Some people are born smarter than others, but not everyone who has the capacity to think well does so. Moreover, naturally intelligent people may be riddled with intellectual vice (such as sloth, misguided curiosity, etc.), a problem that tempts people at all levels of intellectual gifting. Simply having natural intelligence helps, but this is not sufficient for being a sound and wise thinker. An individual could be a gifted memorizer thus a straight-A student, and yet fail to develop a true love of learning because of hours squandered away every night surfing the internet. Being an intellectually virtuous thinker requires deliberately cultivated habits. As you behave, so you will think. The mind is plastic, not static, and our intellectual habits will shape our minds– for better or worse. Here are just a few humble suggestions for building a more robust thought-life, in no particular order.
1. Write down new words, ideas that interest you, or things other people say which strike you as interesting. Keep a note pad and pen where you can easily access them, and record these things immediately. When you get the chance, use the notepad to remind yourself of these recent thoughts, then buy a book on the subject, discuss the idea with friends, or determine to use the new word sometime that day.
2. Engage in concentration training. For instance, resolve to read for 30 minutes each day without checking Facebook, your email, or getting up for a snack. When this is no longer a problem (and, in the digital age, it will not be easy), then increase to 45 minutes, then an hour.
3. Be a good listener. You will find that shutting up and letting others do the talking will give you much to think about and will help heighten your sensitivity.
4. Spend the majority of your time around people you find to be wise and articulate. Iron sharpens iron.
5. Read as often as possible, but don’t just read anything. Spending the majority of your time in poorly written or poorly reasoned books can easily poison your sensibilities. If you have limited time to read, then stick with books you know will be edifying, such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J. Gresham Machen, Os Guinness, David Wells, etc. If you must read an inferior text, then detoxify as soon as possible with a truly excellent book.
6. Edit your words in your mind before they exit your mouth. Always speak in a manner that would not haunt you if it were transcribed.
7. If you are going to write an email, or post something on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or the like, think about it, check for errors, and gauge its appropriateness before posting. Adopt a “waiting period” policy for online posting.
8. Be suspicious of anything which purports to be a new idea. Often, it is something that has been already beaten to death and addressed by brilliant people in ages past.
9. Embrace marginalia. Read with a pen, and write down summaries, elaborations, and questions in the margin. It will help more of your reading “stick.”
10. Learn to be comfortable with silence, even when talking to other people. The best thinking and deepest conversations occur when there is room for pausing, thinking, and listening.
11. Study logic, grammar, and rhetoric. It will help you to be more persuasive, and it will also keep you from being as easily swayed by the words and antics of others.
There are so many more, but this is at least a start.