10 habits that reveal more about your intelligence than you think

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It’s a common misconception that intelligence is all about acing tests, scoring top grades, or climbing the ladder of success. I’ve met people who’d downplay their abilities simply because they weren’t exactly achievers in school or at work. 

But, the curious thing is, I could tell they were intelligent. 

How? Through certain habits they have. 

Granted, I was a teacher for many years, so that probably put me in a prime position to notice how intelligence manifests in different ways. 

That’s why, in this article, I’ll share 10 habits that may reveal more about your intelligence than you’ve ever realized. 

Let’s dive in! 

1) You always want to know more

Back when I was teaching, I could pinpoint right away the kids who were smart. The funny thing is, a lot of the other teachers would disagree with me when I told them about it. Heck, sometimes even the parents of those kids themselves would disagree!

They’d say, “What? But he/she never stops asking questions! Sometimes it’s so disruptive I have to shush them!”

Well, that’s exactly what I meant. In my book, always wanting to know more means they’re smart.

Of course, I understand how it can be disruptive in the classroom. Or to parents who simply want a bit of peace and quiet. But an attitude of curiosity and love for learning is a habit that should never be stifled. 

In fact, Einstein once said, “Curiosity is more important than knowledge.”

University of Edinburgh researcher Sophie von Stumm points out, “Curiosity is basically a hunger for exploration. If you’re intellectually curious, you’ll go home, you’ll read the books. If you’re perceptually curious, you might go traveling to foreign countries and try different foods.”

Plus points if…

2) You’re a skeptic

Why do I say that a skeptic is intelligent? It’s pretty simple – it points to critical thinking. 

A skeptic doesn’t just accept information at face value. When they’re told something, they’d question, analyze, and dissect that information first to uncover the truth. 

I’m not talking about the kind of skepticism that’s driven by a pessimist mindset or a desire to be edgy (you know, those folks who refuse to go along for the sake of not being seen as sheep, not really for the sake of discernment.)

That’s just blind cynicism.

I’m talking about the kind that wants to think deeply first instead of just absorbing and accepting information passively. 

I can’t emphasize enough how too many of us get trapped in echo chambers where we only hear opinions that reinforce our existing beliefs. Or how we view things as black and white, and gray is just not acceptable. 

That’s why skeptics stand out – they’re okay with confronting different perspectives and ideas and with staying open. In my opinion, it takes real intelligence to do that. 

3) You can change your approach depending on the situation

Speaking of staying open, if you’re the type who can be flexible and isn’t bound to use the same approach over and over simply because that’s how it’s always been done…

…that’s another habit that reveals you’re more intelligent than you think. 

Adaptability is a hallmark of intelligence because it shows: 

1) You have the self-awareness to understand when an approach you’re using isn’t working, and 2)  You have the imagination to come up with something else!

Not everyone can do that, you know. I know people who insist on doing the same things over and over, then wonder why they get the same results. 

Remember this quote? “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Not very smart, is it?

4) You know how to listen and empathize

I have a friend who used to always put herself down whenever the topic rolled around to smart people or intelligence. 

The gist is that she doesn’t think she has any special skills or abilities…therefore, she isn’t intelligent.

I told her, “What are you talking about? You’re the best listener I know and you always seem to know the right thing to say to people!”

She was so amazed to find out that she’s on my “people I admire” list (my fault for not telling her sooner!) because she didn’t find this ability of hers special at all. 

But it absolutely is. It’s emotional intelligence.

Which is so often overlooked in the conversation but can actually be a better predictor of success, according to this Forbes report

This brings me to my next point…

5) You have wit and a good sense of humor

The not-so-known thing about humor is that it’s an important element of emotional intelligence. And of cognitive intelligence as well. 

Researchers in Austria cracked this wide open when they analyzed the relationship between psychometric intelligence and humor. 

They found that funny folks (especially those who enjoy dark humor) have higher IQs than their less funny peers. What’s more, they state that to process and produce humor, one must have both the cognitive and emotional ability for it.

So, don’t knock those knock-knock jokes yet (sorry for that terrible pun!). They could be a sign that you’re more intelligent than you think!

6) You set aside time for solitude

Similarly, (and maybe counterintuitively if you’re the empathetic type), finding moments of solitude necessary is another sign of intelligence. 

In fact, according to Carol Graham, a researcher on the economics of happiness, intelligent people are much happier alone. 

In Learning Mind, she says, “The findings in here suggest (and it is no surprise) that those with more intelligence and the capacity to use it … are less likely to spend so much time socializing because they are focused on some other longer-term objective.“

It totally makes sense when you consider these traits of intelligent people

  • They need periods for deep thinking and creativity
  • They tend to be sensitive to their environment and need time to recharge
  • They like focusing on tasks without distractions

If that sounds like you and solitude is important to you, then take it as a sign that you’re more intelligent than you think. 

7) You like discussing things…with yourself

This is something I often do. I’ve argued with myself about the pros and cons of various decisions, from simple things like restaurant choices to certain career choices. I’ve talked myself (out loud) step by step through tasks I find difficult. 

And you know what? It’s a habit that comes so naturally to me that I thought everyone else did it. 

But apparently not. No wonder my family thinks of me as “the weird one”. 

The good news is, recent research shows that “speaking out loud to yourself was found to be a trait of higher cognitive function.”

(That reminds me to show this study to my family so I can have the last laugh!)

8) You notice details

If you notice on the list I laid out a few beats earlier, one of the traits of intelligent people is that they are sensitive to their environment. 

Which means they tend to notice details and patterns more than the average person. 

You might think that’s nothing, but that ability also points to better problem-solving and decision-making skills. 

Because when you can pick up on subtleties and nuances, you end up having more information to work with to come up with a truly informed decision. 

9) You’re a night owl

Do you feel the most awake at night? This might sound surprising to you, but that’s another sign that you’re more intelligent than you think. 

It’s a long story why scientists state that night owls are more intelligent than morning larks, but in a few words…it’s all about evolution. 

To explain this better, let’s talk about the Savanna Principle a bit. It’s a concept in evolutionary psychology that suggests our brains and behaviors are still influenced by our ancient ancestors who lived in the savanna.

In the ancient savanna environment, our ancestors typically followed the pattern of the sun, waking at dawn and sleeping after dusk. This was the natural, unchallenged routine for survival.

However, choosing to stay awake and active during the night represents a deviation from this ancestral pattern. It’s an example of evolutionary novelty, where new or non-traditional behaviors emerge. 

And this deviation – this adaptation and preference for novel behaviors – can be an indication of higher intelligence.

Who knew there was such an interesting explanation for why you prefer to sleep late, right?

10) You tend to be messy

Finally, another surprising habit that could reveal more about your intelligence than you think – your messiness. 

A study published in Psychological Science found that messy people are more creative. 

Not only that, but messy people also prefer newness over traditional choices compared to the tidy ones. This kinda ties up with our earlier discussion on curiosity and love of learning, doesn’t it?

So go ahead and tell your mom or your neat freak partner this bit of info, they just might find it easier to put up with your clutter!

Final thoughts

As you can see, intelligence shows up in many ways. You might not have been the best in class, but maybe you have a distinct knack for understanding other people’s predicaments. 

Or for seeing two sides of a coin. Or for improvising and fixing things on the spot. 

Perhaps your intelligence shines in practical, hands-on situations that call for quick thinking and adaptability. 

The point is, intelligence is not a one-size-fits-all attribute. It’s multifaceted and unique to each individual.

I hope you remember all of this the next time you doubt your intelligence just because it doesn’t fit the conventional mold.

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