant roles – I may say with par­don­able pride that he in­vari­ably se­lected me.

He used to say, “The av­er­age per­son de­vel­ops only 10 per cent of his la­tent men­tal abil­i­ties. He later joined film di­rec­tor KC Reddy at Vauhini Stu­dios, Chen­nai, as I told me once, and di­rected a movie.

We are apt to base our es­ti­mate of what we can or can­not do on the lessons of our past ex­pe­ri­ence. This at­ti­tude is strength­ened by the idea that our in­tel­li­gence quo­tient is an un­al­ter­able fac­tor. A sim­ple ex­am­ple will demon­strate, how­ever, that abil­ity is less de­pen­dent on in­tel­li­gence than on the de­vel­op­ment of spe­cific pow­ers through prac­tice.

A supremely in­tel­li­gent per­son may be a poor painter for the sim­ple rea­son that he never prac­ticed at draw­ing even sim­ple sketches. The same is true of men­tal abil­ity.

A plethora of peo­ple en­dowed with high nat­u­ral in­tel­li­gence never de­velop their men­tal abil­ity. Oth­ers, of­ten much less in­tel­li­gent, de­velop their abil­i­ties to such a de­gree that they reach the high­est pin­na­cles of suc­cess.

The mind is sub­ject to the same laws of in­er­tia that gov­ern the rest of the uni­verse. It tends to re­main static un­til force is ap­plied. As a sci­ence stu­dent I re­mem­ber New­ton’s First

Law of Mo­tion. “A body per­se­veres in a state of rest un­til com­pelled by an ex­ter­nal force and it moves along the di­rec­tion the force acts”.

That’s the chief rea­son why a stag­ger­ing num­ber of per­sons drift year in and year out think­ing the same thoughts, do­ing the same thing. To over­come this in­er­tia and so ob­tain the best of our­selves we need the emo­tional force of a strong in­cen­tive — an in­tense de­sire to im­prove our con­di­tions, to an over­whelm­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion to ac­com­plish some end ei­ther for our own good or that of our fel­low per­sons.

Con­sider the im­me­di­ate cash value of in­creased men­tal abil­ity. It is the surest why to a bet­ter in­come. Be­gin de­vel­op­ing your abil­ity and the bet­ter job you have so far failed to pro­cure and this will drop into your lap as soon as you are ready for it.

Other equally im­por­tant ben­e­fits are: in­creased sel­f­re­spect; in­creased re­spect from oth­ers; the sat­is­fac-


It’s a sor­row­ful fact that a vast ma­jor­ity of hu­mans to­day are neu­rotic. As a re­sult of their per­sonal his­tory and their men­tal and emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing child­hood, in­ter­nal men­tal ten­sions have been formed which mar by and large, the healthy func­tion­ing of their men­tal pro­cesses.

tion that comes of greater use­ful­ness to so­ci­ety; an in­creased zest for liv­ing.

Make a begin­ning now to kin­dle within your­self the fire of en­thu­si­asm. Set your­self a worth­while aim; to in­crease your in­come, to right some so­cial wrong. In­ci­den­tally, the motto of my High School in Chit­toor, district head­quar­ters in AP is: “Look up; Aim high”. My class­mate R. Ra­ja­mani used to say this of­ten.

He be­came an IAS of­fi­cer and was En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary to the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia. He passed away re­cently (2017).

Store knowl­edge

Al­ways strive to in­crease the store of hu­man knowl­edge, to write a novel or an ar­ti­cle, to sketch a few pic­tures or com­pose mu­sic or to in­vent some­thing to make life eas­ier.

Re­cently some en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents from Hy­der­abad in­vented a scooter that runs on so­lar power. Sim­i­larly some other en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents, also hail­ing from an en­gi­neer­ing col­lege in Hy­der­abad in­vented a so­lar pow­ered trac­tor. The pho­tos of these two with the clutch of stu­dents who in­vented them were pub­lished in the English daily Dec­can Chron­i­cle.

Neatly dis­pel what­ever doubts you may har­bour about your abil­ity. What­ever your nat­u­ral pow­ers are now, be­lieve you can in­crease them ten­fold. An in­dis­pens­able con­di­tion for men­tal ef­fi­ciency is men­tal health. Un­healthy el­e­ments in the sub­con­scious can play re­mark­able tricks with mem­ory, sense im­pres­sions and rea­son.

For years, I prac­ticed mem­ory ex­er­cises as­sid­u­ously with­out se­cur­ing any ap­pre­cia­ble im­prove­ment in any mem­ory. Af­ter­wards, when I be­came in­ter­ested in men­tal hy­giene and dis­cov­ered how to re­solve the emo­tional con­flicts and ten­sions in my mind that fet­tered my mind, I was as­ton­ished at the rapid im­prove­ment of my mem­ory and all my men­tal pow­ers.

It’s a sor­row­ful fact that a vast ma­jor­ity of hu­mans to­day are neu­rotic. As a re­sult of their per­sonal his­tory and their men­tal and emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing child­hood, in­ter­nal men­tal ten­sions have been formed which mar, by and large the healthy func­tion­ing of their men­tal pro­cesses.

Any en­deav­our to de­velop the fac­ul­ties of ob­ser­va­tion, mem­ory, con­cen­tra­tion, rea­son­ing or imag­i­na­tion with­out first re­solv­ing the un­healthy con­di­tion is to­tally fu­tile.

Chronic worry also in­hibits men­tal abil­ity. It can be con­trolled through sheer prac­tice. Have you ever spent a sleep­less night in tor­ment­ing rep­e­ti­tion of one or two re­cur­ring trains of thought?

This oc­curs when mind can’t find a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem. The last thought of each train comes up against a blank, and the mind goes back to a pre­vi­ous point in the chain and fol­lows it through again.

Thoughts fol­low each other by as­so­ci­a­tion of ideas. At any point in the chain it’s pos­si­ble to de­lib­er­ately in­tro­duce a fresh as­so­ci­a­tion and so switch to an en­tirely new train of thought.

Train­ing thoughts

If we prac­tice this trick of “switch­ing” from one thought track to an­other we can turn our thoughts at will on pleas­ant top­ics and give our minds a chance to re­cu­per­ate and gain new power with which to solve the prob­lem caus­ing the worry.

Keen ob­ser­va­tion, mem­ory and imag­i­na­tion are the ba­sic in­gre­di­ents of men­tal abil­ity. It’s nec­es­sary to ob­serve ac­cu­rately by means of the senses; to be able to store up the knowl­edge thus ac­quired in the mem­ory; and to utilise that knowl­edge in the cre­ation of new ideas.

Sight and hear­ing are vi­tally im­por­tant essences as far as gen­eral men­tal abil-

ity is con­cerned and al­beit touch, taste and smell may be im­por­tant in par­tic­u­lar in par­tic­u­lar fields, they are of no concern to us here.

Draw­ing is a price­less ex­er­cise for de­vel­op­ing the power vis­ual ob­ser­va­tion. One must ob­serve ac­cu­rately in or­der to draw cor­rectly. Prac­tise draw­ing from sight and from mem­ory.

You don’t have to be an artist but as skill de­vel­ops your in­ter­est will in­crease. In ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing your vis­ual fac­ul­ties you will find your­self in pos­ses­sion of a fas­ci­nat­ing new hobby.

Hon­ing per­cep­tion

To train your au­di­tory per­cep­tion, get into the habit of jotting down in a note­book all the im­por­tant things you hear dur­ing the day a sum­mary of con­ver­sa­tion you had with oth­ers, the gist of a ra­dio or TV news talk, the words of a lyric sung by a singer and so on. You may at first find it dif­fi­cult to do all these but prac­tice of this will make you per­fect.

To train your mem­ory set aside a pe­riod at the end of ev­ery day for writ­ing down chrono­log­i­cally all the im­por­tant ex­pe­ri­ences of the day. This prac­tice will make you a good writer. You may even ven­ture to pen a good novel, at least a novelette.

Imag­i­na­tion is a game of com­bi­na­tion played with men­tal im­ages stored in the brain. To de­velop it, try writ­ing short sto­ries, not for pub­li­ca­tion but as ex­er­cise in cre­at­ing an imag­i­nary world in which peo­ple of your own cre­ation re­act to the sit­u­a­tions in which you place them.

Lastly cultivate the art of self-ex­pres­sion. De­velop the habit of putting your thoughts into writ­ing on ev­ery pos­si­ble oc­ca­sion. Get out and in­tro­duce in your con­ver­sa­tion with oth­ers what you had noted down.

Ex­pres­sion both clar­i­fies your thoughts and re­veals their de­fects. It fixes knowl­edge more firmly in your mem­ory. It’s also the means through which oth­ers recog­nise your abil­ity.

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