Outliers have a tendency to give the masses the wrong ideas.

When we hear stories about a seven year old who can speak 14 different languages, or see a video of someone with a photographic memory repeating back every single person's name in a fifty person auditorium, we sit back in awe.

"How can they do that?" we say, our jaws on the ground.

We begin to think that high levels of intelligence are more the result of nature, rather than nurture.

But that's just not the case.

The truth is, we are all blank slates when we arrive here on earth. Sure, we inherit a few things from our predecessors, but ultimately our futures depend on our work ethic. There are plenty of brilliant people in the world who never amount to much, solely because they lacked the desire to refine their inherent talents and intelligence.

And, on the other side of the spectrum, there are plenty of people who had the odds stacked against them and went on to do brilliant things.

People aren't born smart. People learn how to work with what they've got, and become smart as a result.

How?

1. Smart people read (a lot)

Sure, it's discouraging when you come across someone who can practically download books into their brain and remember every single piece of information. But that's far from the common standard.

For most people, reading has to be a practice and a habit.

Reading is a skill just like any other, and we forget that. Go too long without reading and stretching your brain, and you'll find the task to be incredibly difficult--especially when it comes time to recall what you've read.

Smart people practice reading often. And just like anything else, with practice they get better and better over time.

2. Smart people hang around other smart people.

Most people hang around other people just like them.

This can be both a good thing (when done intentionally) and a bad thing (when the result has a negative impact).

If you want to become smarter, you have to spend time around people smarter than yourself. One of my favorite quotes is, "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room."

When you spend time with smart people, their drive, their knowledge, their awareness inherently rubs off on you. It raises the standard you hold for yourself. It stretches your brain in ways you can't get elsewhere. And it makes you question, "Hey, if they know all that stuff, why can't I?"

Smart people hang around other smart people.

"You are the reflection of the five people you spend the most time with."

3. Smart people love making mistakes.

People who understand how true intelligence is cultivated also understand that "mistakes" don't really exist.

Every misstep is an opportunity to learn a lesson, improve, and move forward.

Which means, part of becoming "smart" is shifting your mentality away from fearing mistakes and instead embracing them.

Why?

Because they show you what you need to learn next, refine, and improve upon in order to reach the next level. That's all the growth process really is.

Smart people know this, and are very trusting of the process.

4. Smart people see value in all types of knowledge.

Dumb people are the ones who say, "Oh, that's not relevant to me. I don't need to know that."

Smart people are the ones who say, "That's interesting. I didn't know that. Tell me more."

Knowledge, in itself, is subjective. It's relative to your pursuits, your goals, your ambitions, and your current projects.

However, that's not to say that some knowledge is worth knowing and some knowledge isn't. No, there aren't enough hours in the day to know everything, but should you find yourself in a conversation about a foreign topic, why shut it out?

Smart people embrace these random moments of learning, and see them as opportunities to expand who they are and their awareness of the world.

5. Smart people work (very, very) hard.

Whoever thinks becoming "smart" is a cake walk has never traveled the path.

Learning and improving should be fun, and you should enjoy what it is you're sinking your teeth into. But at the same time, it would be naive to think the process was always rainbows and roses.

The truth is, it's hard work to dig into your craft and really learn it inside and out.

Smart people don't shy away from this sort of discipline. What they do is they create a life and a schedule that encourages it, forcing themselves to get done what they need to get done in order to remain in a constant state of growth.

This is the key to improvement, and to intelligence in general.

It doesn't just "happen."

It takes hard work.