50 Things Really Smart People Do All the Time


Really Smart
What does it mean to be smart?

You could quantify it as a number on an IQ chart. Or perhaps it comes from that diploma from a fancy university.

But IQ tests are fundamentally flawed according to many researchers. They don’t take into account the various ways people can be smart.

And to be honest, I’ve met people who have PhDs or went to ivy league schools that don’t seem much smarter than the average person. On the flipside, I’ve met college dropouts who are extremely brilliant.

My idea of smartness is a lot of different from your average definition.

Intelligence doesn’t form in the lofty tower of academia or even in narrow library corridors. Being smart comes from a series of habits, a mindset and how you interact with the world.

In short, intelligence is something you do, not something you are.

But it’s more than that. The things people do to be smart are cumulative. There are not one, two or even ten things you can do to make yourself smarter. There are a lot of different actions you can take that all affect your brain power.

I’ve listed fifty of the things people do that make them smarter. I’m certain there are a lot more than I’ve listed here, but this is what I have so far:

1. Follow your curiosity
2. Wait for all information before giving an opinion

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” – Harlan Ellison

3. Debate topics – don’t pointlessly argue
4. Try to understand things from other people’s point of view
5. Be more interested in the truth rather than being right
6. Read challenging books

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

7. Look up what you don’t understand yet
8. Ask people about their interests
9. Value knowledge for its own sake
10. Realize just how little you actually know

“I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.” – Socrates

11. Find learning opportunities with everyone you meet
12. Search answers to tough, difficult-to-answer questions
13. Watch documentaries
14. Learn to listen carefully to other people’s opinions
15. Be comfortable holding two opposing ideas at the same time

“The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald from The Crack Up

16. Know how to use logic and reasoning
17. Know when others use bad logic and reasoning
18. Have an insatiable hunger to learn more
19. Persist on problems until you find a solution

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” – Albert Einstein

20. Be willing to admit you’re wrong
21. Prefer hard truths instead of comfortable lies

“When Kepler found his long-cherished belief did not agree with the most precise observation, he accepted the uncomfortable fact. He preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions; that is the heart of science.” – Carl Sagan from Cosmos

22. Accept that there are multiple ways to interpret reality
23. Seek out learning opportunities such as museums
24. Be willing to open your mind to new ideas

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

25. Base opinions off facts

“It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.” – George Bernard Shaw

26. Value consensus, but don’t be afraid to think for yourself
27. Push yourself to try new things
28. Learn lessons from experience
29. Challenge your assumptions

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” – Isaac Asimov

30. Understand that life isn’t black and white
31. Observe what’s going on around you with the intent to understand
32. Don’t be afraid to take intellectual risks
33. Learn to separate logic from emotion
34. Be aware enough to recognize bias in others
35. Be self-aware enough to recognize your own bias

“An intelligent person is never afraid or ashamed to find errors in his understanding of things.” – Bryant H. McGill

36. Understand that complex issues rarely have simple solutions
37. Learn to be skeptical, but open to new ideas
38. Think towards what’s possible, not impossible
39. Prefer to discuss ideas instead of people or things

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss things; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

40. Give value to good thoughts and ideas – regardless of who says them
41. Learn to think objectively as well as subjectively
42. Empathize with others
43. Gain the ability to change – especially with new information

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” – Stephen Hawking

44. Learn from those who are smarter than yourself
45. Experience the arts
46. Seek old ideas so you can learn and build off them

“All intelligent thoughts have already been thought; what is necessary is only to try to think them again.” – Johann Wolfgang van Goethe from Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years

47. Learn to take things apart and rearrange them into something new
48. Actively seek out information that challenges your worldview
49. Understand that common sense is sometimes (and often) wrong
50. Recognize that there is no limit to human intelligence
photo credit: Tristan Martin

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  1. Wow Steve, this is a great article.

    It reminds me of Napoleon Hill’s “Thinking accurately” concept. But in a more concise form.

    How long did it take you to write this up?

    You should really consider writing a few sentences to each bullet point/tip you give, and turn this into a free ebook!


    • It actually didn’t take too long to write it up, but that’s only because I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while.

      That’s a good idea. I could probably expand on each point a little and turn it into a free ebook. Thanks for the idea; I might just do that.

  2. WOW, i’m impressed with all the tips included in your post, you have a great website and it’s full of inspiration

  3. I completely agree with you. I don’t think intelligence can be measured the way we have become accustom to. I too have come across plenty of people who are smart on paper (well educated) but one of the sharpest tools in the shed.

    I consider people smart when they find out a way to do what they need or want to. I think it takes real intelligence (and diligence) to figure things out.


    • There’s a lot to be said for diligence. If you can work on something for long enough, you’ll eventually figure it out. It often doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to the finish line just as long as you get there.

  4. This is an absolutely stellar list, Steve. I loved that Isaac Asimov quote too. These are all great habits to practice and I think it can honestly be said that who ever manages to consistently do these things will be making the world a better place. Great post!

    • Thanks, Micah, I’m glad you like the list. I really like that Asimov quote too. It’s something that I’ve held close by since I’ve made some incorrect assumptions in the past. You have to challenge assumptions – that’s how you learn.

  5. Great post. Definitely a great road map to a logical foundation.

  6. Not sure I’ve seen a 50 list like this before – great work. For me it’s persisitence through failure that makes sucess.

  7. Celestine says:

    I like the ingeniousness. Interesting and mind blowing. Very informative and educative

  8. This is a fantastic list, Steve – bravo. I completely agree – intelligence is a way of being, a way of life. Numbers don’t always indicate that.

    I’m posting this somewhere to remember – one of my favorite reads so far this week!

    • One of your favorite reads so far this week. That’s so awesome to hear!

      Intelligence is so hard to quantify, isn’t it? Numbers just don’t seem to capture everything about being smart. There’s a lot more to it than that.

  9. The first one hits the nail on the head (I’m not discounting the others, Steve!). Smart people are definitely curious about a lot, and listen before they speak.

    Love this post.

    • I can’t remember how many things I’ve learned simply because I became curious about it and looked it up. Not only that, but how many ideas, inventions and other great discoveries happened because of curiosity? Probably too many to tell.

  10. Ha this is great!! I agree with these points, especially number 2. I did a maths degree and got a lot of ‘wow you must be really smart’ but I never really felt that smart, I just knew how to pass exams! Now I’m travelling I feel my mind is a lot more open :)

    • Travel is a great way to open your mind up. The first time I went to Asia, I saw so many different ways of living; it just freed my thoughts in a way.

  11. Hey Steve, I think I found #34 in #30.
    #30 is just a facilitation to avoid hard choices.

  12. This is a superb article Steve. I am still in that stage of constant learning and this article is a huge addition to my knowledge. There is indeed no limit to human intelligence as long as you stay hungry and willing to learn.

    • There’s always room to learn. No matter how much I’ve learned, I always seem to find more I’d like to know. It’s endless, but that’s part of the beauty of being alive – there’s always more to explore.

  13. Lets do something smart today :)

  14. #15 is great. Sometimes I catch myself in a situation where I’ve though about one thing too much, and another not enough, and they end up being contradictory. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

    #38 too is good. It goes against what a lot of the self-help movement seems to say, but really makes more sense and works better when one does it the way you describe.

  15. Hello Steve,

    This is an amazing post! You mentioned it but I’d include smart people are always growing and learning. They have the habit of daily growth.

  16. A lot of this is wrong. “Value knowledge for its own sake”, “Realise just how little you actually know”, “Understand that complex issues rarely have simple solutions”, “Recognize that there is no limit to human intelligence. These are a few I nitpicked. They are wrong because they are simply justifying a philosophy. First off, you must know that all knowledge only serves a purpose to justify something (a way of thinking, a way of life etc.), or as a means to an end. In this case those quotes I pointed out justify the philosophy of the pursuit of knowledge. I think this is completely irrelevant to being smart. Because as I mentioned, knowledge holds no intrinsic value. They are simply the ideas of the writer, justifying their philosophy over the pursuit of knowledge. The reason why this isn’t smart is because you have have to ask yourself: What do you really want in life, and how do you get it. And if you pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake, well then it’s not smart, it’s a hobby. But notice again how all of what I have just said justifies my philosophy. A philosophy around action taking and accomplishment, not the pointless pursuit of knowledge. It’s all about aligning yourself with what you want really, and when you learn what you really want, shit like this isn’t necessary.


  1. […] What does it mean to be smart? You could quantify it as a number on an IQ chart. Or perhaps it comes from that diploma from a fancy university.  […]

  2. […] What does it mean to be smart? You could quantify it as a number on an IQ chart. Or perhaps it comes from that diploma from a fancy university. But IQ  […]

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