"In a year from now, you'll wish you started today."
♖ "There is no hidden reserve of smart people who know what they're doing, anywhere. Not in government, not in science, not in tech, not at Google, nowhere. The world exists in the same glorious imperfection that it presents with." — Patrick McKenzie
Reading this handbook may be the best thing you've ever done for your intelligence.
(If you're not convinced by the end, call me a fool on Twitter.)
You likely know there's a bell curve of IQ points. Meaning, most of us have an average intelligence, and a few of us are considered either brilliant or dumb.
What you probably don't know is that as long as you're near average, having a higher IQ doesn't make you "smarter" in your everyday work or social conversations.¹ It appears to just increase the upper bound of your ability to learn and apply math.
This means the difference in capability between you and the author, speaker, or businessperson you admire isn't a result of having a lower IQ. (Their jobs don't in any way depend on math skills.) You'll prove this to yourself at the end of the guide.
So if they're not smarter, why do they perform better than us? Why do they write so well, persuade so well, repeatedly make good decisions, and think so clearly?
I believe it's because they're exceptionally good at critical thinking:
♖ In large part, critical thinking is the art of constructing a good argument.
(If you're already familiar with critical thinking, this guide will explain how to make genuine everyday use of it. This is a well-researched guide, not a rambling blog post.)
Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos are all on record attributing their success to critical thinking — not luck or gut instincts. (You'll hear from them on the next page.)
Why is that? Because constructing an argument is at the heart of all decision making, persuasion, and debate. Writing and speaking are just different mediums for communicating arguments. Everything comes down to an argument.
Yet most people can't write a persuasive email.
It's strange how little-known critical thinking is. Most of the intellectual variation across humanity seems to be the result of random chance: in part, "smarter" people merely stumbled into critical thinking before "stupid" people did. (I bet you never realized you should Google "How to be smarter" at some point in your life.)
So let's learn critical thinking. And let's make it fun. Let's watch videos of politicians making dumb arguments. Let's include audio of me practicing these skills by ripping apart friends' arguments. And let's realize half our political beliefs are flat-out wrong.
In the process, you'll witness yourself becoming a markedly better writer and speaker.
Here's important context on why I wrote this guide.
When two people have equal access to data and critical thinking skills, argumentative stalemates are less common. Sound conclusions are often obvious to both of them.
In other words, many wars, divorces, and fights could have been avoided had both parties thought critically. Critical thinking is therefore the most important social skill.
Yet, many of us have never heard of it — or don't actually understand how it works.
I believe that's because we undervalue how and why people think. We care about what people say instead. And how charming they are when they say it. In fact, we routinely rely on speaking skill and domain expertise as proxies for someone's raw intelligence.
That's naive. These learned people simply had the interest to refine these two skills.
The better you speak, the smarter you sound, and the more seriously your arguments are considered by other smart people. So although speaking well is a shallow endeavor when decoupled from critical thinking, it is a prerequisite to arguing successfully.
If you already speak and write with an authoritative voice, you can skip the primer.
To speak with authority, compress words, be concise, and eliminate utterances:
(After this section, I'll show you videos of speakers using all these techniques.)
Lastly, make sure your physical skills complement your spoken skills: maintain eye contact and good posture when speaking. It reliably helps project authority.
Even if you don't consciously implement any of this advice, just by being made aware of it, you're likely employ it to some small extent over the next week.
But if you want to take this material seriously, keep these reminders within view:
This section's advice equally applies to writing well — with three caveats:
First, below is an example of Marco Rubio (an American politician) speaking well.
Recognize that Rubio isn't necessarily smarter than you because he speaks well. He simply happened to have the desire and/or upbringing to hone his speaking skills.
If you already speak as well as Rubio, one level higher is Sam Harris (an American author). Every word Sam chooses is intentionally and accurately used:
Note that neither speaker is being pretentious. Neither is using more words than needed, nor using more sophisticated vocabulary than needed. Their primary goal is not to impress you; their goal is to accurately and clearly communicate the entirety of what's in their head so that a productive debate can ensue.
Even if you've subscribed elsewhere on this site, you must also subscribe below to be alerted when the Smarter guide comes out:
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I spend months researching topics so I can write concise, book-quality guides.
I release them online and for free because books must hit high page counts, which results in filler content that annoys readers.
Come say hello on Twitter!