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How to Be Smart: 10 Strategies to Unlock Your Intelligence

Being smart isn’t just a genetic lottery you win or lose. Learn strategies for improving your intelligence.

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When you think “smart”, Marilyn Monroe probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. Monroe played the “dumb blonde” sexy bombshell of the 50s. 

But she was also a shrewd businesswoman when super feminine women weren’t supposed to be smart.

She once responded to a snide comment about her outfit by doing a photoshoot in a potato sack and confessed to intentionally ruining 27 takes of a scene because she didn’t like them.

All that from a high school dropout.

So what makes a person smart? And is it possible to increase your intelligence over time? 

Absolutely. Let’s find out how. 

9 Quick Tips on How to Sound Smart

Here are some quick tips to take away from the above video:

  1. Verbal Organization is Key: Smart people know what they want to say and communicate it clearly. Announce how many points you’re going to make (“I want to discuss three things…”), and then lay them out. This shows preparation and helps manage interruptions by letting others know your thought process.
  2. Use People’s Names: Using someone’s name in a conversation is a sign of respect and demonstrates your attentiveness. It also helps to personalize your interaction, making the other person feel more connected and engaged.
  3. Remember Details About People: Smart people are thoughtful and attentive. If you can remember specific details about someone – their favorite sports team, how they take their coffee, or their spouse’s name—it shows that you care. To sound smart, you need to be smart enough to remember and mention these details.
  4. Use a Downward Inflection: Research has found that downward inflections at the end of sentences can command authority. Rather than sounding uncertain with upward inflections, confidently make your point with a downward tone.
  5. Be Concise: Contrary to popular belief, using big words or long sentences doesn’t make you sound smarter. Instead, aim for clarity over confusion. Speak in concise, precise sentences using simple, easy-to-understand words.
  6. Be a Conversation Bridger: Smart people steer conversations toward topics they’re knowledgeable about. Think about how you can transition from the current topic to something you’re passionate about. This makes it easier to contribute valuable insights and fascinating facts.
  7. Borrow Authority When Needed: Don’t feel pressured to be the expert on every topic. If you don’t know something, cite a statistic, mention a study, or refer to research you’ve read about. This shows your willingness to learn and your ability to back your points with credible sources.
  8. Admit What You Don’t Know: Recognize your knowledge gaps and be honest about them. If you don’t know something, say so and indicate how you plan to find the answer. This willingness to learn and grow is a true sign of intelligence.
  9. Summarize and Take Action: Smart people can take complex discussions, summarize them, and suggest the next steps. This not only shows your understanding but also demonstrates your ability to take action and move the conversation forward.

What Does It Mean To Be Smart? 

Being smart means possessing a combination of cognitive abilities, critical thinking skills, and adaptability that enables effective problem-solving, learning, and intellectual growth.

Often, when we think “smart,” our minds automatically drift toward those high-IQ geniuses or people with a truckload of knowledge. But being smart is way more than just having a big brain or a library’s worth of information.

Being smart is like being a superhero of the mind. It’s about having the power to think critically, solve problems, and adapt like a chameleon in a room full of colors. Smart people are the architects of creativity, the innovators of ideas, and the maestros of communication. They have a knack for explaining complex concepts that even great aunt Mabel can understand.

Research suggests that a whopping 65% of people think they’re smarter than average. How is that possible? Well, perhaps each person is considering a particular area where they feel their intelligence is greatest. 

Now, let’s talk about the different flavors of smarts. The theory of multiple intelligences proposes that rather than having one intelligence (IQ) that can be high, mid, or low, a person has several distinct intellectual capacities. They are:  

Linguistic Intelligence: The ability to understand and use language effectively for communication, expression, and persuasion.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: The capacity to reason logically, think critically, and solve mathematical problems.

Spatial Intelligence: Proficiency in perceiving and manipulating visual-spatial information, such as recognizing patterns, visualizing objects, and navigating spaces.

Musical Intelligence: Skill and sensitivity in understanding, creating, and appreciating music, including pitch, rhythm, and composition.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: A talent for controlling body movements, coordination, and the ability to excel in activities involving physical skills, such as sports, dance, or crafts.

Interpersonal Intelligence: The ability to understand and relate effectively to others, including perceiving their emotions, motivations, and navigating social interactions.

Intrapersonal Intelligence: Self-awareness, introspection, and an understanding of one’s own emotions, values, strengths, and weaknesses.

Naturalistic Intelligence: An affinity for recognizing and understanding the natural world, including the ability to identify and categorize elements of the environment, such as plants, animals, and ecosystems.

But do you have to have a high IQ to be successful? Nope! In fact, we took a deep dive and found out why people with LOWER IQs can be more successful because they’ve worked harder to master their skills. 

Being smart isn’t just about acing exams or having all the answers. It’s about embracing your unique brand of intelligence, celebrating your quirks and imperfections, and using your mindscape in marvelous ways. 

More Essential Strategies to Be Smarter

So, if being smart could mean ability in one of many different areas, where can you start if you’re ready to smarten up? 

Embrace Continuous Learning

Can you name the nine states that border Kentucky? Or where to locate Vanuatu on a map? If you want to know, learn about geography with apps like Stack the States or Stack the Countries. 

We live in the age of information, and technology has made learning as easy as opening an app. 

Interested in:

Space? NASA app 

Sign Language? Lingvano 

Sports? Sports History

The density and movement of different types of wood for a project? The Woodshop Widget

For more traditional academic courses, apps like Coursera or websites like EdX have thousands of courses designed specifically to encourage people to continue learning in areas that interest them (I know, I helped create a few of them!). 

Research has found that learning a language has positive effects on cognitive and academic performance, as well as slowing the effects of aging. Apps like Duolingo or Babbel cater to language learners. 

You can find an app or website for just about any topic you can think of. Just start by searching “adult learning app for ________”

Actively seek out new bits of wisdom and upgrade those skills of yours. Whether it’s taking a pottery class, learning how to code, or mastering the art of making the perfect scrambled eggs, embrace the idea that learning is a lifelong adventure. 

Read Regularly

Are you envious of that one coworker who always has some perfectly relevant fact for any topic in the breakroom? Chances are good they gained all that knowledge by reading vast quantities of books and articles on a wide variety of topics. 

  • Make time for reading: Schedule dedicated reading time, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. Prioritize that bookish goodness!
  • Get active with your reading: Take notes, highlight key points, and reflect on what you’re reading. It keeps the brain engaged and makes your reading experience more rewarding.
  • Join book clubs or discussion groups: Hang out with fellow book nerds and dive into thoughtful conversations. It’s like a reading party, and you’re invited!

Don’t have time to read? Try Blinkist for book summaries. 

If you’re always getting recommendations from friends, but forgetting the titles, use Goodreads to track reading lists and recommendations: 

And for a good, new-fashioned book-borrowing app, see if your library offers an account to Libby

Practice Critical Thinking Exercises

One widely accepted indication of intelligence is the ability to think critically using logic and reason. 

Think Outside the Box

A hallmark of intelligence is the ability to solve problems in unconventional ways. And that’s all about stepping outside that comfy, cozy box we call our comfort zone. It’s about challenging the status quo, questioning the norm, and daring to take risks. It’s like adding a splash of color to a gray canvas—things get interesting real quick!

When we venture beyond what’s familiar, our brains get a workout. We start connecting dots we never knew were there. Suddenly, we’re seeing possibilities where we once saw roadblocks. 

Encourage creative thinking through exercises and books like “The Imagineering Workout” by The Disney Imagineers.

For example: 

  • When deciding how to divvy out work to teammates, assign each colleague an animal based on their personality and habits to decide who would be best for a task. 
  •  Reframe your deadline by writing down why you are motivated to complete the task. 
  • While developing a new idea, review it by asking “why” three times, each from the perspective of a leader, a peer, and a subordinate. 

Another option is to engage in brainstorming sessions, problem-solving activities, or innovation challenges that push you to explore unconventional solutions. 

Start with a stack of sticky notes, an empty whiteboard, or a fresh computer document. Write down any ideas that you can think of, no matter how outlandish or impractical. You can always sort out the most reasonable later, but you may find a nugget of creativity in a ridiculous proposal that solves the problem more creatively. 

You might also find great value in seeking out diverse perspectives and alternative viewpoints to broaden your thinking. 

Do you have a problem with a co-worker? Ask your child how they would handle it. 

Stuck on how to make a decision? Look at it from the viewpoint of your favorite fictional characters. 

What about approaching a problem through reverse thinking? Challenge the status quo and consider the opposite perspective or solution. 

If you’re a visual person, consider using mind maps or visual diagrams to represent ideas, concepts, and their connections visually. This technique helps to explore different paths, link seemingly unrelated elements, and discover new perspectives.

Improving Memory Retention

Ah, the elusive ability to remember a random string of numbers or the birthdates of all the American presidents—now that is intelligence! 

Well, maybe, but wouldn’t it be helpful to remember your friend’s new address or the grocery list for your shopping trip? 

Here are some ways to boost your memory: 

  • Practice mnemonic techniques: In college, I chose “A Man in a Hot Tub” as a mnemonic for Amenhotep, an Egyptian pharaoh who liked to party. I got the quiz question right, and I still remember it 10 years later.   
  • Get your sweat on: Regular exercise isn’t just for toned biceps—it’s also a memory-enhancing superstar! So let’s get physical and pump up that brain power.
  • Visualization techniques: Channel your inner Bob Ross and create colorful, imaginative mental images that’ll make your memory go, 
  • Memory palaces: Picture this—mentally strolling through a familiar space, like your cozy home, and attaching information to different spots. It’s like turning your house into a mental treasure map!
  • Multisensory learning: It’s party time for your senses! Engage sight, touch, smell, taste—all the senses—while learning.
  • Contextual embedding: Connect new information to what you already know. It’s like building bridges between your existing knowledge and the new stuff. 
  • Chunking and storytelling: Instead of drowning in information overload, let’s create some order. Group related information together into little narrative chunks.
  • Association with emotion: Attach emotions, humor, or personal anecdotes to the information. Emotion + information = memory magic!
  • Check out memory apps: If you’re into the digital world, there are apps like NeuroNation, MemoryOS, and Focus that can give your memory a boost. It’s like having a little memory coach right in your pocket. Handy, right?

And these are only the beginning of ways to improve your memory!

Improve Your Learning Skills and Study Techniques

As much as I wish we could just ignore the areas that aren’t interesting or simple for our brains (I’m looking at you, physics equations), sometimes we need to have a strategy for being able to learn and study. 

Take the time to discover whether you’re a visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or combo learner. It’s like finding out your secret learning superpower.

You can start by relying on proven study techniques: 

  • Quizzing yourself on the material
  • Putting info in your own words
  • Creating concept maps or diagrams

Goal setting and study habits

  • Minimize distractions
  • Take short breaks every 20-30 minutes
  • Set specific study goals
  • Create a schedule that keeps you accountable
  • Create a study environment that’s so cozy and inviting, you won’t want to leave. 
  • Learn to make SMART Goals: 5 Tips for Successful Goal Setting

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Give your brain a breather

Every hour, take a pause, stretch those limbs, and, hey, maybe even do a little dance to shake off that study stress—you deserve it! It’s allowing your brain to recharge, so when you dive back in, you’re ready to conquer anything that comes your way. 

My study time in college was once interrupted by a group of 20 people bursting into the room with iPods and headphones, dancing like maniacs in complete silence. It was one of the most memorable study sessions of my career and quite mentally refreshing.

Practice being consistently creative

Pablo Picasso was alive for 33,380 days. In that time, he published 26,075 works of art, which means he averaged more than one every day of his life from age 20 until his death at 91. Were they all masterpieces? Certainly not, but some of them were! 

Paint, write, dance, sing— – whatever makes your soul sing. Create like no one’s watching!

Those who regularly pursue creative endeavors and are trained to think creatively in solving problems are more likely to increase efficiency and promote a growth mindset. 

But What About That IQ Test I Took? 

Okay, let’s talk about IQ or Intelligence Quotient tests.First things first, IQ tests are all about cognitive abilities. They’re like a sneak peek into the inner workings of our brains. These tests throw a bunch of tasks and questions at us, measuring different cognitive domains like verbal reasoning, logical reasoning, math skills, spatial awareness, and problem-solving abilities. 

Basically, they want to see how well we can flex our thinking muscles.

But here’s the thing: IQ tests have a really narrow focus. They zoom in on certain cognitive abilities at the expense of others. So, if you’re a creative genius or a master of emotional intelligence, IQ tests might not fully capture your brilliance. 

They often neglect important stuff like creativity, social skills, practical abilities, and emotional smarts—which are all valuable in their own right.

Some IQ tests are designed and normed on specific populations, which means they might favor people from certain cultural backgrounds. They might include language, content, or contexts that are familiar to some groups but not others. So, folks from different cultures might not get a fair shake, and that can lead to inaccurate assessments of their intelligence.

But wait, there’s more. Your test-taking skills can heavily influence your IQ test performance. Yep, your ability to navigate the test format, manage your time, and keep your cool can play a big role. 

So, even if you’re an absolute genius in the real world, those nerves, time pressure, and unfamiliar test situations might trip you up. It’s like trying to play a piano concerto when you’ve only ever touched a recorder. Not fair, right?

So take IQ tests with a pinch of salt. They offer a snapshot of certain cognitive abilities, but they definitely don’t define your worth or encapsulate all the amazing things your brain can do. 

Is Intelligence Fixed? (Fluid vs. Crystallized Intelligence)

Have you ever heard someone say that being smart is just a matter of being born that way? Like intelligence is just set in stone, and there’s nothing you can do to change it? Well, it turns out that’s not entirely true!

Psychologists have identified two types of intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. 

Fluid intelligence is all about solving problems that you’ve never seen before, thinking abstractly, and adapting to new situations. It’s largely driven by genetics and might decline as you get older. 

Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, is all about knowledge and skills you’ve acquired through education and experience and can keep on growing and developing throughout your whole life.

So, what does this mean? It means that your brain is way more adaptable than you might think! 

Research has shown that neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change and reorganize itself, allows intelligence to be shaped and developed through learning, experiences, and environmental stimuli. This means that the more you challenge yourself, try new things, and learn, the more you can grow your intelligence.

There’s also the idea of having a “growth mindset,” introduced by psychologist Carol Dweck. A growth mindset believes that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, practice, and learning. It encourages you to embrace challenges, keep going even when things get tough, and seek opportunities for growth.

Of course, environmental factors play a huge role in all of this, too—access to education, opportunities for intellectual stimulation, and supportive learning environments can all significantly impact your intellectual development. So, it might not be as simple as just “being born smart”, but intelligence can be developed and enhanced with the right approach. 

3 Healthy Lifestyle Tips for a Smarter Life 

It’s well known that your physical and mental states are intricately interconnected. Think of the last time you tried to write a report late at night or remember an appointment when you were stressed. Intelligence, the ability to effectively problem solve, learn, and grow intellectually, is highly dependent on the health of your physical body. 


Nutrition is how food nourishes the body and provides the essential nutrients necessary for growth, development, and overall well-being, and it plays a role in many parts of mental ability. A study showed that children who were regularly given fast food meals actually grow up to have a lower IQ. 

  • Brain Development: Proper nutrition during childhood and adolescence supports brain growth and cognitive functioning. Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and proteins are the building blocks for a healthy brain.
  • Cognitive Performance: Balanced diets boost attention, memory, processing speed, and problem-solving abilities. On the flip side, deficiencies in iron, iodine, or other nutrients can hinder cognitive function.
  • Learning and Memory: Nutrients like choline, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants improve learning and memory. Eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods is key here.
  • Mood and Mental Health: A healthy diet reduces the risk of mental health disorders and supports positive mood and emotional stability, which ultimately aids in intellectual performance. Good news: this is where science supports eating chocolate!
  • Long-Term Brain Health: Antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins contribute to long-term brain health and may lower the risk of cognitive decline.

Improving nutrition is highly dependant on your individual circumstances and goals, but generally, you might consider trying to: 

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Control portions
  • Limit processed food
  • Drink plenty of water


Likewise, exercise is an important part of mental fitness and therefore, intellectual ability. 

Exercise can affect: 

  • Cognitive Function: Regular exercise improves attention, memory, processing speed, and problem-solving skills by boosting blood flow and delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
  • Brain Structure and Connectivity: Exercise positively affects brain structure and connectivity, promoting neuroplasticity and enhancing learning and memory.
  • Neurotransmitter Regulation: Exercise influences the production and release of neurotransmitters responsible for mood, cognition, and neuroplasticity, leading to improved cognitive functioning.
  • Executive Functions: Exercise enhances higher-level cognitive processes, such as planning, decision-making, and self-control, which in turn improves cognitive flexibility and overall performance.

The best type of exercise is the kind you enjoy doing. If you’re looking for simple ways to get started exercising, consider these: 

  • Like video games? Buy a workout game like Ringfit or Just Dance
  • Love water? Sign up for an aqua Zumba or water aerobics class
  • Need to get out some wiggles? Find a trampoline to jump on. 
  1. Sleep

Not going to lie—I really like my sleep! And as it turns out, research is pretty clear that lack of sleep can seriously affect not only your health, but also your intelligence!

  • Problem-Solving: Well-rested brains are better equipped for learning and problem-solving, while sleep deprivation impairs attention and cognitive flexibility. In one study, participants were trained to solve a long, tedious math problem, given an 8 hour break, and then brought back in. Those who slept during the break were more than twice as likely to solve the problem in a simpler way. 
  • Memory Consolidation: Sleep helps transfer information from short-term to long-term memory, solidifying learning and improving retention.
  • Cognitive Performance: Quality sleep boosts attention, reaction time, decision-making, and creative thinking, leading to enhanced cognitive abilities.
  • Information Processing: During sleep, the brain processes information and makes connections, facilitating insight and creative problem-solving.

So, if you’re trying to decide how to up your sleep game, try these ideas: 

  • Cool down your room to between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Keep it dark by using blackout curtains to block artificial light from outside. 
  • Unplug by keeping technology out of your bedroom and avoiding screen time 30 minutes before bed. This helps your body power down and produce melatonin naturally. 
  • Try sleep restriction therapy to align your sleep schedule with your actual sleep needs.
  • Practice mindful breathing and progressive muscle relaxation techniques to relax the body and mind.
  • Test out different sleep positions 
  • Use an external brain dump by writing down any thoughts or worries before bed.


Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment or distraction. It’s particularly important for improving emotional intelligence. It can affect many aspects of your mental capacity, including: 

  • Attention and Focus: Mindfulness helps individuals concentrate on tasks and filter out distractions.
  • Cognitive Flexibility: Practicing mindfulness develops cognitive flexibility, enabling open-mindedness, consideration of different perspectives, and creative solutions.
  • Working Memory:  Mindfulness training has been associated with improvements in working memory, which is the ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind, which allows for better cognitive processing, problem-solving, and comprehension of complex information.
  • Emotional Regulation: Mindfulness cultivates awareness and acceptance of emotions, leading to better self-control, reduced stress, and improved decision-making.
  • Stress Reduction: Mindfulness reduces stress, allowing for clearer thinking, more efficient information processing, and better intellectual performance.

And how you ask, can you try mindfulness right now? Try one of these: 

  • Spend 10 minutes cloud gazing
  • Find a guided meditation app or YouTube video
  • Practice mindful eating at your next meal by slowing down and chewing each bite thoroughly. 
  • If you’re feeling anxious, try journaling or using an app like Unstuck

For more ideas, take a look at 30 Mindfulness Activities To Keep Your Mind Calm (At Any Age)

Wise Up On Being Smart 

While it may feel like intelligence is something you have or you don’t, hopefully, you’re beginning to see all the ways that “being smart” can depend as much on your experiences and attitude as it does on your genes. Let’s review: 

  • Intelligence is not limited to traditional measures like IQ; it encompasses problem-solving skills, critical thinking, adaptability, creativity, communication, and emotional intelligence.
  • Intelligence is not fixed; it can be developed and enhanced over time through continuous learning, embracing a growth mindset, and engaging in various intellectual pursuits.
  • Strategies for expanding knowledge and maintaining a curious mindset include exploring diverse topics, subscribing to educational resources, attending seminars or workshops, participating in online courses, and joining book clubs.
  • Creative pursuits are essential for intelligence as they enhance problem-solving skills, cognitive flexibility, imagination, communication, and self-expression.
  • Nutrition, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness all play important roles in supporting cognitive function, brain health, and emotional well-being, thus contributing to intelligence.
  • You can learn to improve intelligence by engaging in critical thinking exercises, thinking outside the box, practicing memory techniques, improving learning and study skills, and pursuing creative endeavors.

Embrace your own unique brand of intelligence, challenge yourself to grow, and explore the world of knowledge and creativity with an open and curious mind. Keep learning, think critically, and dare to think outside the box. The journey to enhancing your intelligence is a lifelong adventure, and you have the power to shape your own intellectual growth. 

Ready for more ideas? Check out 15 Effective Ways You Can Learn How to Learn!

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