13 rare traits that separate highly intelligent people from the rest (Genius alert!)

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Intelligence can take many different forms, all of which are equally valid and valuable.

Someone who is highly intelligent might be particularly understanding, creative, logical, self-aware, or good at solving problems.

They might be all of that rolled into one, or they might have particular strengths. 

Traditionally, however, the word intelligence is associated with someone who is quick to learn, to take in new information and put that information to use.

In general, in western societies we associate the concept of intelligence with those who are book smart, those who excel at academics and know how to write a good essay or do well at exams.

Highly intelligent people can do very well in life, no matter what kind of background they come from.

This kind of intelligence is sometimes very obvious from the first time you first meet someone, but that’s not always the case.

Read on for some of the traits that someone who’s exceptionally intelligent in the traditional sense of the word might have.

Knowing these will help you spot them if you come across them, and better understand how they see the world and operate.

Who knows, you might even identify with a few or lots of some of these traits yourself.

1. They know they don’t know it all.

One of the clearest signs that someone isn’t that intelligent is when they’re under the impression they’ve got everything totally sussed.

Someone who is actually intelligent accepts that they will always have more to learn, and that they won’t always be right.

They might, in general, have more of the answers than most people. But they won’t feel the need to show off about it, as their recognition of the gaps in their own knowledge keeps them humble and means they keep their own abilities in perspective.

If they don’t know something, they’ll be the first to admit it, are rarely found bragging about their achievements and tend to underestimate their own abilities and capabilities.

They can rarely be accused of being overconfident and can, sometimes, undersell themselves or not do themselves justice.

2. They’re disorganized.

young woman laying on a pile of messy clothes
The highly intelligent aren’t immune to disorganization.

It’s a mistake to think that just because someone’s highly intelligent that they will necessarily be well organized.

They may well be a bit of a disaster when it comes to keeping things tidy or organizing their time. Maybe their bedroom or study is a mess, or they always seem to be jumping between tasks, rather than working logically.

No one is entirely sure why disorganization and intelligence so often go hand in hand, but a highly intelligent person might tell you that it’s because they’ve got too much to think about to worry about keeping things tidy.

There’s also a theory that disorganized spaces can help with creativity, which can be the key to coming up with new, innovative ideas.

Constraints on time can also feel limiting, so intelligent people might prefer to keep their schedule open rather than allotting set time slots for different tasks.  

3. They learn from their mistakes and move on.

Highly intelligent people tend to understand that they will always make mistakes, but there’s no point in dwelling on them.

They will analyze the mistakes they make, consider what they can learn from them, and put them behind them, not allowing them to hold them back.

4. They know how to adapt.

The more intelligent amongst us know that to succeed in life you have to be flexible and adaptable. Being stubbornly set in your ways can mean you find it hard to rise to new challenges.

Those that are very intelligent tend to do well in any situation, whether it’s a new living environment or work environment.

Rather than complaining about changes, they think about how they can best adapt to the new scenario.  

5. They’re always curious.

woman reading a large book in a library
Curiosity is one of the key traits of intelligence.

Some of the greatest discoveries in our history have been the result of people who are just so curious that they flatly refuse to give up. They always want to know the answers.

They’re fascinated with details that other people might think are pretty insignificant.

They tend to be more open to new experiences and willing to try new things.

Curious children have been found to grow up to be more intelligent than those who didn’t question the world around them when they were young.

6. They see life as one long lesson.

The highly intelligent realize that learning definitely doesn’t end once you’ve graduated. The classroom is only the beginning.

They know that life is one long learning experience, and they love absorbing as much information as possible, at all times. 

7. They’re open-minded.

The fact that smart people realize they don’t know everything tends to mean they never close themselves off to new ideas and are always willing to learn from others.

Their beliefs are in-flux, not set in stone, and they will listen to other people’s opinions and arguments.

Often, you might find them sitting on the fence on a particular topic until they’re presented with enough evidence to come to a conclusion.

They won’t just accept things they’re told but will go to extra mile and do the research before they accept something to be true.

And, they probably won’t be afraid to disagree with other people’s points of view and point out the gaps in their theories.

They tend to be more accepting of people who are different from them, whether that’s because of race, sexual identity, or anything else that sets us human beings apart.

8. They’re funny.

woman making funny face while kissing the camera lense
Intelligence is often associated with quick wit and humor.

Intelligent people aren’t always the ones that gather a laughing audience around them at a party, but they’re funny in their own way.

They’re the ones that can come up with wry, insightful remarks that will always make you laugh at the drop of a hat.

They also tend to appreciate dark or complex humor, rather than simplistic or slapstick comedy.

9. They have self-control.

The highly intelligent tend to struggle less with self-control than many of us do. 

After all, if someone is highly intelligent, they won’t just know a lot, they’ll be able to apply that knowledge.

We all know that toxic relationships, certain foods, drugs, and all kinds of other things are bad for us.

But the more intelligent will avoid the behavior that they know will do them damage, whereas the less intelligent might not be able to resist the short-term gratification.

10. They’re okay with their own company.

woman sitting under a tree looking at her tablet computer
A bit of solitude is something most highly intelligent people need.

Smart people can sometimes be less preoccupied with spending time socializing with others.

That’s not to say they’re anti-social, they just don’t mind being on their own, and it’s often when they’re alone that they have the space to let their thoughts run wild.

In fact, they often crave that alone-time to be able to process those thoughts and hatch new ideas.

They’re happy to take long walks alone, see a movie alone, or dine alone without worrying about being judged. They generally believe that they’re far better alone than in poor company. 

11. They take calculated risks.

If someone is exceptionally intelligent, then they’re more likely to be willing to take risks, but less likely to have those risks backfire.

You won’t see them staking all their money on a risky new venture, but they also won’t just accept the status quo to avoid taking a risk.  

They’ll take their time to assess whether the risk is really worth it, and although they might still come a cropper, they’ll get where they want to go in the end.

12. They don’t believe in luck.

Those that are intelligent understand how the world works.

They accept that privilege has a lot to do with how our lives unfold and can give certain people a huge leg up, but they also recognize that those who appear to be lucky have probably worked hard, planned well, and been open to new things.

They believe that by putting themselves out there and taking risks they create their own luck.   

13. They procrastinate.

woman procrastinating
Sometimes intelligent people struggle to get started.

Procrastination isn’t always a sign of intelligence as some people are just unmotivated.

But contrary to what you might think, those who are highly intelligent can often be very guilty of procrastination.

Sometimes it’s because they know they work better under pressure when a deadline is fast approaching. Sometimes it’s because they just can’t bring themselves to engage with a task they don’t find stimulating.   

Procrastination isn’t always a waste of time. It’s often time spent mulling over ideas and connecting the dots.

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About The Author

Katie is a writer and translator with a focus on travel, self-care and sustainability. She's based between a cave house in Granada, Spain, and the coast of beautiful Cornwall, England. She spends her free time hiking, exploring, eating vegan tapas and volunteering for a local dog shelter.