I don’t believe that intelligence is a thing reserved only for an elite percentage of people. I think that reasoning is either an excuse intended to justify ignorance, or a genuinely-held belief which only serves as a wall between a person and their potential. True, some people are luckier than others, in that they have been able to go to university, or they have had somebody take them under their wing and teach them. But the truth is, the human mind is wired to learn, and in an age where information is free, it is a sin not to quench its thirst for knowledge. Here are 8 ways to be smarter.
1. Read more
Read more. Not just that – read better. Read closely. Read between the lines. Take notes. Don’t be afraid to make notes in the margins of your books. Read outside your preferred genre. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read about things you’d never even known existed. Read books. Read journals. Read newspapers. Read newspapers you’d never be caught dead reading. Understand why you disagree with them. Read websites. That information is yours for the taking, so bloody well take it.
2. Learn a new language
I am a firm believer that every child should be brought up bilingual. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests that a person’s language shapes the way in which they view reality, and a new study is backing up this claim. If this is true, then English speakers experience their world in a very different way to, say, French speakers, or Japanese speakers. Multilingualism equips you with different sets of syntax and vocabulary and helps you gain a more holistic view of your reality. It also opens up more opportunities for travel and work. Like most Maltese children, I was brought up speaking English, Maltese and Italian. I learnt French at school. Now, I have gone back to study Spanish. It’s really not all that hard to start learning a new language; it’s quite a fun process. Choose a language, find an evening class, and get started. Worst case scenario: you end up knowing a few phrases in a new language and making a few new friends from class.
3. Analyse your opinions
I am not suggesting one should be self-conscious to the point of neurosis, but it is a good idea to analyse your thoughts and feelings, especially when they are strong ones. Say you are having a discussion with your friends about any topic – politics, healthcare, gender, football – and you have a strong reaction against a statement made by a friend. Ask yourself why that is, why you feel that why, what has caused you to arrive to that conclusion. What’s more, once you have formed an opinion, complement it and strengthen it by reading up on it – read the arguments agreeing with you, and those in disagreement too, which brings me to…
4. Learn how to argue properly
Don’t fall into the trap of raising your voice or speaking over other people. It’s annoying, and it’s not productive. I refuse to argue with people who raise their voices and interrupt me, because I know I can never get anywhere with them. Instead, take the time to listen, reiterate what your partner is saying, and then present your opinion. Arguing is not just about getting your own point across. If you want to do that, write a blog. Arguing is about reaching compromise. And if somebody you are arguing with is shouting, leave the room. Nobody can argue with a closed door.
Know what’s worse than somebody who unnecessarily raises their voice? Somebody who mumbles. It’s important to articulate properly when you speak, to make sure people can understand you. Sure, maybe your friends and family are used to you, but that potential employer isn’t, right? Articulating makes you seem more confident, which in turn allows people to have more confidence in you.
6. Be cynical
Reasonably cynical, of course. What I mean is: don’t believe everything you read; don’t believe everything you are told. If you hear something which sounds unbelievable, it probably is. Do your own research. Don’t rely on soundbites. Don’t be gullible and fall for the old “my sister’s friend’s colleague’s uncle’s driver’s son said…”. Nothing is completely true unless you have evidence of that truth. Contextualise. Assume most things are speculation until they have been proven.
7. Work on your memory
It’s easy to let your memory waste away when we have the technology to record every single moment and thought available at our fingertips. But learning a few memory techniques will show you that, like everything else, memory is not something you either ‘have’ or ‘don’t have’; rather, it’s something that must be exercised. Perhaps it comes naturally to some people and less so to others, but then so do mathematics, sport, music and art. Doesn’t mean that sense cannot be trained.
8. Realise you aren’t really THAT smart
It’s like Socrates, that great genius and philosopher, once said: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. There is the temptation to take the leap from intelligence to snobbery, and that temptation is strong. Don’t fall for it. It might give you some twisted sense of approbation to think yourself superior to somebody who doesn’t know as much as you know about art/music/history/literature/whatever, but the likelihood is that person possesses knowledge or experience of something you may never even have heard of.