5 everyday habits that indicate an above average level of intelligence

As a writer, I’m always intrigued by other writers’ rituals and habits that help them get their minds to enter—and stay in—“the zone”.

Most writers—famous and not-so-famous—are avid coffee drinkers, myself among them (but I limit myself to two cups max most of the time). 

Still, it surprised me to learn that Honoré de Balzac —considered one of France’s greatest writers—drank a reported 50 cups of coffee per day! 

“Were it not for coffee, one could not write, which is to say one could not live,” he once said. 

It’s no wonder then that a coffee chain is named after him! 

This coffee story has a sad ending, however: de Balzac was said to have suffered from stomach pains and he died at the age of 51 from complications of congestive heart failure which was believed to have been brought on by his caffeine addiction.

The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was also said to be a frequent patron of Parisian cafes, and the writer Voltaire is reported to have gone extreme with his coffee intake as de Balzac was. 

Of course, not all smart people are coffee aficionados but the caffeine habit has actually been linked with high intelligence, according to the team at Mid Cities Psychiatry

Coffee consumption (or over-consumption in the case of the intellectuals mentioned above) isn’t the only everyday habit that indicates above average intelligence.

What are some other ones? Why not grab a cup of coffee (ha!) and read on to find out? 

1) You like to think out loud (aka you talk to yourself)

We’ve all done it: we might be driving, and suddenly we’re having a conversation with ourselves about how we should go about solving an issue that’s been happening at work.

Intelligent people talk to themselves all the time, says Yai Daily from Medium. “One of the main reasons why intelligent people engage in self-talk is that it helps with problem solving and decision making. By speaking out loud, they can better organize their thoughts and come up with creative solutions.”

Self-talk is also a helpful tool for self-reflection and self-improvement, Daily says. “When intelligent people talk to themselves, they may reflect on their behavior, analyze their emotions, and identify areas for growth.”

Self-talk can also be great for motivation and goal-setting.

Many self-help authors say that saying something out loud gives it more power, so if there’s something that you want to do, speak it into existence. 

On The Drew Barrymore Show, Friends alum Jennifer Anniston said that “To manifest whatever it is that you are wanting to manifest, you speak to it as though it’s already happened. [For example] say,  ‘Thank you for this job that I have dreamed about….’”

Saying it out loud gives it that much more power.

“By talking themselves up, intelligent people can boost their own confidence and inspire themselves to strive for success. Intelligent people may practice different types of self-talk, such as positive self-talk, depending on the situation…this habit is a powerful tool for personal development.”

2) You also like your alone time—a lot

The smarter you are, the more focused you will be on your longer-term goals, which means spending time with friends can be distracting instead of helpful, says Jeff Haden from Inc Magazine. “In short, if you’re hanging out with people, you aren’t getting stuff done.”

Smart people might seek a solitary lifestyle in order to satisfy their need for undistracted intellectual curiosity and creativity, adds Steve Burns from New Trader U.

They might be socially anxious or sensitive so they’ll rely on their inner thoughts because it’s more comfortable than engaging with other people.

“Everyone has unique needs, but whatever the case, it’s important to recognize that solitude can provide tremendous growth and insight for those who embrace it.”

Another thing to consider is that intelligent people (although not necessarily all of them) tend to have better boundaries. This means that only a select number of people have access to them.

Intelligent people are also choosy with what they say “yes” to; in other words, they have no problem turning down an invitation because they would rather do their own thing. 

3) You’re a voracious reader

Back when former President Barack Obama was still in office, he gave an interview where he talked about how books were such a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration during his tenure. 

He said that books helped him to focus amidst the maelstrom of 24-hour cable news cycles, and constant social media attention.

They also energi his appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.

“All successful people I know have one thing in common,” says entrepreneur Steven Spatz. “They never stop learning. That’s why so many CEOs, thought leaders, and politicians read so frequently…Reading voraciously and as a part of a dedicated personal routine is the keystone of lifelong personal development. That’s exactly what reading does,” Spatz says. “It’s why we see so many leaders from all the different verticals of human activity invest in their own reading…Reading benefits the mind because it helps you stay balanced and sharp.”

People who make the decision to read everyday are actively deciding to engage, improve, and challenge their brains instead of doing something passive like playing video games or binge-watching Netflix.” 

4) You’re all about “organized chaos”

Psychologists have long believed that intelligence is complicated and it’s not easy to define. 

Cornell professor Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, says that intelligence is the ability “to learn from experience, adapt to new situations, understand and handle abstract concepts, and use knowledge to manipulate one’s environment.”

So one would assume that a highly intelligent person is highly organized, right? Nope. 

A University of Minnesota experiment found that people who had a messy setting came up with more creative ideas than those who had a neat, tidy, and organized space.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” says Kathleen Vohs, PhD, the study’s author.

“Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

Because creativity is one of the traits that smarter people possess—and so conversely, it might lead to messiness, says Jonathan Wai, PhD, who is a research scientist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP). 

“I’d guess that it’s not messiness that helps creativity, but creativity which may create messiness,” he says. “Such people tend to get lost in thought focusing on a problem or issue, and cleanliness becomes of less importance than focusing on a problem at hand.”

Hmm, the clean freak in me wishes I could see it this way…

5) You’re a natural night owl

Studies seem to indicate that night people and those who wake up later are actually smarter and more creative than their early-rising counterparts, according to the team of doctors at Peninsula Doctors.

Science and evolution have something to do with it.

“From an evolutionary standpoint, we have always had a set circadian rhythm: waking up and falling asleep with the sun. Studies have show that people with higher IQs are likely to deviate from familiar evolutionary traits, such as circadian rhythms,” the doctors say. 

“Night owls who opt to wake up in the later hours of the day and stay awake until the wee small hours of the morning may be exhibiting a form of evolution…people with divergent circadian cycles are considered to be more intelligent than those with normal sleep cycles.”

If this doesn’t make the case for sleeping in, I don’t know what does.

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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