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How to Become Truly Smart

We all know people who are well-educated but don’t know nuttin’. And we all know people with little formal education who are bright, brainy, maybe even brilliant. Obviously it’s not just what we learn in school that makes us smart. It’s how we live life.  

If you wish to become smarter, you don’t need to go back to school (though that’s certainly an option). But you do need to develop the ability to reflect, reframe and rejoice. What’s so special about these 3 R’s? What happened to reading, writing and arithmetic? Of course, it’s important to know those basic skills, but you can still know them and not use them. Wisdom begins with your being able to reflect, reframe and rejoice.


As you reflect on a day’s event, you don’t let your experiences wash over you, touching only the surface of your mind. Rather, you consciously think about what happened. You reflect on what you felt, what you thought, how you acted, how others acted. You search for meaning, for understanding. You seek feedback from others. You read about what intrigues you. You enlarge your perspective.  

Reflection takes time. Hence, if you reflect on every moment of the day, you will do nothing except give yourself a great big headache. Please don’t. Yet, do give yourself time to consider a concern, inquire about an idea, pay attention to politics, and call into question a supposition.

Read a worthwhile book, put your thoughts to paper, record your dreams, listen to people you admire. Feed your curiosity! Immerse yourself in an idea. Become more enlightened.


Reframing is putting a new and different interpretation on what’s happened. By doing so, you achieve a fuller understanding of what has taken place. If you don’t have the ability to reframe, it’s easy to be judgmental with others (i.e., you should have done it this way) and harsh on yourself (i.e. I was an idiot!). Instead of expanding your understanding, (i.e., “They thought of me as stupid, but then they discovered I was dyslexic!”) you’ll simply view your difficulties as failures, fumbles and fiascos. 

When you have the ability to reframe, even tragic events like death and severe illness can be seen as an opportunity to develop character and courage. Forty years ago, Candace Lightner did just that. After her 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver, she started MADD — Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This nonprofit organization has made mega progress stopping drunk driving (saving over 350,000 lives) and supporting those affected by such a tragedy (helping over 850,000 victims).


What a shame it would be if you were reflecting, reframing and not rejoicing! Though you’ve reflected, you still lament your bad breaks and what might have been. Though you’ve reframed your tragedy, you still wish it never happened. All true! And yet, you can rejoice. Rejoice in what you did have. Rejoice in what you have done. Rejoice in what you have learned. Rejoice in what went right in your life. And what shall you do with what went wrong? Situate it in the background, then devote your time and energy to painting a new foreground. Appreciating all that you do have; all that you have had.

So, dear friends, if your goal in 2020 is to become really smart, set aside quiet time to reflect on your day, with the aim of understanding something new about yourself, about others, about the world. Then, take time to reframe your triumphs and troubles, interpreting them from a new perspective. And finally, remember to rejoice about all the good things that have happened and will continue to happen in your life!


How to Become Truly Smart

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Dr. Linda Sapadin, psychologist, success coach and author is proud to announce the publication of her new book, Overcoming Your Procrastination: College Student Edition – Advice for 6 Personality Styles available on Amazon. Now more than ever with remote learning, this book is a must-have. If you’re a perfectionist, dreamer, worrier, crisis-maker, defier or please, grab your copy. No longer a student? Get my book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age – 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles. Visit to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2020). How to Become Truly Smart. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 16 Jan 2020 (Originally: 18 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 16 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.