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How To Be Smart

Too many people think that intelligence is a gift of nature and that there is little anyone can do to improve theirs. IQ tests have managed to confuse many of us, leading us to believe that intelligence is largely fixed. It is not.

Just like swimming, cooking, dancing, and just about anything else, being smart is a skill that requires training. Unfortunately, our schools neglect to give us some of the most essential tools for being smart.

So how did I discover these tools? It happened when I started working on my PhD. I didn’t just want to do just any kind of research, I wanted to do research that mattered. The problem was that I had no idea how to do research, never mind research that mattered. So, I decided to try and understand professors that did important work. For years, I watched and I learned, and I am proud to say that I figured it out – and it wasn’t what I expected.

Because I figured it out, I was able to produce about four times the amount of work required to complete a PhD and still spend a lot of time with my family, friends, and on my hobbies. I will now share with you some of what I learned.

Practice Self-Critical Thinking
We are all familiar with critical thinking, the act of questioning the assumptions of arguments that are put before us. Critical thinking is an invaluable skill – without it, we all become gullible and easily manipulated. The problems is that, we usually only apply critical thinking to other people’s ideas. When we apply critical thinking to our own ideas, its power reaches a whole new level. I call this self-critical thinking. Once you find a flaw with your argument, see if you can come up with a better idea. If you practice self-critical thinking, then you will find flaws in your arguments before anyone else. By practicing self-critical thinking, your intellect will amaze you.

Be Persistent
Smart, successful people don’t give up. They believe that they can do it, and so they keep trying until, finally, they succeed. You might know that Thomas Edison failed thousands of times before he succeeded. What you might not know is that just about all scientists experience failure on a regular basis. They spend months, even years, trying to find answers, until finally something works out. So if you want to be smart, be persistent.

Learn to Present Your Ideas
Two people can have the same ideas, and the same views and opinions, and yet only one of them might be considered smart. We often forget that everyone is busy with their own lives; they don’t have time to think about and analyze everything we say. If we don’t sell our ideas, virtually no one will recognize their merit. So, if you want others to know that you’re smart, learn how to present your ideas.  Speak clearly, articulate your words, and most importantly, let your enthusiasm about your ideas shine through. Enthusiasm is highly contagious. Some of the most brilliant scientists spend half, yes, half, their time on presentation. If they find it worthwhile, so should you. Finally, learning to sell your ideas is not only good for your reputation, but it also can help others. If you have something to say, say it well, so that others can benefit from your message.

Finally, let me add that in order to be smart, you must also believe in yourself. We are all a lot more similar than we appear. Those who appear smarter than you simply had the rights tools and used these tools to exercise their minds. Exceptional intelligence is well within your reach.

You are smarter than you think.

Written on 6/27/2012 by Maya Ackerman. Maya divides her time between research, writing, teaching, singing, and spending time with her family. She has authored over a dozen academic articles and is about to receive her PhD. To share her insights and bring you researched articles on topics such as money, success, happiness, and love, she co-founded Great Living Now, a personal development community focused on helping others make their lives better. Photo Credit: Brian Hillegas
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