What makes someone intelligent?
Is it the ability to recall facts? Being an expert test-taker? Reading two hundred books a year?
Honestly, true intelligence requires a holistic approach. The smartest people are experts at navigating life through learned experiences. They have good judgment in different situations. And, most importantly, intelligent people understand actions speak louder than words.
They don’t need to prove anything by telling us how smart they are.
Their intelligence is displayed by solving problems with abstract thinking, listening before speaking, learning new skills, and being emotionally self-aware.
Fortunately, intelligence is often the result of your willingness to evolve — not just environmental factors. Improving your capacity to think clearly is a skill anyone can embrace. It doesn’t have to be drastic improvements.
Sometimes the smallest shifts mold the smartest people.
Here are nine subtle ways to demonstrate your intelligence without having to say anything.
1. Be patient
Psychologists have shown that individuals who perform highly on cognitive tests are more likely to behave patiently.
Patience is often displayed by keen observers, active listeners, and those who are living in the present moment. There’s a reason why the wisest characters in pop culture are always humbling impatient students with poise and silence.
To upgrade your patience, be mindful of the triggers commonly making you feel impatient and work to acknowledge them as they happen.
Remember the old saying: Good things come to those who wait.
2. Dress for the occasion
A former peer once advised me to wear all black to business meetings in Washington, D.C.
“Everyone here wears suits,” she said. “When I show up in all black, they always say ‘wow, she must be creative!’”
It’s a simple but important truth: Often, appearance is the first judgment someone makes about you. What story do you want your clothes to tell?
Take a moment to prepare yourself before heading out. Know what the expectations are and don’t feel pressured to overdress.
3. Make eye contact
Eye contact says a lot about a person. It displays confidence and engagement with the speaker.
Like author Sam Owen brilliantly said, “Confidence is not posting endless selfies, or repeatedly protesting how happy or in love we are, it’s a subtle yet noticeable sheen that emanates from our being — our eyes, our words, our body language.”
Tiny habits like eye contact symbolize power and subconsciously influence our decision-making. Research even shows people who make eye contact are consistently rated as more likable than those who don’t.
Next time you enter a room, think about body language and your non-verbal cues. Even if you don’t mean it, unengaged eyes shed a negative light on the message your conveying.
4. Show up on time
Timeliness is a reflection of your values. If you can’t show up on time, how can you be reliable?
On my first day of work as an intern out of college, my boss showed up three hours late because she forgot I was coming in. On day two, she didn’t forget. Still, she showed up forty-five minutes late anyway.
I quit three weeks later.
An early arrival proves you respect the person you’re meeting. You will also have a few minutes to collect your thoughts, calm your mind, and prepare.
5. Actively listen
One of my favorite quotes is from Stephen R. Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Most people assume they‘re above average listeners simply by being present.
But that’s not how effective listening works; there is a big difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.
True listeners are observant. They look you in the eyes, ask sincere questions, and think about what you are saying before responding.
Intelligent people demonstrate a high degree of social and self-awareness because they are masterful listeners.
To become a better listener, try to be curious, not just polite when engaging in conversation. Humans have a tendency to go through the motions in conversations. Be different — listen to someone with the intent to learn.
6. Build quality relationships
Your inner circle defines you.
As Darren Hardy writes in The Compound Effect: “According to research by social psychologist Dr. David McClelland of Harvard, [the people you habitually associate with] determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life.”
In simpler words: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you really want to become a more intelligent, well-rounded human, hang around those who make you better.
Smart people interact with other smart people.
7. Spend money with a purpose
How you spend your money can signal aspects of your personality, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Seek to be a savvy saver and knowledgeable investor. As Warren Buffet wrote in The Intelligent Investor, “To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What’s needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from eroding that framework.”
Having a baseline understanding of economics and the fundamentals of the stock market will carry over into other aspects of life. Investing requires you to stop, think, and process different scenarios in real-time, all of which are essential in critical thinking.
8. Proactively take notes
I was talking to my girlfriend the other day about the most significant changes she’s made since starting her job two years ago.
The answer surprised me.
Without hesitating, she said, “note-taking.”
Note-taking proves you’re actively learning. Just the process of recording handwritten notes increases the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. Clever note-takers also develop their own systems to improve efficiency, helping them better understand how their brain records and remembers information.
As my girlfriend explained, she used to be a “rambling” note-taker, evolving into someone who priorities headlines and key takeaways. There are plenty of studies proving note-taking helps you achieve goals, remember ideas, and become a better reader.
9. Reflect your values on social media
As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Well, social media has become the ultimate reflection of self — and a way to prepare for people you’ve never met in person. Smart people are disciplined and understand how powerful social media is in our culture.
Get a professional headshot.
Keep your accounts clean.
Reflect your authentic personality.
Use social media platforms as the ultimate growth tool for your professional career and personal life.
You are what you repeatedly do.
If this list proves anything, it’s that intelligence is a result of your daily habits.
Sure, environmental factors play a tiny role in where you start. But most intelligence is earned through a lifetime of learning and improving. There’s a direct correlation between intelligent people and work ethic. They’re also active listeners, readers, writers, and problem solvers.
Start by working on smaller, day to day shifts. Before long you’ll start to notice incredible improvements in your thinking capacity, creativity, reasoning, planning, and emotional intelligence.
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This article originally appeared in Medium.