My first experience getting diagnosed with a “brain thing” was similar to what most people experience. I went to a psychiatrist and told him I was having trouble focusing. He said, “You have ADHD,” and gave me some drugs.

Problem solved! Not really.

Medication can be a great initial solution to problems focusing and other brain-related challenges. It’s the most accessible solution for most. It can have significant, fast results. I recommend everyone try it first. But I also recommend starting to learn more about your own brain right away and looking for other long-term solutions. Get your brain tested, and I guarantee you it will be the first step of a very interesting journey.

Know Thy Brain

Getting an ADHD diagnosis was an eye-opener for me; it named the condition I was struggling with. If you name the beast, you can slay it. I started Googling and reading everything I could find. I found some great support groups nearby, met tons of people and kept on soaking up information like a sponge.

Then I met a kind and generous neuroscientist who gave me the chance to have an IQ test done for a very reasonable cost (basically free), and I jumped at the chance. (For details about the funny moment when I got my test results, check out an article I wrote for the Startup Institute.) The results taught me things about my brain that changed my life.

My lifelong conundrum was that I knew I was smart, but I struggled with things that seemed simple. Work tasks I had done dozens of times took me hours. I would sometimes have to read a paragraph three times to understand it. I got distracted easily. I would hear people’s words incorrectly. All of this left me with an ongoing feeling of “WTF?”

The IQ test told me definitively that, yes, I was smart (woo-hoo!) but indicated much more specifically what my brain was good at—and what it was bad at.

Smarter Than I Thought

Let’s get into some detail. My overall IQ was 134 based on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, aka the WAIS-III. Which puts me into a pretty high bracket for overall intelligence—the top one percent of the population. But certain specific areas—like reading comprehension, visual organization, and processing speed—were so low in proportion to my intelligence that they constituted a severe learning disability. I had a Ferrari that couldn’t go above fifty miles per hour.

So the test gave me a few important bits of information. First, it validated that I was smart, which was no small thing—this was a big self-confidence boost in an area that had made me confused and self-conscious for decades. This also increased my motivation to learn about my brain and offered even more hope for what I might do about those weaknesses.

But more than that, it gave me a ton of info about what I was naturally good and bad at. I was slow at reading information and absorbing it, but I was in the ninety-ninth percentile for verbal concepts and perceptual organization—in simplistic terms, I was innately good at utilizing language and recognizing patterns.

The Most Powerful Knowledge There Is

Learning detailed information about your brain is invaluable. It will help you more accurately identify your weaknesses and find work-arounds for them. And even more importantly, it will help you precisely determine your natural strengths so you can make them exceptional.

There’s one imperative thing I took away from the work Gallup has done. Building a career or a passion upon your weaknesses will only take you so far, but if you build upon your strengths, you can go much, much further. Understanding your IQ enables you to do exactly that.

My IQ test had suggested that I was great at using language. In my case, this meant shifting away from being a lone web developer and moving into a tech director role, which involves more communication, management, and strategy. Meanwhile, I regularly nourish my natural verbal ability by writing whenever possible (like right now).

I talk more. I teach and mentor. I organize social events. I give presentations. Words are my strength, so I use them as much as possible. And it’s led to a bigger and stronger network of colleagues and friends, conference talks, public writing, and will lead to even more.

What You Don’t Know Might Hurt You (or Help You)

What if you were gifted at something very specific and finally discovered it? Wouldn’t you start finding ways to use that talent way better? Similarly, if you knew precisely what you were horrible at, wouldn’t it help you find out how best to work around it?

IQ testing won’t give you the full picture of all the things you may be good or bad at. But it can tell you a hell of a lot, and it can surprise you. It can give you insight into certain self-knowledge that most people simply do not have. And if you struggle with anything cognitive—reading, hearing people correctly, organizing—IQ testing can help you discover whether you have a “brain oddity” (ADHD, learning disabilities, developmental delays, or so on).

There are a lot of other types of testing out there that can give you insight into other aspects of what’s going on in your brain and body. Functional abilities testing, for example, can tell you if your body’s ability to move properly is impaired (which, in turn, can affect your ability to learn). Auditory assessments can tell you if your brain has trouble processing sound correctly (even though your hearing tests come out perfect—this happened to me as well). Visual motor assessments can tell you if your reading troubles stem from an inability to control your eyes properly (also happened to me).

Thinking Toward the Future

The biggest takeaway I have is this: there are many things that you wouldn’t imagine relate to how your brain works. Many of them are measurable, and the results can surprise you. And they’re also actionable and very changeable.

Have you tested your brain yet? Tell me about it in the comments, or send me an email.