12 rare traits that set smart people apart

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When you think of highly intelligent people, a specific type of personality probably comes to mind.

People who know facts about everything, or can solve complex mathematical equations with ease.

But the truth is, intelligence is so much more than that.

Intelligence consists of many different facets, such as intellectual, social, and emotional.

Intelligent people tend to be flexible in their thinking, can adapt to changes, manage their emotions, and think before they act.

If you think you might be an intelligent person, then you’ll relate to these things intelligent people always do.

1) They devote time to follow their curiosity

Every one of us has the spark of curiosity in us. But most of us set that little spark aside for one reason or another.

One might have been burnt from trying to learn about things they shouldn’t have, and another might simply not have the time to indulge it.

Intelligent people stand out in that they take their time to follow their curiosity and nurture it. They nerd out, ask questions, investigate, and read.

It doesn’t matter if it’s about the latest world-shattering crisis, how to floss the right way, or the way words have changed meaning over time—they will take the time to dig deeper.

2) They question everything—including themselves

When people talk of intelligent people, people usually think of a person who reads so many books they’re effectively a walking encyclopedia. Ask them something and they know the answer.

But that’s not at all what being intelligent is about. A more essential part of being intelligent is the habit of asking questions.

The intelligent person isn’t afraid to question everything, or shy away from asking questions that others won’t even dare ask.

They would question why we eat with cutlery instead of our bare hands, or just how religion has shaped the world.

And most of all, they are willing to question their own thoughts and the way they think. They would stop every now and then and ask “wait, am I really right?”

They are perfectly aware that they have their own biases, and that no matter how hard they try they can’t be completely free from it. They remind themselves of this every now and then.

They are stubborn too—answers like “it is just how it is, don’t question it!” only frustrate them and make them more determined to know the answer.

3) They keep trying in spite of failure

Failure and mistakes are inevitable in life. But the difference with intelligent and high achieving people is that they don’t let failures stop them from trying again.

According to psychologist Angela Duckworth in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, grit is the number one predictor of success.

She says that staying committed and turning up every day is reflective of true grit:

“Staying on the treadmill is one thing, and I do think it’s related to staying true to our commitments even when we’re not comfortable…

“But getting back on the treadmill the next day, eager to try again, is in my view even more reflective of grit…”

“Because when you don’t come back the next day—when you permanently turn your back on a commitment—your effort plummets to zero. As a consequence, your skills stop improving, and at the same time, you stop producing anything with whatever skills you have.”

So if you want to be a high achiever, it’s imperative to keep turning up. Improvement happens gradually and it’s those that continually improve that end up being high achievers.

4) They don’t include their feelings when trying to dig for the truth

While intelligent people have their biases and feel emotion just like everyone else, they do something most people don’t.

They try to think past them.

That is because they are aware of just how strongly their emotions and their ego can cloud their judgment.

When you let your emotions get to you, you can blind yourself to the chance that you might be making mistakes, or even push yourself into making said mistakes.

That is why intelligent people try their best to detach their emotions from the actual issue at hand so that they can make a proper judgment.

5) They keep an open mind

They keep their minds open to different possibilities, the ones that competitor brands might be too risk averse to try out.

They don’t care who said what; if an idea is good, they’ll run with it.

They’re open to trying new experiences, visiting different countries or even cities to get a different perspective on life.

They break out of their usual routines to talk to new people to get a glimpse of what life is like in someone else’s shoes.

By keeping an open mind, they allow themselves to gather more ideas than someone who likes to follow the guidelines of “the box.”

6) They can focus

Focus is nothing more than eliminating distractions.

Ed Hallowell, a former professor at Harvard Medical School, says in his book Driven to Distraction that we have “culturally generated ADD.”

Intelligent and successful people don’t get distracted by modern life. If they have a project they need to complete, they’ll put their phone in another room nowhere to be found.

According to Ed Hallowell, there is nothing special about people who can focus. It’s simply the ability to limit the options for procrastinating.

“Focus is a function, first and foremost, of limiting the number of options you give yourself for procrastinating… I think that focus is thought of as this magical ability. It’s not a magical ability. It’s put yourself in a padded room, with the problem that you need to work on, and shut the door. That’s it. The degree to which you can replicate that, and systematize it, is the extent to which you will have focus.”

7) They don’t believe everything they see on the internet

This might seem quite obvious but it’s important to drive this point home. Intelligent people don’t believe everything they see on the internet without questioning.

When they come across information online, instead of believing it immediately and sharing it around they take a “doubt and verify” approach.

They take a deep dive to confirm facts about that scrap of information before they click that “share” button.

But that doesn’t mean that people who get fooled on the internet are “stupid”. Sometimes, people are just too tired to doubt, or too brainwashed by bad sources to think otherwise.

The intelligent person is very well aware of this and therefore is critical of their sources of information. They ask themselves how reliable the source is, how current the information is, and whether everything makes sense.

If they spot a glaring inconsistency of any kind, they inquire. They gather information.

8) They don’t jump to conclusions

Information is like a lump of raw ore. It’s useless if you don’t try to use it properly.

And jumping to conclusions is squandering it. It’s like picking up that raw ore, seeing that it looks dirty, and throwing it away because there’s no way a dirty old rock could be worth anything.

What intelligent people do when they get their hands on information is to try to scrutinize every single aspect of it.

When they pick up that same raw ore, the intelligent person would see the smallest slivers of gold hidden in the dirt.

They don’t come to a conclusion immediately, just to look or sound smart. And that is because they know the power (that is, danger) of words, and how the smallest turn of phrase can completely change the meaning of something.

9) They listen with the intent of understanding

Let’s be real. Go on social media and talk to people. Chances are that the people you’re talking to—unless they’re close friends of yours—are not going to bother to put an honest effort in listening to what you have to say.

They’re going to pick apart your words and twist them to mean something other than what you intended. They listen for the sake of pushing their own words and ideals into your mouth.

Intelligent people don’t do that. When they listen—whether it’s to other people, or to the media—it is for the sake of understanding and learning.

Intelligent people are very reliable when it comes to listening to others.

10) They look for opportunities to learn more

Intelligent people are not content with having just one source of information, or a single opportunity to learn.

They won’t be happy to listen to just what the news tells them, for example, and might pick up books related to whatever has piqued their interest.

But they won’t stop there—they will go online to do some more personal research or discuss things with other people. And if given a chance, they would grab the opportunity to attend workshops, conduct interviews, and maybe even go outside and explore for some hands-on experience!

If it could add to their knowledge—and is within their means—they would do it.

11) They aren’t afraid to be wrong

It’s hard for us to acknowledge that we are wrong. Most of us, when we encounter information or conversation that makes us doubt ourselves, the expected reaction is to deny it.

Some people would blow up on the spot and start an argument, while others would obsess over looking for information online that proves them right. Yet others would try to shut down the discussion and insult the people they’re talking to.

Chances are that you will have done this at some point in time. Maybe someone tried to correct you on something you said, and in return you snapped and told them they look like they had just been diving in a dumpster.

While a perfectly natural reaction, it’s something that keeps people behind.

Intelligent people are not only afraid to be wrong, but if you tell them that they are, then they will thank you for correcting them.

There’s a saying where anyone can be wrong, but being wrong only becomes a mistake when they refuse to correct it. Intelligent people choose to correct their errors.

12) They don’t think they’re intelligent

Bukowski once said “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

This is very spot on. It’s in the nature of an intelligent person to doubt everything, including themselves. You’d never see an intelligent person say “You’re absolutely wrong and I’m absolutely right”.

People who say that are, more often than not, the very people who often end up being wrong. The intelligent person knows that doubt is essential in the search for truth. They also know that an open discussion is a way to better understand things.

If someone you know is absolutely sure that they’re right, all the time, then they’re probably not as intelligent as you might think.

Last words

People like to think that people are intelligent at birth….that people get an IQ score when they’re young, and then are defined by that number forever.

But the habits listed above are arguably more essential than your IQ score in determining if you’re intelligent or not.

You can have a low IQ, but be reasonably intelligent so long as you observe these habits. Likewise, you can have a high IQ, but make an absolute buffoon of yourself if you do the exact opposite.

And as with all habits, these can be learned with practice and discipline. It will be hard at first, especially if you’ve been doing the exact opposite since forever. But hey—it’s worth it, isn’t it?

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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