5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber

I think it's important that you're aware of the many ways your brain will be a merciless dick to you if you try.
5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber

The more we learn about the human brain, the more we realize that it's an asshole clear to the core. On one hand, it pushes us to constantly improve ourselves so we're not murdered for holding the species back. On the other, it punishes us for attempting those improvements by turning us into hopeless morons. Let me make it perfectly clear that I'm not saying to avoid self-improvement ... but I think it's important that you're aware of the many ways your brain will be a merciless dick to you if you try.

Thinking of Yourself as Naturally Gifted Takes Away Incentive to Work

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
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If there's one thing that watching every superhero movie that comes out has taught me, it's that believing in yourself is the only thing you ever need to do to solve problems. There is literally nothing more important. How does Spider-Man get over his lost powers in Spider-Man 2, the best superhero movie ever? By believing in himself. What does the young Professor Xavier need to do to succeed in X-Men Babies Meets X-Men All Grown Up? "Hope again"; that is, believe in himself. How does Superman gain the courage to punch a spaceship into the sun and then smash Metropolis into a bloody pile of concrete and bone marrow? Well, he was probably going to do that anyway, but not if he didn't believe in himself first.

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
Warner Bros.

"I can do this! And if not ..."

Yes, that confidence is important. If there's one thing all children deserve, it's being called great.

The Terrible Truth:

Encouragement ... is awful? Yes, but there's something of a caveat here: Some kinds of encouragement are good, because painting that fence pure black or pure white is idiotic. Still, other kinds of encouragement will reduce you to some kind of lumbering dummy dum-dum. So how do you tell the difference?

It's simple: Praising someone for doing a whole bunch of work or putting a ton of effort into something will help them succeed. Praising them for being "a natural" or "gifted" doesn't. It's pretty easy to see why: When someone tells you "Good job for working hard!" your mind connects the praise to the hard work, which makes you want to work harder. Being praised for being a perfect little slab of brilliance that burps symphonies and sweats champagne makes you feel like your very existence is an accomplishment, and that you'll just naturally keep creating greatness no matter what. And that's how supertwats are made.

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
Warner Bros.

"My job experiences are: fisherman, hobo, and bar back. But, I believe I can be
a reporter for a Pulitzer-winning newspaper. How hard can it be?"

People are born with natural abilities, sure, but mastering something takes a metric fuckton of effort in virtually every instance, ever. Telling people they're naturally good at something perpetuates the illusion that success can just spontaneously appear in an effort vacuum. Telling people that they're gifted or a "genius" makes them feel good, but hell, so does heroin.

What I'm saying is that telling your kids that they're naturally good at something is just as bad as giving them heroin.

Always Being Available Means You Never Get Anything Done

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
Tetiana Vitsenko/iStock/Getty Images

Whether you're climbing the corporate ladder, building a relationship, or participating in a costume orgy, communication is important. Beyond the obvious bare minimum required to accomplish each of those tasks, it's generally understood that increasing communication has a direct correlation to increasing the quality of the output. So quickly and punctually answering emails from your bosses will make promotion more likely, while describing exactly how you like your butt tickled with a peacock feather hat will result in far more satisfying genital sparring -- whatever the implication of that description may be for you.

Stuart Wilson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"No, I want you to use the Downton Abbey Maggie Smith voice, not the Harry Potter one. There's a difference."

The Terrible Truth:

There's a twist here: A distraction, even a brief one, can decrease your brain's ability to process information by as much as 20 percent. However, waiting for an interruption that never comes actually improves your productivity.

But really think about that -- being available all the time means your email alerts are always popping up in the bottom right corner of your screen, because like hell you're going to mark sale alerts from Steam and GoG.com as spam. And even when you're away from your computer, your phone is making a helpful little noise to let you know that an email came. There's no avoiding it, which is why a study found that distracted workers cost businesses an average of $10,790 per worker every year.

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Uh, unless they're reading a list-based comedy website. Then they get back to work smarter and sexier.

I gotta say, of all the studies in this article, this is the one we're all the least likely to take to heart. Hell, I stopped to read an email from my editor while I was writing this entry, because my phone made the special noise I have reserved for when a Cracked editor emails me. And it shows: When I typed "xenomorph hiss site:youtube.com" into Google, the sun was shining outside and there was hope in the world. Now, the part where Hudson freaks out and 15 different kinds of porn later, I've completely forgotten what I'm even writing about.

Dieting Puts Your Brain on Hunger Strike

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
Jacob Wackerhausen/iStock/Getty Images

Wait a minute ... how can this possibly be bad? Everyone knows the food corporations give so few shits about our well-being that we're practically drowning in their high fructose corn syrup bukkake. And on top of that, everyone knows that Americans are the most disgustingly obese people to ever exist in the history of the world, with skyrocketing rates of heart disease and diabetes. So how can watching what we eat have any negative effects?

The Terrible Truth:

Obviously watching what you eat is good, but counting calories and keeping an eye on the scale can get your brain's neurons all tangled up. Dieting can "problematize" a part of your brain, which is awesome because a) "problematize" is a word that we can all use in casual conversation now and b) it helps explain why fat is incurable. Changing your body size means being hungry forever, and since your stomach is never going to stop sending teams of insurgent revolutionaries to try to forcibly oust the oppressive regime of your brain, your brain is going to have to constantly divert resources to its Royal Guard so they can keep committing war crimes against the restless populace.

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images

Your body is Game of Thrones, and "dinner is coming."

And the difference is huge: They compared the brain power of Indian sugar cane farmers during harvest (when they're effectively rich and can eat however much they want) and pre-harvest (when they're basically poor and eating just to subsist), and they found the IQ difference to be around nine or 10 points. Being hungry -- the default state for everyone on a diet -- has the same effect on your intelligence as losing an entire night's sleep or headbutting a garbage truck in half.

Learning New Things You Disagree With Makes You Disagree Harder

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
IVYPHOTOS/iStock/Getty Images

Because of the fucking Internet, it's easier than ever to live in a tiny little bubble of masturbation circle jerkery, which leads to such embarrassing mistakes as saying "I think Ayn Rand made a good point" or "Nikolai Gogol was very influential in literary realism," but instead of pronouncing it "go-guhl" you repeatedly pronounce it "g'ghoul" loudly in a coffee shop like a fucking moron and make it impossible for me to concentrate on writing my dumb Internet jokes.

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Just kidding. No one actually gets writing done in a coffee shop.

The Terrible Truth:

It's not just the Internet and 24-hour news networks that are conspiring to keep you uninformed (spoilers for further down this page!), it's your brain. Key parts of our ability to process and synthesize new information shut down whenever we're confronted with something we disagree with. In fact, if we are bludgeoned (or bludgeon ourselves, as intellectual masochists are wont to do) with information that contradicts our inane beliefs, we can actually end up making ourselves cling even more desperately to our erroneous assumptions -- even if they've been proved false. In fact, especially if they've been proved false.

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
David Livingston/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

I'm just going to leave this here.

Amazingly, the harder we work at not being "that guy" at the party who can't admit he's wrong no matter what, the more likely we are to arrogantly claim that Obamacare is a socialist Islamo-Nazi takeover and get a flaming shot tossed in our face. And it sure isn't helping that ...

Watching the News Makes Us Uninformed

5 Self-Improvement Techniques That Actually Make You Dumber
Fuse/Fuse/Getty Images

Nothing will earn you the rightful dismissal of your peers faster than casually saying that you "don't follow politics" or "don't really keep up with the news." Especially if you live in the United States, or another First World country, your every little decision has ramifications that stretch around the globe. Failing to pay attention to what's happening in the world isn't just ignorant, it's downright irresponsible. Just have MSNBC playing in the background while you play Dota 2, for fuck's sake.

The Terrible Truth:

OK, so watching all news isn't bad for you -- it's pretty much just the 24-hour networks. Remember that headline that was making the rounds a while back about how Fox News was making you dumber? They only spun it that way because the real headline -- "Journalism in the United States Is Less Reliable Than Inspector Gadget's Tragically Glitchy and Mangled Body" -- wasn't quite as clickable.

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DHX Media

"Wowsers" is just another way of saying "What in the name of Christ am I?"

Yes, people who watch Fox News were "significantly more likely" to believe things that aren't true, but pretty much only in a way that favored the American right. People who watched MSNBC, NPR, and PBS believed, for example, that it had been proved that the Chamber of Commerce was laundering money (it was just accused), while people who watched network TV broadcast daily were more likely to believe that Obama signed the bank bailout (it was Bush).

But that's an old story from 2010. What about the 2012 study saying Fox makes you stupid? Well, although NPR did better that time, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC were still the least informative news sources. Fox is still the worst by a reasonably large margin (obviously), but when all three major news outlets in the country suck, picking on one of them and acting like they're the only problem is actually the exact goddamn core of that very problem. Even contemplating that idea has dropped my IQ into "Hey, look, a quarter!" territory.

J.F. Sargent is an anti-dumbass activist, vehemently lobbying against self-improvement. He has a Twitter, a Tumblr, and a Facebook.

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