(I would first note that my four-legged family and friends consistently display these habits.)
1. Don’t talk about how smart they are
Because they don’t have to. If you’re always doing and saying smart things, people notice. Smart people aren’t interested in how they’re perceived. They’re busy growing their minds.
2. Learn best by imitation
Everyone benefits from a little guidance, but intelligent people prefer to watch what the pros do first. They reverse engineer success by studying what works and then trying that.
3. Try to figure things out themselves
Nobody can teach themselves absolutely everything. But an intelligent person’s first move isn’t to ask for help or step-by-step instructions. They want to experiment and problem-solve. They develop all kinds of mental muscles by doing this, and they can usually swim on their own.
They’re okay sinking for a few seconds.
Intelligent people want to struggle a little first. An intelligent person might look stubborn, but they’re really just self-sufficient. You don’t get there by giving up too soon and letting someone do things for you — or walk you through every step of every process.
4. Are always hunting knowledge
Intelligent people focus on what they want to know, not what they already know— or what might impress someone.
5. Don’t brag about what they know
Intelligent people apply their knowledge. They don’t keep it locked up in a trophy case for display.
6. Connect the dots
Intelligent people look for connections between dissimilar things. They read across fields and disciplines. They can import an idea from one context to another and unpack it.
7. Are okay with cognitive dissonance
The world contradicts itself all the time. Intelligent people can hold two conflicting ideas in their head at the same time, and find ways to admire each one on its own strengths and merits.
8. Ask lots of questions
Intelligent people know they’ll never figure out how everything works, but they want to try anyway.
This one might contradict the self-sufficiency trait. But smart people get curious. Sometimes they like to fire off a barrage of questions before they jump in and get their hands dirty.
9. Abstract from their experiences
An intelligent person finds patterns in ordinary stuff and scales them up. They’re always observing tiny parts of life that everyone else overlooks, and figuring out how to explain them. The explanations become theories, and they can lead to huge breakthroughs.
10. Seek out puzzles and paradoxes
Something that defies explanation is like a Christmas present for an intelligent person. They love wrapping their minds around things that can’t or shouldn’t make sense, because they know something causes it to happen — they just don’t know what that is yet.
11. Don’t get hung up on crumbs
Intelligent people are fine letting someone act like a jerk, as long as they do it over there — and don’t get in the way.
12. Move slowly, until they hit warp speed
Think about the last time you saw an intelligent person in action. They sat quietly for several minutes while everyone else did their squabbling and grandstanding. Or they went dark for a few days while everyone else was rushing around. If you don’t know an intelligent person that well, you might think they’re dumb or lazy at first. Then they say or do something so utterly brilliant it changes everything. That thing they do — that’s called thinking about a problem before doing anything.
13. Have no problem with failure
Any failed experiment is just information. Maybe it doesn’t pay the bills or rake in the grants, but it’s always one step closer to the eureka minute they’re looking for. They’re immune to failure because it’s baked in.
14. Don’t try to sound smart
You know you’re talking to an intelligent person when you feel smarter after the conversation, because they explained something complex in such a simple way that almost anyone could get it.
14-b. Make everyone around them feel smart
See above. I just wanted to stress this point. You’ll often find intelligent people praising other people’s intelligence.
15. Don’t always use big words
Intelligent people use the right word. Sometimes that’s a big word, and sometimes it’s a simple one.
The master habit: Practice empathy
If there’s one habit that oversees all the others, it’s empathy. Intelligent people try to think from lots of different viewpoints. They try to understand how their actions affect everyone — not just themselves, or the handful of people they care about or agree with.