9 unique behaviors that separate really smart people from everyone else

Hollywood has convinced us that smart people are easy to spot.

We expect them to be constantly scratching equations on a blackboard or to have deep genius-level knowledge of every subject under the sun.

But that’s not real life.

In the real world, it’s possible to be around some incredibly intelligent people and not even realize it.

Partly, that’s because highly intelligent people usually don’t talk about how smart they are. Because they are secure in their own intellectual abilities, they don’t feel any need to convince those around them that they are clever.

There are some unique behaviors that demonstrate someone is really smart. Keep an eye out for these behaviors and the people around you to let you know who is secretly an intellectual powerhouse.

1) They are highly adaptable

Adaptability is a key trait, and it’s something that sets humans apart from most animals. After all, there’s a reason that we live on every continent on the planet. It’s our intelligence and adaptability that has allowed us to do that.

But some people are far more adaptable than others, and generally, it’s the most intelligent people who are the most adaptable.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg, like many psychologists, points out that intelligence has many different aspects. What he calls “successful intelligence” involves three different factors:

  • Analytical intelligence, which gives us the ability to solve problems;
  • Creative intelligence, which allows us to come up with new ideas;
  • Practical intelligence, which allows us to adapt to a changing environment.

From that perspective, adaptability can be seen as a sign of intelligence.

Smart people are able to adapt their views and behaviors according to the environment around them. More than most of us, they are able to embrace change and make the best out of it, no matter what happens.

2) They are intensely curious

Some people are more curious than others. But there’s no doubt that intelligent people are more curious than the rest of us.

It makes sense when you think about it. A powerful mind needs to be working on something. Intelligent people rarely waste their time thinking about trash TV or gossiping about others. Instead, they prefer to follow intellectual interests and discover new things.

That doesn’t mean they always have their nose buried in a book – although it can mean exactly that sometimes. But it does mean that they will often have a broad range of interests in a variety of different subjects.

It also means that they go deeper into a subject that captures them than other people.

3) They connect things

Another unique sign of intelligence is the ability to connect different ideas in a way nobody else would’ve thought of.

As philosopher and highly intelligent man Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.”

It’s those little connections between things that form the basis of scientific achievement and show a person who is highly intelligent.

After all, Albert Einstein didn’t have access to any information the other physicists of his time didn’t.

But it was his impressive intellect that saw the connection between concepts like energy, mass, and the speed of light in ways other people couldn’t.

The intelligent people in your life may not be peering into the mysteries of the universe. But if you observe them closely, you may notice they have a gift for connecting things that to the rest of us seem like they have no connection whatsoever. 

4) They can think in abstract concepts

“Abstract thinking, also known as abstract reasoning, involves the ability to understand and think about complex concepts that, while real, are not tied to concrete experiences, objects, people, or situations,” writes psychologist Kendra Cherry.

Abstract concepts include things like:

  • Love
  • Friendship
  • Freedom
  • Morality
  • Happiness
  • Hope

These things are real, but you can’t see them or reach out and put your hand on them, which is what makes them abstract.

Now, we all have an ability to think about these things. But highly intelligent people are much more comfortable with abstract thought than the rest of us.

If you know someone who has a very definite and sophisticated view of these concepts and thinks about them more than average, it’s probably because they are highly intelligent.

5) They can teach themselves

Being intelligent doesn’t mean having a string of university degrees and titles. In fact, you can be highly intelligent without any formal education at all.

That’s because very smart people have an exceptional ability to learn. Often, they are able to teach themselves.

Maybe they have taught themselves a foreign language, or learned how to perform difficult mathematical equations using nothing except the Internet and a library card.

This ability to teach themselves marks them as highly intelligent.

6) They are capable of extreme focus

intelligent person 9 unique behaviors that separate really smart people from everyone else

Did you know that Isaac Newton invented the cat flap?

The story goes that Newton, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, spent much of his time studying, reading, and working on complex theories. He hated to be disturbed by his cats scratching at the door of his study looking for attention.

So he had a little hole carved in his door to let the cats come and go so that he could carry on working and not have to get up from his desk.

The story may not be entirely true. But it is a good demonstration of the kind of single-minded focus intelligent people are capable of.

When a subject interests someone with an intelligent mind, they often throw themselves into it completely. They may abandon social commitments or cut down on unnecessary chores. Sometimes, they can get so caught up in what they are interested in that they even forget to eat.

Most people aren’t capable of that kind of focus. But this is a unique behavior that indicates a highly intelligent person.

7) They think critically

Many people have a tendency to accept what they are told. The things they see on the news or hear from their friends become the way they see the world, and they don’t spend a lot of time questioning it.

But intelligent people are just the opposite.

Critical thinking doesn’t mean being negative and criticizing everything. Instead, it means deliberately analyzing the information you receive and thinking about where it comes from, how true it’s likely to be, and how much impact it has on your own life.

Critical thinking is a skill that can be taught. But for intelligent people, it seems to come naturally.

They don’t believe what they are told automatically. Instead, they compare it to other things they have already learned and their own experiences to figure out whether it’s true or not.

8) They aren’t interested in fitting in

I mentioned earlier how intelligent people rarely brag about their intelligence, because they are secure in themselves and don’t need the approval of others.

It’s also true that they often don’t care very much at all about fitting in with the rest of society.

There’s a stereotype of the eccentric scientist who doesn’t care what others think of them, and while it is just a stereotype, there is some logic behind it.

Partly, it’s because of their ability to think critically. Smart people don’t blindly adopt the customs and habits of the people around them. Instead, they think about them critically and ask themselves if they are helpful or necessary.

If not, they don’t bother following them.

Sometimes, this can result in intelligent people standing out by the way they dress or the way they act. It’s not because they are trying to draw attention to themselves.

It’s just that they don’t feel a need to fit in, and are almost immune to the social pressure the rest of us face.

9) They are happy being alone

The mind of a highly intelligent person is always buzzing with deep thoughts and fascinating ideas. So maybe it’s no surprise that they are rarely bored, even when they are completely by themselves.

In fact, according to researchers Norman Li and Satoshi Kanazawa, people with a very high level of intelligence are happier when they spend more time alone.

That’s the opposite of most of us, who are happier with more social interaction, not less.

Solitude allows intelligent people to work on their thoughts without the distraction of the people around. So if you know someone who likes to spend a lot of time alone, consider the possibility that they are very smart.

Spotting intelligence

Identifying intelligent people may not be as easy as Hollywood would have you believe. But when you know what to look for, there are some unique behaviors that can help you identify clever people.

Maybe you even have some of these behaviors yourself. If so, it might be because you are smarter than most of the people around you.

Clifton Kopp

Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Ideapod! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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