How to Be Smart In an Ever-Evolving World – 8 Contrarian Pieces of Advice
Can I be profoundly honest with you for a moment?
You know how you have been struggling with your life? You read tons of self-improvement books and articles and still didn’t see any major improvements in your reality?
Well, it’s not because the authors didn’t use the right language to express their views. Nor was it because they lacked the required scientific evidence to support their claims.
It’s because of one, unquestionable, and undeniable reason.
It’s because we have reached a point, as humankind, where the world around us moves faster than we can handle.
We read and we learn and we watch and we consume, yet complexity becomes so overwhelming that we see minimal improvements in the way we experience reality.
In such a landscape, it’s not enough to just consume knowledge and information.
You need to be smart about it.
What are “smart” people doing differently?
When I say smart I am not talking about IQ.
IQ is your ability to recognize patterns and process information fast within systems. This can be important at times, but it is not a panacea.
When you see people like Jordan Peterson or Sam Harris, it’s not just their IQ that you admire, but more like their whole personality.
Such people are considered smarter in terms of emotional, social, and existential intelligence, and here are some of the traits that help them stand out:
- They accept failure
- They accept rejection
- They embrace presence
- They accept that knowledge never ends
- They make peace with chaos
- They believe in realistic idealism
- They lead a well-structured life
How to Be Smart
Being smart is a matter of choice.
You can decide to be smart if you put in place practices and mindsets that can alleviate the burden of complexity.
Here are 9 that will prove invaluable throughout the way:
1. DO EASY
I recently stumbled upon the following video clip from Gus Van Sant.
The “Discipline of Do Easy” is one of Van Sant’s earliest works and signifies the director’s intention to propose all human activity to be done in the simplest, easiest way possible.
One of the main reasons I chose to project this idea through this short film is its ironic undertone. Our inability to be present and pay close attention to small, every-day activities that automate our lives, thus making it easier, can’t be described as anything but ironic.
“Smart” people are excellent at this. They treat small, mundane tasks as inexorable but useful events in their daily life. They never let small everyday distractions misalign them from their goals and intrude their emotional state.
They adopt habits, they adopt processes, they adopt systems.
“30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses” can help you dramatically in that respect.
2. Be Honest
Being honest is a trait that characterizes self-aware and self-confident individuals.
As Warren Buffet framed it very elegantly:
Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.
Honesty is so expensive because it is predicated on a very important truth we usually fail to identify: Honesty gives you clarity of intent.
An honest person is absolutely fine with who they are and have the ability to communicate their needs clearly and congruently.
Being honest gives you freedom of expression and allows you to form stronger connections because people can see who you really are.
Additionally, and also most importantly, being dishonest, hoping that you will avoid the consequences of the truth, or that you will not hurt someone else’s feelings, is the most questionable behavior you could adhere to.
You actually hurt people close to you when you are not honest with them and prefer to present them a “fabricated” version of you.
By being honest, you give them a choice. Whether they will make the right choice is their responsibility.
3. Start Therapy
Advancing from my last point about honesty and being able to express your needs, I want to make something clear.
You will never be able to successfully express your needs if you have no idea what these needs really are and where they come from.
And this is where therapy comes in.
Let me illustrate my point with a personal story. I was in a relationship with a girl for almost three years. She was the first girl I really felt connected with and actually decided to start a serious and committed relationship with. I have never felt this need in the past because of two reasons:
- I wasn’t ready.
- No girl ever evoked the right feelings in me in order to realize that I had the need for such an intimate relationship.
To be honest, I never knew that this need was there. I had to let myself go and become incredibly vulnerable and intimate with her in order to realize that it was there.
This was something extremely scary because I have always been a strong, self-reliant, independent character.
Being exposed to such a novelty was something groundbreaking for me.
It was so difficult to accept this new reality that I decided to start therapy, hoping that it can help me cope with it.
And it helped.
Firstly because it helped me identify the root of my need for deep intimacy, which was originating from the deep connection I developed with my parents during my early childhood. And, secondly, because it helped me realize that, in order to satisfy this need, I have to meet a person who can understand it, embrace it, and presumably share the same need.
Therapy helps you understand, to a large extent, who you really are and the reasoning behind your actions. Then it is up to you how you will use this knowledge.
It is crucial to realize that you will never understand what you want if you don’t understand first who you really are.
4. Understand That Relationships Are Hard Work
I want all these points to have a degree of continuity that can help you progress from one point to the next without getting lost in their translation.
Therefore, now I am going to reveal another important truth that most people tend to ignore.
You know how people often start relationships that usually lead to a dead-end?
This happens mainly for two reasons:
- The couple hasn’t precisely defined what they want and failed to communicate it effectively (that connects to the previous point).
- The couple fails to understand that relationships are hard work.
People think that because they somehow managed to attract and eventually seduce another person, this attraction will last forever.
Unfortunately, usually, it doesn’t.
People change, circumstances change, the world changes.
Attraction needs to be cultivated and to eventually morph into something deeper.
The reason couples lose their ability to do that pertains to one or more of the following reasons:
- They haven’t educated themselves about the biological and sociological parameters that can affect a human relationship.
- They haven’t really identified what they really want.
- They haven’t decided to embrace monogamy.
- They don’t understand social and behavioral dynamics.
- They are not comfortable with their social skills.
All these are reasons are central to the relationship equation.
You can’t expect to understand the mechanics of a relationship by instinct.
Constant dialogue and education can help relationships survive and thrive in an ever-evolving world.
5. Don’t overgeneralize
Many of us, after having experienced the magic of relationships and after having associated ourselves with different people, if we experience similar behaviors among women or men, we tend to generalize and revert to aphorisms like “all women are like that,” “all men are like that” and similar comments.
I admired specificity from an early stage in my life and now I know why. Overgeneralization can lead to confusion.
There are specific behaviors observed in all human beings, which means that every single one of us has them.
The difference is the degree. And that’s why adopting phrases like “all women are like that” and “all men are like that” is erroneous.
We are all made from the same matter, but at the same time, we are all different. We are different because of our biology, our upbringing, and our cultural background. We are also different because some of us have embraced different ways of thinking. Ways of thinking that help us live a different, more purposeful, and more examined life.
When it comes to human relationships it is wise to not generalize. Start looking for different thinking patterns and associate yourself with people who can communicate in the same patterns.
6. You Are in Control – Learn to Manage Your Relationships
You are surrounded constantly by people, which means that you need them and they need you. In this “mutual need satisfaction process,” most people fail to understand the notion of self-interest.
Self-interests sometimes align and sometimes don’t. It is important to identify how people fit into your life instead of attempting to adopt a one-size-fits-all model.
Although this categorization might be altered to accommodate your particular life scenario, most of the things you will read below can be used as a rule of thumb when managing your relationships.
1. The “Socialities”
A socialite is a person who is fond of social activities and entertainment.
These are people in your environment who can be great when it comes to social gatherings. They are usually extroverted by nature and can easily adapt to dynamic and high-energy environments. If you are an introverted character, these people can help you discover your extroverted edge and also help you create new acquaintances. If you are an extroverted character, these people can supplement you in a great way and also boost your energy and mood when you are out.
The tricky part with socialites is that you can’t be sure of you can invest in a deeper connection with them. When we meet someone within a specific context, sometimes the context is what fosters the relationship itself.
Be aware of that subtlety and don’t get discouraged if things can’t move beyond the social gatherings sphere.
2. The Partners
These are people you can build a strong emotional connection with. This connection usually comes from sharing common beliefs, values, and ideas. They can become great romantic partners, business partners, or intellectual partners and you can experience mutual benefit when it comes to emotional and intellectual activities.
The success of your relationship is predicated upon the ideas of respect, loyalty, and understanding. If these ideas are not present, a partnership can never flourish and grow. Both you and they need to be constantly aware of their presence and actively communicate it through your words and actions.
Partners can become “socialites” but it’s not always possible.
3. The Mentees
These are people who admire you a lot and believe that they can be positively influenced by your presence. We all had mentors in our lives. So, the idea of acting as a mentor is great when you are aware of the help you can provide.
From your perspective, a mentee is a person that respects you a lot and looks up to you, thus helping you boost your inner confidence. From their perspective, the interaction with you can help them solve some personal problems and also put them on the right track for further growth.
Followers can become partners at some point, depending on how well you can evaluate your relationship with them, but in order for this to be accomplished both of you need to become aware of it and move from a mentee-mentor to a partner-partner dynamic in your relationship.
Although the three categories can always overlap and are subject to further analysis, on a basic level, they are the only categorization you need.
It is always up to you how and why you will decide to manage your relationships, but, at the end of the day, the famous African proverb, “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go with others,” makes more and more sense.
7. You are an Entrepreneur
Eegardless of whether you work for someone else or not, you need to realize one thing.
All of us are entrepreneurs.
In order to illustrate my point, I will cite a part from an article on Forbes I stumbled upon recently:
“We are all born with the innate ability to survive; and survival involves innovative thinking. Think about your life. Think about the times you needed to make a decision –- a choice –- that involved doing something innovative (something you were not accustomed to doing) so that you could “move on” or adapt to a challenging situation. In our normal course of daily living, we are faced with choices.
Granted, some of these choices are more significant than others. And these are the choices that I am addressing; the choices that are out of the norm; the situations that afford us a real opportunity to change our lifestyle — our life — and adapt or destroy our normal way of approaching whatever life throws at us. When we choose to embark on a path not chartered, we are engaging in a “small act of entrepreneurship.”
Being entrepreneurial is essentially about thinking and doing something that we have not done before, in order to achieve a desirable goal or outcome. It is about assessing a situation, designing alternatives, and choosing a new way — or perhaps a combination of ways — that we hope will lead us to something better; however we happen to define “better” at that moment.”
“Smart” people do that very well. Even if they aren’t entrepreneurs in the literal meaning of the term, they think like ones.
You are selling yourself short if you do not define yourself as entrepreneur – if you choose to accept that “entrepreneurs” are the “other” people who take a chance, who think and act differently when challenges arise.
Take this chance, think differently, think innovatively.
When you think innovatively and act on that innovation, you are an entrepreneur.
8. Embrace Complexity
This article was inspired by the idea of complexity, so I thought I would conclude with some useful ideas I stumbled upon while researching complexity theory. Here are some underlying principles of complexity theory at work:
- Support the idea of self-organization of individuals, meaning that whoever you are, in order to thrive in any environment, you need to dynamically pursue the necessary skills, awareness, and sense of responsibility.
- Ensure thinking diversity, which is a key driver of innovation, and minimizes the risk of falling into the trap of “group think.” It is important for individuals to enable the understanding and appreciation of diversity necessary to achieve superior results.
- Keep moving, be agile and move slowly in order to respond to changes in the environment; this is supported by experimentation, considering failure an essential aspect of learning and letting go of an obsession with perfection.
- Think at the systems level, which is about seeking to understand the implications of our actions, our skills, role, and contribution from a wider systems perspective.
As you can see, complexity theory is a concept strongly related to personal development. Dr Bettina von Stamm, director, and catalyst of the Innovation Leadership Forum puts it very nicely:
“If you want to thrive rather than just survive (which the great market economist, Theodore Levitt called “a so-so aspiration”), understanding and embracing the principles of complexity theory can be extremely valuable, and by embracing and living by those principles you will be able to achieve what everyone is yearning for: simplicity.”
I hope that after this extremely educational rant you started feeling a bit “smarter.”
However, now comes the difficult part. The part where you decide to take action.
I will leave you with the hope that you will become “smarter” soon because we really need “smarter” people in this world (at least I do in my world) and with a quote from one of my favorite thinkers, Nassim Taleb:
“Difficulty is what wakes up the genius.”
Becoming “smart” sometimes required making dramatic changes in your life. If you don’t know where to start, “30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses” can help you dramatically in that respect.
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