“Smart” can take many different forms. A high IQ doesn’t necessarily mean you have street smarts, but it probably doesn’t hurt. You might be intelligent in many areas of your life, but struggle in others. For our purposes, “smart” means behaving in a way that is aligned with your values and goals.
Successful people usually have smart habits, and smart people have habits that encourage success. If you have a big goal or important deadline, it’s better to work smarter, not harder. Examine your habits and personality quirks to see whether they are helping or hindering your goals. So what are some characteristics and habits of smart people, and how can you get smarter yourself?
Take a look at this list and figure out which you already practice, and which you could add to your routine. Smart people have these traits or behaviors:
• Intrinsically, rather than extrinsically, motivated. It’s fine to have external goals or values, but don’t let them affect your inner core. People who are intrinsically motivated bounce back from external obstacles much faster than people who are primarily driven by extrinsic forces. With their self-esteem tied to a balanced inner center, smart people don’t have to let the opinions of others bring them down.
• Read regularly. According to an info-graphic by Online-Phd-Programs.org that compiled multiple research sources, one smart action step is to read more. Regular reading increases verbal skills, helps you better articulate your thoughts, enhances problem-solving skills, improves concentration, helps your writing, and improves your memory.
• Challenge negative self-talk. You know that nagging inner critic who constantly tells you that you’re not _______ enough? When your mean-spirited internal monologue starts up, acknowledge the feeling behind the thought and challenge the thought rationally to see if it’s really worth feeling crappy about. Turn the tables and try to use positive self-talk instead, even if it feels silly at first. The story you tell yourself matters.
• Persevere in the face of adversity. Smart people don’t give up at the first (or hundredth) stumbling block. For example, Thomas Edison went through thousands of prototypes before creating the first commercially practical light bulb. He famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
• A strong B.S. filter. Smart people don’t get distracted by the frenzy of modern life. They play the long game. They keep their priorities and goals firmly in the forefront of their mind, and don’t allow themselves to get sidetracked by everyday hassles, set-backs, and gossip.
• Take care of themselves. Smart people take time to decompress and recharge their batteries so they can be more efficient (and happier) in the long haul. They prioritize good sleep, nutrition, and exercise because they know their body is the only vessel they’ll have in this life. Smart people take advantage of their social support network and aren’t afraid to ask for help.
• Lifelong learners. Smart people are open-minded, curious, and open to entertaining new ideas. Because they see learning as a worthy goal in and of itself, they are more likely to be good listeners.
These are just a few characteristics and habits of smart people, and the list is by no means exhaustive. It may feel overwhelming to acknowledge that your current habits aren’t serving your long-term goals. Change is hard, which is why most people avoid it at all costs. Is change possible? Can you really become smarter? For many years, even scientists thought that once you were an adult, your brain was pretty much done developing. But a promising new concept is emerging out of the relatively new field of neuroscience, and it’s called “brain plasticity”. It means that throughout your lifespan, your brain is capable of rewiring itself and adapting to new experiences. In other words, it’s possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
John Bradley Jackson
Author, Entrepreneur, Professor
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