How To Stay Smart

How to stay smart

I’ve railed on before (um, several times) about how I think that smart is sexy.  And awesome.  And The Best.  If you pressed me to list three favorable adjectives about myself, one of those three would be ‘smart.’  (Along with ‘memorizing-ful’ and ‘cheese-loving.’  What?)And yet?  If you asked me to name more than 10 American presidents, the capitols of all the states, or explain the situation in the middle east, I would quickly change the conversation to Maru.

I realize that we only retain knowledge about things we discuss or use on a regular basis.  So I can tell you all about refugee resettlement policy, how to use Hootsuite or the different cliques of hipsters in the Twin Cities.  But since nobody’s asked me about John Adams or Trenton, New Jersey lately, I don’t have much to say on those topics.

Unacceptable, self!  Not good enough!  You guys, I live in fear of becoming one of those people asked on the street to identify a man in a photo.  And then I can identify Donald Trump and The Situation but I can’t identify my state senators.  And then the video goes viral, gets forwarded all over the world and reinforces the stereotype that Americans (and blonds) are dumb as bricks.

It’s a pretty specific fear.

So in attempt to Stave Off The Stupid And Stay Smart, I’ve compiled a list of resources that help me sharpen my mind and decrease the likelihood that I’ll identify Africa as Italy on camera.

Nerd Fighters
They’re smart, they’re funny, they teach you interesting things whilst talking really, really fast.  Imagine how smart you’d get if you watched one of these videos every day over your morning coffee.Every NPR podcast ever
National Public Radio makes approximately a gajillion great podcasts on approximately a gajillion different topics (Politics!  Science!  Health!) And they cost zero dollars.  Why aren’t we all listening to these on our commutes?  If I’m feeling really ambitious, I listen to a podcast on a topic I know little about (re: the economy) rather than the topic I already know a lot about (re: pop culture.)  That’s me!  Just aiming for mediocrity!Yale’s Youtube Channel
Few of us can afford tuition to Yale, but we can all watch their youtube channel.

TED talks
Well, duh.

Brain Pickings
This is one of my daily reads and (as you’ve probably noticed) a source for many a Web Time Waster link.  Billing itself as “a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in.”  Yup.  Correct.
3,000 videos covering topics like math, biology, chemistry, physics, finance and history. And each video is only 10 minutes long so even the short-attention-spanned among us can handle it.
Sociological Images
I am a complete dork for Sociology, so I’m all over this and the articles about race and The Hunger Games, class differences and spending on children and class privilege and parental leave.  The writing can be a bit dry and academic, but none of us ever died from looking up a word, did we?What do you do to stay sharp?photo by jd hancock, cc



Oh these are all such great links! I've had the Khan Academy bookmarked for ages and done nothing about it. Today's the day!


I do at least one short course every year. More if I can afford the time. I never choose anything I already know – but something that will challenge me. This has led to some weird choices (I'm now a certified makeup artist, food stylist and Agriculturalist).

The brain is a muscle like any other – exercise it to keep it in top condition.


I love nerdfighters!
I wish I could pay attention to npr. I'm not an auditory learner and really struggle to pay attention to the radio. I think a great way to stay smart is just to read. Even fiction books have to be grounded in some reality, and at the very least you pick up new vocabulary words.

Anne At Large

Ashe just beat me to it! Love the SYMIHC girls, despite the awkward acronym, they choose great subjects and get into some interesting things that I never would have known about otherwise.

Guy Fawkes

This is really wonderful! I also really like "How to Do Everything" – 15 minute trivia/things you probably didn't know about presented in engaging ways. Podcast! Itunes!

Rachelia (Bookish Comforts)

YAY Nerdfighters! I love John & Hank Green. So amazing! I also enjoy Sociological Images but I'll have to check out a few of your other links.

Have you checked out The History Chicks ( They do podcasts, but also have a bunch of material on their site about awesome/interesting women in history!

Wonderful post Sarah! DFTBA (Don't forget to be AWESOME… not that you ever do LOL)!


Great suggestions! I love listening to the "Stuff Your Mom Never Told You" podcast too for some woman-ish focused learning.

I also read somewhat serious/somewhat popular nonfiction books every so often to try to keep the brain sharp.


This is awesome! It was one of my New Years' Resolutions to get smarter so this is perfect!! Continue to share please!! 🙂 ALso – my office gets The Economist – so I've been trying to force myself to read that or at least the world headlines part!!


I go to MIT and we tape almost all our lectures 🙂 Maybe not as approachable as Yale or Khan academy, but if you're looking for fast-paced, more advanced courses in science, math and engineering, look no further. We also tape our cognitive/brain sciences classes, which are some of the most interesting, in case you ever wanted to know just what the grey stuff in our head is made out of, and how it all works.

The link is:


Awesome post!

Brain Pickings is one of my favourites, as of course are John and Hank.

I know that fear of becoming, well, less smart. I think it's really just the way we filter all the information that's available to us. We can't possibly take it all in, so we tend to focus on things that concern and/or interest us. But I find I'm so busy finding reading about gender issues I forget to keep up with the wars going on in the world, and that's what worries me quite a lot.

I think it also helps to talk to people who are interested in other things than I am. My boyfriend is really into politics and he doesn't think less of me if I admit that I live under a rock, and he will happily explain anything to me.

katie d.

Girl, I am with you! I have the same fear. I used to be able to talk about the rise of the Sandinista in South American politics…now, not so much. One thing I do, which is actually a thing I don't do, is I try not to google everything. I try to trust and flex my actual memory recall and only google when I absolutely can't stand it anymore.


These are some really great links! I love the "How Stuff Works" podcasts in general, and there's a pretty wide variety of topics covered. Ted is awesome, and I've just started getting into the Nerd Fighters videos. I'll definitely be checking out some more of these.

I also like to test my knowledge by playing Sporcle quizzes – who would have thought that 5 years after my last American History class, I'd be willingly quizzing myself on the names of all the presidents?


YAY! Two worlds collide! I've been watching the Green brothers since 2007! So awesome! 🙂
I even ended up working for their record label for like 2 years! YEAH NERDS!


This will now & forever be my favorite blog post of all time. For once, how to actually IMPROVE my mind & understanding via the web, instead of doing the total opposite, which is what much of the most accessible webcrap is so good at!

Sociology nerdiness is my favorite out of all the hot nerdinesses & my friend & I keep talking about how we're going to start a video webzine where we wear lab coats and talk about the sociology of pop culture, but it hasn't happened yet. Back to reality, I am now SO EXCITED for Sociological Images!



I subscribe to the email list called "Now I Know" which sends an amazing fact/piece of history every day. It's where I found out that only 7 people in the world know how they get the nooks and crannies into Thomas' English Muffins. Amazing!


Another +1 for Stuff You Missed in History Class and Stuff You Should Know! My boyfriend and I have to compromise in the car when we go on long road trips though – I prefer SYMIHC and he likes SYSK better

I also worry about my brain rotting with the event of smart phones and google, it's like you don't need to remember any factual information anymore!


Oooh, iTunes University! Great lectures from great universities around the world. They're great. And yes yes YES to the NPR podcasts. They make my commute downright pleasant.


I have, without even knowing it, been waiting for someone to write this post for a loooong time. Thank you for reading my mind and giving it what it needed!


Since you mentioned the vlogbrothers (love!), I'm compelled to mention their side project:

In this series, John and Hank alternate vidoes that teach a small but super-informative lesson on an aspect of history or biology that you can't believe you didn't already know but are so glad you learned.



Hooray for CrashCourse and VlogBrothers! I love seeing Nerdfighters on other parts of the internet. Yes and Yes + John and Hank = absolutely fantastic. So thanks for mentioning them. They make me smarter for sure. I love this blog, and them, so this is splendid.



I LOVE the podcast "Good Job Brain!" It's a smart, funny, upbeat & offbeat weekly trivia podcast that just makes my brain SO happy. My mind is continually blown by the stuff they talk about, & it's all presented in really fun & interesting ways.

Kristen Williams

I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I read it around May of 2012 (correction) after googling and maybe being led here from another blog. With it, you singlehandedly introduced me to the Vlogbrothers. And largely because of them, I ended up creating my own educational YouTube channel. My channel allows me to give back, showcase my expertise, and create a community of people who are excited about learning Spanish. So many doors have opened up for me that might not have been opened in another life had I not been roaming around the internet and stumbled upon your blog. I know you probably had no idea that something so simple as a list of resources could be such a game-changer. Of course, I work hard and owe a lot of credit to that, but for me, this post was a helpful catalyst on the road to successful self-employment. So keep up the great work. You never know what impact you might have.


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