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Intellectual Development

Many people have the wrong idea about the word smart, mistakenly believing that smart is something you are. You hear this in conversations all the time. “She’s really smart.” “I’m not very smart.” “He’s great at public speaking.” “I can’t understand chemistry.”

It’s as if people were talking about some immutable aspect of being, like height, eye color, or handedness, things that you can’t really change about yourself. You are tall. My eyes are brown. You are left-handed.

But smart is something different. Smart isn’t something you are as much as it is something you do. This isn’t to say that there aren’t genetic predispositions that make some things easier or harder for individuals. There certainly are. But whether people are able to accomplish goals as learners is not primarily a function of those predispositions, but a function of what people do.

The upside of this fact is that you can actually choose to do smart things. The fields of psychology and neuroscience have revealed a great deal about just what those smart things are—and what they’re not. Yet many learners fail to do smart things and continue doing things that are known to be unproductive or even counterproductive.

It’s almost never the case that students who consistently do smart things end up dissatisfied with their accomplishments in school. What leads to less-than-satisfactory performance on exams, homework, papers, and projects is behaving in ways that are clearly ineffective in getting you what you want.

An Example of a Lil’ Push

  • When you’re introduced to a new idea in class, try to explain the idea to a friend or family member who may be unfamiliar with the idea. Encourage friends to ask you questions to clarify what you mean.