One of the main differences you’ll come across in people is between those who think for themselves and those who follow the crowd.
The former will often have unique perspectives on a plethora of topics, while the latter generally parrot what everyone else says.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that independent thinkers do that set them apart. You might notice some of these traits in yourself and your friends.
Alternatively, you may decide that you’d like to cultivate some of these habits as you move forward.
1. They question everything.
This is probably the key trait of independent thinkers. Rather than merely accepting things that they’re told, they do their own research to determine what they think and feel about something.
They certainly don’t trust blindly. They know that trust – like respect – needs to be earned, and those who tell others that they’re trustworthy rarely are.
They’ll seek out different perspectives on subjects rather than being emotionally led by other people’s opinions. By doing so, they get a better sense of the whole picture and can determine their own perspectives.
2. They withhold judgment until all the facts are in.
They don’t allow others to influence what they think and feel, and won’t make a judgment call on any subject until they’ve really immersed themselves in the subject matter at hand.
For example, many really do hold to the adage that a person is innocent until proven guilty. They want ALL the facts about a person or situation before they make up their minds about what happened and why. They ask, and ask more, instead of assuming. And then they’ll do even more research so they have a solid, whole picture on which to base their decisions.
3. They’re curious and love to learn.
This isn’t restricted to book learning or formal education. Many (if not most) independent thinkers have pretty wide-ranging skill sets that match their diverse interests.
For example, it wouldn’t be unusual to discover that your computer engineer friend can also brew his own beer, is an adept stonemason, speaks 7 languages, plays classical violin, and does parkour on weekends.
When a new subject piques their interest, they’ll dive in and devour as much information about it as they can. They might take up several hobbies at once, and even try interweaving them to see whether they work together as a whole.
4. They’re cautious of labels and sweeping assumptions.
Most of us have at least one relative or acquaintance who’s quick to label others.
Not the critical thinker, though. Rather than taking it on someone else’s authority that an unruly child has ADHD, or that a mutual friend is a narcissist, they’ll analyze the situation themselves.
This ties in with their love of learning. They prefer to study subjects and situations from many different perspectives – to do otherwise would be to do an immense disservice to the subject at hand. How can they possibly make up their minds about something if they don’t analyze every aspect of it for a full picture?
As a result, they often feel deeply into a situation before even thinking about slapping a label on anything.
5. They mistrust and dislike aggressive authority.
If you’ve studied history at all, you’ve probably noticed that fascist and totalitarian regimes have done their best to eliminate independent thinkers as quickly as possible.
Scientists and journalists tend to be the first ones to be disposed of, as they’re the ones who investigate topics intently and then share their findings with others.
As a result, independent thinkers have a natural mistrust and dislike of those who seek to tell others not to think for themselves, but to just listen and do what they’re told.
6. They welcome discussion and debate, rather than feeling “attacked.”
Rather than thinking that someone who disagrees with them hates them, they’re open to (even enthusiastic about) discussion and debate. How boring would life be if everyone thought and felt the same about every topic?
Whether the subject is religion/spirituality, politics, health, current events, or entertainment, they appreciate other people’s thoughts and opinions.
By discussing these ideas with those who think differently, they can widen their own perspectives and learn more about others in the process.
7. They enjoy long periods of undisturbed stillness and silence.
People can’t think clearly if they’re constantly interrupted. While some people can’t stand to be alone and/or need to have a radio or television blaring at all times because they can’t abide silence, independent thinkers need A LOT of alone time.
They’ll often be found sitting by themselves, whether outside in nature or in a quiet place at home. Sometimes they’ll stare off into space, or they’ll be jotting notes into a journal.
This type of alone time is vital for them to be able to process information and determine how it is they think and feel about a subject. Solitude is a fantastic tool for deep and serious thought.
8. They prefer to listen and observe than take part in idle gossip.
In any social setting, there will be people who do a lot of talking, and those who prefer to listen and observe.
Rather than blathering on about whatever it is that they’re thinking or feeling, independent thinkers tend to people-watch and listen. They don’t spread gossip, but rather absorb what’s going on around them, analyzing all the while.
9. They are self-educated across numerous subjects.
The free thinkers you come across may not have university degrees, but they’re likely very well self-educated (autodidactic) across a wide range of topics and skills.
They like to research all sorts of subjects, getting their information from everyone and everywhere. Then they’ll cross-correspond all the data to determine what seems to be true across the board.
10. They engage in introspection and self-analysis.
While many other people just go through life doing what they do, independent thinkers seek to understand where their own preferences and behaviors stem from.
As an example, they’ll take the time to really scrutinize certain reactions and triggers to find out why they react the way they do. This way, by understanding the source(s) of their reactions, they can choose to behave differently in the future.
They’ll keep doing so as they move through life so they can really understand themselves, as well as others. By doing so, they know the reasons for every desire and aversion, so they don’t merely behave blindly or react without awareness.
11. They are voracious readers.
If you ask a random group of people what they’re reading and only one of them has a book (or nine) on the go, that’ll be the independent thinker of the group.
That doesn’t mean that indie thinkers don’t love to binge-watch their favorite Netflix shows. It just means that they’re probably also reading a few different books on the side too.
You may also discover that these voracious readers tend to dive into different genres too. For example, they might be reading one fiction book, but also several non-fiction pieces on history, philosophy, science/nature, etc.
12. They are well travelled.
The independent thinkers who can afford to do so are often very well travelled. Many have visited several countries and spent a substantial amount of time in other cultures. As a result, they’re aware of subtle differences in cultural norms, which gives them a wider perspective of the world around them.
By learning about other people and their cultures firsthand, they don’t have to rely on relayed information via other people’s stories or writings to educate them. To learn about another people’s culture in a book is great, but to actually spend time among said people is an entirely different experience.
13. They dress how they like, rather than follow trends.
You may have noticed that some of the people around you have unique or alternative clothing styles. In fact, some of their aesthetic preferences may carry forward to their home decor or vehicle choices. Think of Dita Von Teese’s vintage style and how it permeates every aspect of her life, as an example.
They don’t really care whether others approve of their choices, and make decisions based on what they love.
14. They live life on their own terms.
Much like the trait mentioned above, individual thinkers will often have lifestyles outside of what others would consider to be “normal.”
Maybe they live in a yurt as part of an off-grid mountain community, or they’re part of an urban arts collective that shares all possessions. They might be nomads, working from cafes and beaches as they travel, or have old-fashioned careers like being a blacksmith, potter, or farrier.
They don’t feel pressured to fit in with the rest of society, because they never will.
15. They see life’s true treasures.
If you ask 100 people from countries around the world what they consider to be most valuable, you’ll probably get a wide range of answers. Some might place a great deal of importance on material goods and wealth, but a precious few will have a much simpler perspective.
Most independent thinkers place great value on things like knowledge, clean water, healthy food, and personal freedom. They have great compassion for others and often do work (either paid or volunteer) in service to the Greater Good.
16. They don’t play the victim.
A common trend in our modern era is for people to play the victim to excuse poor behaviors, and to manipulate situations to get their own way. Furthermore, many try to out-victim one another to get pity and attention from others.
Most independent thinkers have little use for this kind of self-pity. They either take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions, or see periods of misfortune as learning opportunities. Crappy situations happen, but there’s always a way to turn them around.
17. They are social chameleons who keep themselves to themselves (at first).
Many independent thinkers learned very early on that they couldn’t be their true selves with most others around them. As a result, they learned how to be social chameleons. This means that they mask and mirror behaviors in order to adapt to their surroundings.
Instead of expressing how they think and feel, they keep their true thoughts to themselves in order to avoid conflict. Many people get overtly hostile when someone dares to openly think differently from them.
Independent thinkers will open up to others honestly once they feel that they can really be themselves around them.
18. They prefer the company of animals over humans.
Since most independent thinkers treasure their alone time, they can get irritated and even resentful when other people make constant demands on their time and attention.
Some may choose to stay single so they’re not interrupted by partners, and still more choose not to have children for the same reason.
More often than not, these free thinkers will prefer to spend time with animals rather than humans. Some might have several cats, dogs, or rabbits as companions, while others prefer to befriend wild animals rather than keeping other beings as pets.
These animal companions are non-intrusive, non-judgmental, and are perfectly content to hang out while their person studies or writes.
You may also like:
- 10 Traits Of A Deep Thinker
- 15 Characteristics Of Open-Minded People
- 22 things curious people always do (but never talk about)
- Wisdom vs. Intelligence: What’s The Difference?
- What Is A Free Spirit: 5 Traits That Define This Personality
- The Ultimate Guide To Critical Thinking