We all like to think of ourselves as smart, capable individuals. But what is intelligence, really? Merriam-Webster defines it as “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations” and “the skilled use of reason.” Some are highly intelligent.
Highly intelligent people approach life in a way that allows them to leverage the capacities described above much more efficiently than the average person. They flex their critical thinking muscles and imagination on a regular basis. They seek to cultivate as much awareness as possible. They may have uncommon values and sometimes feel a bit alienated or different.
Whether you’re wondering how some of the smartest people in the world think and act or you’re simply always on the lookout for ways to better yourself, here are eight things the sharpest minds do differently. Adopt some of the smart habits below and say hello to peak cognitive performance.
They never stop questioning things
Highly intelligent people know better than to follow groupthink. They don’t make assumptions and set out to form their own opinions. They follow the trail of the seemingly random questions that pop into their mind, as they know that it doesn’t always directly lead to answers but that the question alone might spark a brilliant train of thought.
They let their mind wander
On that note, the smartest people let their minds travel. They value thoughts that are not immediately directed or practical because these moments cultivate their ability to create and innovate. “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something,” said Steve Jobs.
They follow their intuition
“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am,” said Albert Einstein. Incredibly intelligent people use the power of intuition to make decisions. They don’t ignore existing facts or data, but they also know that there are things that have yet to be discovered that only a gut feeling can begin uncovering.
They stay curious
Plato said that learning is, by nature, curiosity. From successful entrepreneurs like Walt Disney to best-selling authors like Elizabeth Gilbert and Nobel prize-winning scientists like Marie Curie, most intelligent people praise the merits of staying curious. So go ahead and keep that childhood ability alive at all costs.
They practice lateral thinking
Writer and philosopher Edward de Bono coined the concept of lateral thinking, the idea of using an indirect and unconventional approach to view problems in a new light to generate ideas and solutions from a fresh angle. “We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts, and certain boundaries,” wrote de Bono. “Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces.”
They take notes
Highly intelligent people know that great thoughts can happen at any moment and tend to carry notebooks. “No matter how big, small, simple or complex an idea is, get it in writing. But don’t just take notes for the sake of taking notes, go through your ideas and turn them into actionable and measurable goals. If you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room,” said Richard Branson, who credits the birth of some of Virgin’s biggest projects to his note-taking during meetings.
They seek intellectual stimulation
The smartest people gravitate towards meaningful conversations over small talk and prefer growth-oriented pursuits over binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. They love to continuously learn and broaden their horizons because they know that it improves their ability to solve problems on a regular basis.
They know that there is so much they don’t know
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing,” said Plato. Einstein echoed a similar sentiment: “As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.” The brightest minds understand the dangers of being a know-it-all and welcome the unknown as an opportunity to find new insights. Ignorance, on the other hand, is often rooted in firm convictions and absolutes.