Advertising
Advertising

Published on January 15, 2020

How to Think Smart (If You Think You’re Not Smart Enough)

How to Think Smart (If You Think You’re Not Smart Enough)

If you’re reading this and you don’t think you’re smart, I definitely want you to reframe how you’re thinking about intelligence.

Being smart is about much more than acing an IQ test or being the valedictorian. Those are both great things, but they have more to do with being book smart.

In our modern society, it’s arguably more important to know how to think smart (to know how to critically think about things and be open to new ideas).

Here’re 9 strategies for how to think smart:

1. Be Open to Different Perspectives

Thinking smart means being open to new ideas. When we hold on too dearly to what we currently think, we are actually closing ourselves off to new ideas. And thinking smart is all about considering, evaluating, and analyzing new ideas.

For example, when I was in fifth grade, I wrote a journal entry about how amazing President George H. W. Bush was. I didn’t write it because I had critically thought about politics. I wrote it because my dad really liked George H. W. Bush. Therefore, I did too.

If I had known how to think smart as a fifth grader, I might be more inclined to consider the pros and cons of both parties.

Be very suspicious of an argument that only considers one side of an argument and doesn’t consider any negative points of that side.

That is the opposite of thinking smart.

2. Seriously Consider the Counterargument

It’s not enough to just be open to both sides of an argument; real critical thinking requires you to dig deeply into the other side.

I might have a hunch that Chinese herbs will be good for my winter cough, but I’m not thinking smart until I do extensive research that doesn’t just confirm my initial bias.

I need to find reputable sources (think academic journals and peer-reviewed studies) that pertain to my topic: Chinese medicine and cough. I can’t cherry pick and only include the ones that say Chinese herbs will help my cough.

I have to read and seriously consider the other side. I have to be genuinely open to being wrong.

Advertising

That’s a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow.

When we only look at evidence that proves what we already think, that’s called a confirmation bias.[1] It’s a great way to feel confident that you’re always right, but it’s a terrible way to learn anything new.

So if you want to start thinking smart, avoid confirmation bias and be truly open to the counterargument and to being wrong.

3. Ask Questions and Listen to the Answers

Thinking smart also means being curious.[2] Smart people are inquisitive about how the world works, what makes people tick, and what it all means.

So another trick for how to think smart is to ask lots of questions.[3]

Surround yourself with people you think are intelligent. Again, avoid confirmation bias here too. If you only surround yourself with smart people who think just like you, you’re not going to learn much.

My college experience was great because I didn’t go to a school where everyone was liberal or conservative. There was a big mix of perspectives, and this deepened our classroom discussions and thinking.

Once you have your smart people crew, you need to ask questions. Keep a list of things you’re genuinely curious about. For example, I’m curious about parenting, politics, education, creativity, psychology, healthcare, other cultures, religion, philosophy… The list goes on.

But don’t fake the funk; if you’re asking questions just to ask them, you’re not going to learn much. You need to be genuinely interested in the answers. Learn how to ask questions skilfully: How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions

Then, the second step is to really listen to the answer. Don’t just listen in order to respond. Listen to hear the other person. Don’t listen to confirm your bias either. You’re going to need to do some sincere deep listening in order to learn new things.

4. Read

For my money, smart thinking requires a lot of reading.

It all comes down to collecting more and more information from more and more perspectives. Read a wide-range of materials on a wide-range of topics.

I like to switch up and read informational books that relate to my work: psychology, education, theatre. Then, I read a novel or something not so directly related to my day-to-day hustle.

Advertising

Read multiple newspapers, not just the one that most closely mirrors how you already think. Go for breadth.

Read up on all sorts of topics.

Read, read, read.

Then read some more.

Watch out for disreputable sources though. There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts out there nowadays, especially online.

If you want to learn how to evaluate your sources and distinguish a reputable from a disreputable source, go to your local library and ask a friendly librarian. They would love to teach you all about evaluating sources to help you become a more-informed consumer of information.

5. Know What You Don’t Know

Truly brilliant people know what they don’t know. They don’t pretend to know everything. The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

The world is incredibly complex, and there is an almost infinite number of perspectives from which to analyze that world. So, it doesn’t make any sense when I meet someone who acts like they know everything about everything.

It’s just not possible.

The smartest people I know definitely know what they don’t know. And they’re not shy about admitting it. Those smart people are also curious and eager to learn more about what they don’t know.

I think Socrates said it best when he said,

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

In other words, if you’re truly smart, you know that there’s a whole lot that you are really dumb about.

Advertising

Okay, maybe Socrates said it better.

6. Put Your Smartphone Down

Our smartphones give us access to a lot of instant information. But that doesn’t mean they’re making us smarter.

Studies show that we need to put our phones down, mix and mingle with the masses, get out and enjoy nature, and just generally exist sans smartphones in order to bump up our brain power.[4]

The problem has a lot to do with focus. Just having their smartphones in the same room as them made participants perform more poorly on cognitive tests.

Smartphones are addictive. Think about those alluring push notifications. When we hear the chime, we drop everything and mindlessly pick up our phone.

Yeah, take a break from that.

If we want to beef up our focus on other things, it makes a lot of sense to put the phones down and put all our attention on other things for a moment.

Try these 5 Simple Ways to Unplug and Be More Mindful In Your Life.

7. Go for Depth

I know I’ve already told you that one strategy for how to think smart is to read up on a wide-range of topics. Well, it’s also important to go for depth.

Another trick for how to get smart is to dig deeply into a topic. Try to learn as much as you can about one narrow topic. Interested in the history of pants? Well, start doing your research and see where it takes you.

A lot of people already do this when they get sucked down a YouTube or Wikipedia rabbit hole. They start by clicking on one page, maybe all the people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award (EGOTs). Before you know it, it’s four in the morning and you’re watching a black and white film about a donkey befriending a mouse. How in the world did you get here?

This is what I’m proposing you do with your pants research. Only try to stick more closely to the topic at hand: pants. Read something about pants. Then see what sources that book or article used. Then read some of those. And so on and so on.

I think you’ll find that the more you learn, the more you’ll realize just how much you still don’t know.

Advertising

That’s the kind of smart thinking we’re going for.

8. Challenge Your Mind—Learn Another Language

Use it or lose it. That’s really the mantra when it comes to our brains.

So, if you want to think smarter, challenge your brain.

One way is to learn another language. Now, I’m a notoriously slow language learner, but I still find that the process helps my brain immensely.

And studies back this up,[5] learning another language helps our concentration and focus.

So if you want to think smarter, think in another language. Push your brain and really challenge yourself.

The added bonus is that you’ll know another language.

9. Get Out There and See the World

Finally, the last strategy for how to think smart is to get out there and see the world — See and experience new people and places.

Research has shown that becoming truly immersed in new cultures boosts our brain’s ability to consider multiple perspectives at once.[6]

This goes back to what we were talking about before. Seriously considering multiple, diverse points of view is, simply put, smart thinking. It’s critical thinking where you don’t just assume you are right. It’s the kind of thinking that honors the complexity of the world and is open to learning new things.

Final Thoughts

Thinking smart is about knowing what we don’t know. It’s about seeing all sides of an argument, or problem and honoring all perspectives. It’s also about being genuinely curious about different people, places, and ideas.

Thinking smart isn’t just about acing a test. It’s really a state of mind. It’s about approaching interactions with the desire to really listen and learn. And it’s definitely not about proving you’re right or about cherry picking sources that prove what you already thought.

So, admit that you don’t know that much. And that’s the first step to knowing a whole lot.

More on Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: What is confirmation bias?
[2] Play Your Way Sane: Curious detective
[3] Play Your Way Sane: Just Ask
[4] Psychology Today: Are smartphones making us stupid?
[5] Live Science: Learning a new language at any age helps the brain
[6] Forbes: Science says travel makes you smarter

More by this author

Clay Drinko

Clay Drinko is an educator and the author of Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition.

How to Think Smart (If You Think You’re Not Smart Enough) How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential How Do Memory Vitamins Work? (And the Best Brain Supplements) How Memory Works (And How You Can Make It Work for You)

Trending in Brain

1 5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory 2 Are You Right-Brain Dominant? (7 Right Brain Characteristics) 3 17 Ways To Develop a Growth Mindset 4 7 Simple Brain Training Habits to Boost Your Brain Power 5 How to Increase Brain Power, Boost Memory and Become 10X Smarter

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

        Advertising

        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

          Advertising

          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

            Advertising

            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

              Read Next