What does it mean to be smart?
If you ask the average person they might say that being smart means understanding a lot about science, history or economics.
If you ask a farmer they might say being smart means knowing when to plant in the spring.
Here’s how to know true intelligence when you see it.
20 signs of genuine intelligence
1) You notice and remember details
The world inside and outside us is full of details.
Nature’s vivid colors, our own memories and sights, smells and sounds all weave into an amazing tapestry.
One of the clearest signs of genuine intelligence is that you notice the details along the way and are able to recall them as if they just happened.
This doesn’t always translate into a sharp memory in the intellectual sense.
It could just be that you distinctly remember the smell of the sea while you were on vacation with your parents as a youngster.
It could be a deep impression that a piece of music made on you and the way you feel the music playing out in your daily life, note by note.
Genuine intelligence is subtle and sensitive.
2) You have endless curiosity
Being truly smart isn’t just about how many facts and figures you know, it’s about your desire to know things in the first place.
Curiosity is the key ingredient of intelligence.
When you want to know more, you ask those who know and investigate yourself.
The smallest thing interests you, even if it’s not in your usual wheelhouse.
You want to know how things work, including your own self and your reactions and values.
Why are things the way they are?
“You ask thoughtful questions that get to the heart of an issue, spend hours delving into the mines of the internet to explore a new interest, or take things apart simply to see how they work.”
This spirit of curiosity is the heart of true intelligence.
3) You keep your mind at least partly open
If you open your mind all the way, your brain will fall out.
That’s true, in my view.
But if you keep your mind completely closed you’ll also miss learning a lot of things and you’ll end up as a stupider person.
This is true even if you’re right from the beginning.
For example, if you’re a lawyer with a deep knowledge of criminal law who is sure you’re already aware of the ins-and-outs of the system in your country, you may react dismissively to someone telling you that you don’t understand an issue.
That’s because you know for a guaranteed fact they’re wrong.
However, if you were to open your mind slightly and just hear this person out, you would realize that their point is still relevant in relation to another case.
And you might realize it helps you understand even more about why you’re right and what it means.
Keep your mind open: even if you’re already sure you’re correct or informed on certain topics, you’ll still learn a lot.
4) You’re able to delay gratification
One of the most important signs of genuine intelligence is the ability to delay gratification.
I use the word ability intentionally here.
Many of us are willing to put off a reward, but when push comes to shove we don’t actually do it.
We reach for the ice cream…
The quick profits…
The easy relationship…
Instead of putting in the world – and delaying the gratification – to hold out for something more meaningful and long-term.
Those who have the willpower to actually delay gratification tend to be, quite simply, smarter people.
“A 2009 psychology study from Yale University gave participants IQ tests and offered them reward money they could receive immediately or later (for a higher amount).
“Those choosing to wait also had higher IQ scores, indicating that resisting making impulsive decisions and carefully weighing options correlates with intelligence,” notes author Scott Mautz.
5) You care more about what’s true than what’s popular
There are numerous examples in history of very smart people believing incredibly stupid and hateful things.
That’s why popular beliefs or positions are the worst way to judge what’s true.
One of the most crucial signs of genuine intelligence is caring more about what’s true than what’s popular.
You see a narrative coming that oversimplifies or demonizes a certain group or idea and you stay a mile away.
Because you can tell that it’s trying to slot you into a binary box and manipulate you for a larger agenda.
You’re willing to challenge received wisdom and even the most fundamental ideas like how gravity works or whether Gandhi was really a hero.
At the same time, you don’t go off the deep end like those who believe in the flat earth theory and things like that (there I go judging again…)
6) You like to sleep in
This might sound like a joke, but smart people often tend to be night owls who like to sleep in.
I’ve long been a bit of a night owl, but it’s more because I like to binge on junky TV shows and chat with people than ponder deep thoughts.
Still, maybe I’m just underestimating my own brilliance.
“In a study published by Personality and Individual Differences magazine, a connection between a child’s intelligence and sleeping habits was studied in thousands of young people.
“It was found out that the majority of smart people love waking up later on both weekdays and weekends.”
This is good news for couch potatoes.
You’re not just a lazy person who likes potato chips!
There’s a good chance you’re just a misunderstood genius…
7) You’re connected to nature and the laws of life
Intelligence about how numbers and physical laws work is definitely useful in some situations.
After all, calculus relates to real things that are used every day in various professions.
But a truly intelligent person is also someone who’s connected and in harmony with nature and the laws of life.
They are compassionate but not soppy, strong but not aggressive, peaceful but not listless…
The person who truly observes nature can see the wisdom in its rhythms, beauty and even savagery.
The patterns and power of nature are profound.
True intelligence recognizes the lessons and guidance nature holds for us and our responsibility to protect and nurture our natural home.
8) You like to read and explore new worlds in your mind
Enjoying reading is another big sign of genuine intelligence.
You enjoy fiction, non-fiction and everything in between.
You listen to the lyrics of songs and appreciate them.
You read science fiction or fantasy and get lost in the worlds and characters.
This love of reading is a real sign that you’re an inquisitive person with curiosity about looking at life in different ways.
“Not simply a way to expand your knowledge, research has found that reading actually increases your memory function, communication skills and focus.”
9) You learn from failure instead of letting it stop you
An intelligent person never makes black and white judgments about a situation because of one failure.
If they get disappointed in love they go through the pain and do their best to move on, but they never say “I think I’ll always be alone.”
They see the learning opportunity and growth that’s buried in some of life’s painful experiences and make use of them.
10) Your senses are deeply alive and responsive
Another one of the biggest signs of genuine intelligence is that your senses are deeply alive and responsive.
“Genius brains can experience ‘superstimulability.’ Some genius brains are highly sensitive to other people’s emotions,” explains WebMD.
“This can help relate to other people. But at times it can be overwhelming and tiring.”
The highly intelligent individual is in touch with his or her five senses and often also their sixth sense.
They are spiritually sensitive and in tune with what they’re perceiving.
This is often combined with being very intellectually smart as well.
The fusion of sensory sensitivity and intellectual ability leads to a truly brilliant and inspiring person.
The ability to pay close attention to observations combined with a capacity for analyzing and understanding them is a formidable combination.
11) You can simplify a complex problem down into a simple solution
One of the best signs of genuine intelligence is the ability to take a complex issue and simplify it down to a straightforward solution.
This can encompass everything from being able to figure out the issue going on with a broken car to explaining a complex political situation in simple terms.
Some of the smartest people I know don’t use big words or talk on and on.
They keep it short and sweet, and only say what’s necessary.
But when you listen to what they’re saying you realize how much thought and intelligence went into coming up with their solutions to complicated things.
“At the pulsing core of intelligence is the ability to simplify complex problems and solve them.”
This ability to synthesize something down into its core elements also translates over into emotional intelligence.
The genuinely intelligent person is able to see through complicated and hurtful situations to their core issue and help people solve and understand their conflicts.
12) You’re able to look at yourself as an outside observer
One of the clearest signs of genuine intelligence is the ability to be “meta.”
Being meta means that you are able to think about thinking.
Put another way, it means that you can see yourself as an outside observer and look objectively at your behavior, actions and place in the world.
“Intelligent people often demonstrate metacognition. They talk about and analyze their own thought process.
“They are objective and critique their nature.
“They know when and how they perform best.
“A simple example of meta behavior is when someone says, ‘I need to put this on my calendar or I won’t hold myself accountable.’”
This type of meta-awareness generally makes you a better person as well.
You see your mistakes and realize what you can do better next time.
13) You help other people discover and use their own talents
Finally, and very importantly, a truly intelligent person sees the worth in others.
They understand that we all have different abilities and skills, but that these are all potentially useful in their own way.
A truly smart person is able to help others discover and use their talents.
They have a pro-growth mentality that sees how tapping into the abilities of others strengthens us all.
Life’s not a competition to beat down your adversary, it’s a journey together where we can all win by working together.
14) You can adapt to different situations
Being genuinely intelligent also means that you can easily adapt to different situations.
You are like a chameleon who blends into various environments and circumstances with grace and ease.
This is known as ‘situational intelligence’, and it’s an essential aspect of overall intelligence.
You are comfortable in various social settings, can handle pressure and unfamiliar situations, and can change your communication style to suit different people.
This adaptability enables you to thrive in all areas of life, from your personal relationships to your professional pursuits.
It is also a sign of emotional intelligence, as it often involves understanding and responding to the emotions of others.
15) You’re able to grasp abstract concepts
Intelligent people possess the capacity to understand and make connections between abstract concepts that may not be immediately related.
They can think outside of the box, grasp the intangible, and often have a knack for creative thinking.
Whether it’s understanding complex theories, solving puzzles, or decoding symbolism in literature or art, their minds can dive into depths that may be unreachable for others. It is this understanding of the abstract that often leads to great innovation and creativity.
16) You’re comfortable with silence and solitude
Intelligent individuals often enjoy spending time alone, and they don’t need constant social interaction to feel content.
This is often because they have rich inner worlds and are able to entertain themselves with their thoughts and ideas. In addition, they use this time alone to reflect, self-analyze and recharge.
They don’t shy away from solitude but see it as a precious resource to nurture their mental and emotional well-being.
This ability to enjoy one’s own company, to ponder and to introspect, is indeed a sign of genuine intelligence.
17) You value wisdom over knowledge
While knowledge is important, truly intelligent people understand the value of wisdom.
Knowledge is about facts and information, while wisdom is about understanding and applying that knowledge.
As Socrates famously said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
Those who are truly smart understand that they can always learn more and never stop questioning.
They are not just interested in accumulating knowledge but seek wisdom, discernment and a deeper understanding of life.
18) You are patient and a good listener
Being a good listener is a highly underrated trait and is a significant indicator of intelligence.
When you truly listen to someone, you learn from them and gain new perspectives.
Truly intelligent people understand the importance of being patient and attentive to the thoughts and ideas of others.
They ask open-ended questions, show empathy, and give others the space to express themselves.
Being a good listener also demonstrates emotional intelligence because it requires understanding and responding to the emotions of others.
19) You understand the importance of emotional health
Genuine intelligence isn’t just about intellectual capacity. It also involves recognizing and prioritizing emotional health.
Emotionally intelligent individuals are aware of their own emotions, can understand the feelings of others, and manage emotions in a healthy way.
They use their emotional intelligence to navigate social networks, enhance communication, and build strong relationships.
Emotionally intelligent individuals tend to have better mental health, job performance, and leadership skills.
20) You practice humility
Contrary to what some may believe, truly intelligent individuals do not boast about their intelligence or achievements.
They understand that there is always more to learn and that everyone they meet can teach them something valuable.
They are open to new ideas and can accept when they are wrong.
This humility enables them to be lifelong learners and continually expand their horizons.
True intelligence vs. book smarts
As we can see from the above list, true intelligence isn’t the same as book smarts.
You may be a brilliant mathematician who is still largely unable to understand how to work a stove.
Or you could be a simple woodsman who knows nothing about world history or economics, yet has an intuitive grasp of what weather is coming and where to find the best game to hunt.
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with being academically smart, particularly when it’s channeled into useful and productive endeavors.
I’m not going to tell you that the Dean of Harvard is “actually” stupid or something like that. It’s just not true.
The key here is to broaden our understanding of intelligence.
For too long, Western and modern cultures have defined intelligence in a very eurocentric and intellectual way.
If you’re in a drought trying to plant crops then somebody who understands irrigation and water tables is the smartest human you could meet.
If you’re trying to send a rocket to Mars then somebody who understands propulsion engines and physics is the man or woman you want to be talking to.
The truth of the matter is that almost everyone we come across has a deep intelligence in some way or area, we may just not have noticed it yet.