Why you’re the smartest when being alone

Why you’re the smartest when being alone

You have likely heard of this quote or many paraphrased versions of it:

“You're the average of the five people you spend most of your time with”
Jim Rohn - Businessman, Motivational Speaker

I have long agreed to this opinion, yet I underestimated the importance of it. Not until very recently, did I understand the profound influence of my peers on me.

In my interactions with others, I genuinely deem everyone as an expert. My belief is that each individual will be the most adept in what he or she spends the most time, whether it is gaming, watching beauty videos on Youtube or listening to TED talks about psychology. Every little action or inaction we take soaks our brain, consciously or subconsciously, in information. Those who understand this fact direct the information absorption toward what’s relevant to their goals. The majority of us scatteredly direct our time toward inapplicable actions. From these exciting yet uncorrelated actions, our brains are constantly updated with new information, most of which are irrelevant to our knowledge goal and personality goal, and force us to forget what’s actually relevant and important. The considerable distance between us and our success is the relevance of how we actually spend our time vs. the image of who we want to become. 

As we diversely spend our time on different areas, each individual are all expert. Unfortunately, in early years, society sets academic excellence as a standard for success. With success being defined upon one’s ability to learn academics and theories, many teenagers hence grows up believing they are failures because of poor academic performance, whilst they are all experts, on diets and nutrition, on cars, on make-up tutorials or on bicycle components.     

Whilst my peers' expertise teaches me and shapes my understanding of the world, my ego fools me to think that my strong stands and viewpoints of the world are sufficient to be unsusceptible from others’ influences. I used to consider interactions with others purely as a process of knowledge synergies between my insights and theirs. Such process reinforces some of my existing believes and challenges the rest. However, I have missed several other components of human interactions that constitute my peers’ significant impacts on me. 

Emotional influence

When we engage in emotional trauma, our brains do not function as rationally as we think it is. It is common to drown ourselves into the mazes of suffocations and negativity. A friend’s role is to offer a rational, clear and unbiased perspective toward the matter, which is the kind of emotional rescue we will adopt in most time. What I did not realise, is that especially for those who is coping with an emotional event, those advice are absorbed: taken without cautions and with whole-hearted belief. Rather often we even believe the peer’s advice as our own idea. Without your awareness, your peer could exert such absolute influence on you in an event of your weakened state of mind. Therefore, choosing who you’d surround yourself with, after an emotional event, is vital. Such person should not only have your best interest at heart, but should also have the capability to handle such event gracefully and recommend you a rational, intelligent and unbiased solution toward the matter.      

Raw Intelligence

In the world of the raw intelligence, synergies between the minds are exponential. I admittedly have underestimated the importance of surrounding myself with intelligent people. Not street-smart, not book-smart, not knowledgeable people. The raw intelligent people think lightning fast, approach problems in a structured manner, and analyse the situations from a wildly accurate and unbiased manner. In addition, they have an enviously brilliant memory capability. Spending a lot of time with such people, a profound realisation comes to me that my brain muscle may have been slacked for a long time. I thought I was smart, until I realise my insights were street-smart and unfounded. I realised whilst I thought I knew everything, I know nothing of the world. Such realisation is exhilarating to me.

Not everyone is born with raw intelligence as it’s largely genetic, yet with exercise you can train your brain to become better in focusing, memorising and analysing. The first step to realise how delusional we all are, due to our biases, is to read: “You are Not So Smart: Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself”. 


Why you are the smartest when being (mostly) alone

Influence is immoral, yet inevitable. You will influence everyone you interact with, as well as them influencing you. Being with the smartest and most successful people will drive you, your insights and mental capability forward. However, it’s not sufficient to rely on your peers’ excellence to improve your own. I believe to become incredibly extraordinary, you’ll certainly have to spend a lot of time on your own. Let’s recall some of the best achievements in your life. Whether it’s passing an important exam, obtaining a highly desirable job offer, being renowned for certain skills and excellence, your period of training for such achievement was spent by yourself. You learn the most when you are by yourself. Loneliness is not a consequence, it’s a choice: if you know where to go, focus on the goal being by yourself is not a punishment, it’s an investment. 

I view joining others’ company, such as social invitations, as a luxury, because it’s very expensive in opportunity cost to my own learning. Beware that although social norms appraises popularity and those who have abundance of others’ company, the only way to mastery and excellence is by spending a lot of time on your own training and practising, whilst reducing distractions and others’ irrelevant influence.

Be comfortable with the company of yourself, that’s when you learn the most.      



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Illustration: Gustave Doré (French, 1832 - 1883), After the Shipwreck - Design for an Illustration of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, French, about 1875.
Copyrights: Open Content License from J. Paul Getty Museum 
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