10 unusual habits that indicate a high level of intelligence

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What comes to your mind when we talk about intelligent people? I’m pretty sure it’s an image of someone whose nose is always buried in books, right? Or maybe a professor speaking in front of a class? A scientist looking closely at test tubes?  

That’s perfectly understandable. But did you know that you can tell someone’s highly intelligent through some odd habits they might have? 

In this article, I’ll explore some of these unusual habits that psychologists have uncovered. You’ll see how intelligence shows up in so many interesting ways! 

1. Staying up late

All right, let’s start with the first one – being a night owl. 

Studies now show that people with higher IQs tend to be more nocturnal, preferring the peace and quiet of the nighttime to get their creative juices flowing. 

They do tend to wake up later, but that doesn’t mean they get less done. Not at all. They just get stuff done later – in the evenings, with their peak strength at 9 p.m. 

Apparently, it has something to do with a difference in brain chemistry, and whether you’re an early bird or a night owl is partially predetermined by your genes.  

Some highly intelligent folks even go beyond just staying up late. They follow a polyphasic sleep schedule, which you might understand if you sleep around 2 to 5 hours per night then nap periodically throughout the day. 

For instance, Leonardo da Vinci was known to sleep only around 1.5 to 2 hours at night. But he’d make up for it by taking 10-minute naps every 2 hours. 

You don’t have to follow that exact schedule. There are many other types that could suit you better. Here are some of the most popular sleep patterns, according to The Sleep Foundation:

  • Uberman Sleep Schedule: Take six 20-minute naps spaced evenly throughout the day. Total: two hours of sleep per day.
  • Everyman Sleep Schedule: Sleep for three hours during the night and supplement with three 20-minute naps throughout the day. Total: four hours of sleep each day.
  • Triphasic Sleep Schedule: Three short sleep periods happen after dusk, before dawn, and in the afternoon. Total: four to five hours of sleep per day.

So, if you find yourself wide awake in the wee hours, don’t stress. Just remember that it could be your brilliant brain at work!

2. Having a messy desk

Do you struggle with keeping your desk organized? Is your room a picture of chaos with clothes and books and thingamajigs all strewn around? 

It could mean you’re lazy…or you’re highly intelligent!

According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, messiness indicates you’re probably smarter than the next person. 

Because that mess? In a strange way, it sparks your creativity. 

That’s probably why geniuses like Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs had messy desks.

The next time you’re told to “clean up your mess!”, you can shoot back something like, “No thanks, my brain needs it!”

3. Swearing – a lot

Speaking of mess, it isn’t just your space that’s littered; it’s also your vocabulary

It’s strangely counterintuitive. We often see people who curse a lot as uncouth or less educated, but the opposite is actually true. 

You know why? Because, according to studies, people who swear more often tend to have a larger vocabulary and a better understanding of language. 

Of course, it’s important to mind your manners in certain situations. But don’t be too hard on yourself for the occasional curse word – it could be a sign of your linguistic prowess!

4. Taking cold showers

I never would have imagined that such a mundane habit as this one would be linked to high intelligence, but surprisingly, it is. 

Cold showers have been found to increase alertness, focus, and even creativity. The shock of the cold water forces your body to adapt quickly, which can lead to improved problem-solving skills and mental clarity. 

Not only that, but because cold showers are uncomfortable, they serve to build willpower and strengthen the neural pathways that help us be more resilient. 

Knowing this now, I can finally understand why Dutch motivational speaker Wim Hof has been espousing cold showers for years. 

And why so many CEOs include a cold shower in their morning routines. 

Who would have thought a cold shower could be a key to success? 

5. Daydreaming

Ah, this one’s a favorite of mine. I’m a true-blue daydreamer, and back in grade school and high school, I was always getting reprimanded for it. 

But I guess at the time, my teachers didn’t know yet that daydreaming could be a sign of greater intelligence

I don’t mean I’m super smart, but, turns out, I’m also not the slacker they all made me out to be. 

Apparently, the more you tend to daydream, the stronger and more efficient your brain is. That’s what scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology found

They measured the brain patterns of over 100 people as they lay in an MRI machine. Then, they compared the data they got with the results of tests on intellectual and creative ability. 

The participants in the study also did a self-report on how much they engaged in daydreaming. 

The interesting result was that those who reported more frequent daydreaming did score higher on the tests. Their brain systems measured in the MRI machine also showed more efficiency.

As Eric Schumacher, one co-author of the study, put it, “People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.” 

That said, don’t go off into the clouds all the time. No matter how smart you are, you still need to pay attention. My teachers were right on that one, at least! 

6. Doodling

Another thing I find myself doing is doodling and making silly drawings in my notebook while at meetings. 

Do you do this, too? Then I have good news for you – there’s more to it than random lines and curves on paper. It might mean you’re highly intelligent!

Contrary to what people might think, doodling doesn’t mean you can’t focus. It means you’ve got better focus. 

Don’t believe me? Science says that when you doodle, you activate your brain’s prefrontal cortex – that part responsible for problem-solving, using logic and memory…and focusing. 

So, no need to feel guilty and hide those flowers, stars, stick people, and what-have-you on the pages of your notebook. Those are proof of your brilliance!

7. Being forgetful 

This is another counterintuitive sign of higher intelligence. When someone’s often forgetting things, we often see them as an airhead or a scatterbrain or just plain sloppy. 

But if we go by what research says, that impression couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

You see, highly intelligent individuals tend to focus more on abstract thinking, problem-solving, and critical thinking, which might lead them to overlook some mundane details. 

In addition, our brains might be wired to forget certain information intentionally. It’s a way to declutter so that you can prioritize more important info. 

Forgetting unimportant details can help our minds declutter and prioritize more critical information, which, in turn, can enhance cognitive efficiency and decision-making. 

This would explain why Albert Einstein was famously forgetful, despite being one of the greatest minds of the century. (Or maybe, to be more accurate, it’s not “despite” – it’s “because” of his great mind that he’s forgetful!)

8. Enjoying alone time

If you relish your alone time, this could be another sign of your high intelligence. Studies have shown that smart people tend to be more comfortable with solitude. 

In fact, the more intelligent a person is, the less satisfied they feel with frequent socialization. 

You see, highly intelligent people crave that precious me-time to focus on their thoughts and ideas without distraction. With no one pulling them this way and that or hoisting social pressures on them.  

They prefer to unplug and detach from all the noise online, as well as go on solo adventures or a quiet night in. 

Whatever the setting, the point is to spend time alone so they have all the space and luxury to mull over things.  

9. Talking to yourself

One of the things highly intelligent people do during their alone time (and sometimes even when with other people) is to talk to themselves. 

I do this a lot. I’m well aware it makes me look weird or crazy, especially when I do it while walking alone. 

But while it’s a social travesty, talking to yourself is actually “a trait of higher cognitive function,” according to scientists at Bangor University

Because it helps to clarify and organize your thoughts. You can process things easier by verbalizing them and hearing yourself. 

Simply put, having that auditory stimulation boosts focus and performance. 

I’m a real believer in this, which is why all throughout my teaching life, I subscribed to the teaching philosophy of Lev Vygotsky

One of his central tenets was the importance of language in cognitive development. He believed that dialogues, especially those we have with ourselves, play a pivotal role in our learning processes.

Drawing inspiration from Vygotsky’s ideas, I always encouraged my students to voice their thoughts aloud, especially when grappling with complex concepts or challenging problems. I’d say my classroom was a noisy one! 

You see, when they articulated their understanding, it allowed them (and me) to pinpoint areas of confusion or gaps in knowledge. It’s fascinating how speaking a thought can transform it, solidify it, or even highlight its inaccuracies.

By this logic, talking to oneself can be seen as a form of self-guided social interaction. It’s like having a tiny mentor inside your head, pushing you, challenging you, and guiding you toward understanding. 

That said, be careful, though. Because sometimes, talking to yourself can cross over from having mere conversations to harmful self-criticism…

10. Self-criticism

I find it so ironic that some of the most brilliant people in the world are also among the most insecure. But also not surprising. 

I guess one drawback of being super smart is that you also tend to be more aware of your flaws and shortcomings. You have higher standards, and you impose those standards on yourself, too. 

Plus, when you’re extremely intelligent, you tend to overthink and overanalyze

Put that all together, and it’s easy to see why intelligent people can be so hard on themselves! 

Final thoughts

As you can see, highly intelligent people have quirks and habits that set them apart. Do you recognize yourself in any of these? 

If you do, that’s great! Just remember that no matter what society says, your habits and traits are what make you… YOU. 

Give yourself permission to carry on, never mind if everyone says you’ve got strange habits. Your brain will thank you for it! 

But at the same time, remember that not all these habits are good when taken to the extreme. As with everything else in life, balance is key. 

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