Have you ever wondered what sets apart a high-level thinker?
Some think that it’s purely just about IQ. But you may have realized by now that there is so much more to our skills and talents than just a number from a test.
In fact, high-level thinking can be indicated by a series of habits and actions that you do on a regular basis.
I’ve recognized certain ones in my friends that are exceptional thinkers. And now, I’m convinced that these are the 7 signs of being a high-level thinker.
Here they are below.
1. You ask a lot of questions
In every class or course, there’s always that one kid (or adult) who asks an annoying amount of questions.
Sometimes all you want is for them to have a mute button that you could push. Except… some of those questions are pretty darn good. Exceptionally good, in fact. (Darn it, why didn’t I think to ask that?)
Or maybe it was you in that course. Maybe you had a lot of questions you wanted to ask, but didn’t because you felt too why or didn’t want others to see you as the teacher’s pet.
Well, I hope that after reading this you understand that you definitely shouldn’t be shy to ask any questions — because it’s an incredible sign that you’re a high-level thinker.
It shows you’re not just going through life apathetically — you have an insatiable curiosity and a desire to gain a deeper understanding of everything you come across.
2. You consider ideas and beliefs that are very different from yours
Think about the last time you had a conversation with someone who had a different belief or perspective from yours. What was your reaction?
Did you reject their viewpoint outright, or did you take a moment to consider it?
High-level thinkers are often open-minded. They listen to and consider views that differ greatly from their own, even if they don’t necessarily agree.
This doesn’t mean you always change your mind. But you’re willing to learn from others, challenge your own beliefs, and see the world from multiple perspectives.
One particular friend comes to mind as an example. He’s a loyal vegan but loves engaging with meat-eaters in thoughtful conversations about food ethics.
He doesn’t do it to be antagonistic. Instead, he genuinely wants to understand their point of view.
This openness helps him learn, grow, and enrich his understanding of the world. And, if you often find yourself doing the same, you may very well be a high-level thinker too.
3. You like to think about problems
Now, let me get one thing straight here. I don’t mean “thinking about problems” in the sense of being negative and always complaining.
Actually, I mean this as a very positive exercise for the brain.
High-level thinkers tend to think about problems so they can analyze them, consider the possible causes for them, and come up with potential solutions.
Take my friend Lisa as an example. She noticed her local park was always full of litter despite trash cans being around.
She kept thinking about it, and realized that the cans were placed next to benches where individuals or couples sat during the day.
However, the trash was mostly left by larger groups that went to other areas of the park where there were no trash cans.
She wrote to her local council about this, and within a year they had installed a few more trash cans in those areas for groups.
Of course, this is an exceptional example — not every instance of high-level thinking has to be on such a large scale. But for sure it can lead to this kind of impactful change.
4. You reflect on your own emotions and actions
Another sign of a high-level thinker is self-reflection. In other words, you tend to ask yourself, “Why did I feel that way?” or “What led me to act the way I did?”
We tend to do this most after conflicts or upsetting situations. And they’re for sure some of the most important moments for self-reflection, so we can manage similar situations better in the future.
However, the most high-level thinkers tend to practice this habit all the time. Like Sarah, a co-workers from my previous job.
Every day during lunch, she’d sit quietly for a few minutes, not disturbed by the usual office buzz around her. One day, I asked her what she was doing. She smiled and said she was reflecting on her morning – the decisions she made, her interactions, even her choice of breakfast.
For instance, she noticed she felt more energized and focused when she ate a healthy protein-rich breakfast rather than her usual pastry. This self-reflection prompted her to change her breakfast habit, improving her productivity.
And it wasn’t just her meals. She reflected on her interactions with colleagues, the tone she used in her emails, her decision-making process. She constantly adjusted and improved, thanks to her daily self-reflection.
As you can see, with this habit, high-level thinking becomes a powerful tool to improving practically every area of your life — so it’s one you should definitely try to adopt.
5. You genuinely consider anyone’s advice and insights
This habit is more something you don’t do — and that is, you never say “I know”.
And this can actually be very hard to do, because we all want to feel significant and prove our worth to others. That includes showing our intelligence and skill in a certain area.
You might have thoughts like, “I already know this! I don’t have to listen to anything you say.” Or, “I’m much better at this than you — why are you trying to give me advice?”
But high-level thinkers actually do the opposite. Because if someone is giving you advice, it’s because they don’t see you living by it yet. And if you’re not living by it, how can you say you really know it?
Besides, even if we suppose you do know it. There’s no harm in hearing it one more time.
Different people can have different perspectives and understandings of the same concept, and you might discover a new insight that you didn’t even know existed.
6. You look for unusual ideas and connections
High-level thinkers have a knack for creativity and seeing connections where others might not.
But this isn’t something that just happens — they make a conscious effort to do this.
In fact, they’re like detectives, hunting for the unusual, the intriguing, and the insightful in everyday experiences.
I once met a product designer at a networking event who is a stellar example of this.
He has a unique habit of visiting flea markets every weekend. He explained, “it’s a place where I get to see an incredible amount of objects in the same place, both modern and old, and especially objects I don’t see in my usual environment.”
He continued, “My brain processes everything it’s seen, and it sparks new ideas for product design. Sometimes it even comes to me in dreams.”
His eyes were sparkling as he told this story — it was obvious that this habit was incredibly fun for him. So whatever you do to foster your own creativity, make sure you take his example!
7. You actively avoid judging
It’s safe to say that we all make judgments about the world around us – we can’t help it, and actually it’s pretty necessary to survive.
We may look down a dark alley and judge that it’s dangerous for us to walk down at night, and go for the better-lit longer route.
In this case, definitely go ahead and judge!
But there are so many more situations where judging really isn’t helpful. Like when we meet a new person, or assume we know their intentions or feelings.
This is an instance where high-level thinkers take care to avoid judging. How do they do this?
Well, as we already said, judging is something that happens automatically. So what high-level thinkers do is identify their judgements and challenge them by being open to the opposite as well.
If you meet someone who seems to be a stuck-up snob, instead of shunning them you still give them a chance, talk to them, and you might discover that they’re actually just super shy or going through a difficult period.
Take the next step to up-level your thinking
Now you know 7 actions that high-level thinkers regularly do.
As you can see, they don’t just point to having exceptional mental skill, but they also bring many benefits to your life, from improving the environment around you to being more accepting and tolerant of others.
If you recognize these habits in yourself, congratulations, you can count yourself as part of this exceptional group.
But whether you identified with all 7 or even 0, there is always room for improvement — and the good news is, high-level thinking is something you can get better at during any point of your life.