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