Why Some Smart People Just Can’t Seem to Get What They Want

By AAwosika07 | Tough love

Jul 28

Some smart people suffer a strange form of torture.

Their brain works well and processes information quickly, but their intellect doesn’t translate to the things that make you successful:

  • Smart decision making — Which is in an entirely different universe than being smart
  • Emotional regulation — Smart people often have a horrible time regulating their emotions (I’ll explain in a bit)
  • Humility — Smart people tend to suffer because of their ego in various ways

I recently wrote an article about success factors you can’t control. One of them is your intellect. But having intellect doesn’t guarantee success at all.

Think of this analogy. Intellect is like a cup. Some people have a larger cup than others. You fill your cup with effort. Some people have big empty cups while others have smaller cups filled to the brim.

On top of that, intelligence isn’t a rigid label. All of us have different capacities for different things. People who identify with their intellect run into a bunch of problems because they use a narrow lens to see the world.

In the end, there’s only one kind of intelligence that matters.

If you can get what you want in life, you’re truly smart. If not, time to reevaluate what the word means to you.

Let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls smart people, probably you, fall into and investigate some ways to avoid them.

The Curse of High Intellect

All humans suffer from confirmation bias. Once we believe something to be true emotionally, we explain it logically and then have a hard time changing our minds.

You’d think higher intellect would reduce confirmation bias, but it does the opposite. The smarter you are, the more elaborate your justifications for emotional decisions. In a world with endless ‘knowledge’ and ‘data’, you have an army of ‘facts’ to help you justify a belief you’ve already made.

Often, it’s easier to trick and persuade smart people because they overestimate their ability to use reason and logic. Many smart people believe they use reason and logic more than emotions.

Copywriters, employees at Cosmopolitan Magazine and the National Enquirer, con-men, psychics, advertisers, media companies, and demagogues know better.

My opinion? We’re almost entirely dominated by emotions. When you know this about yourself, you can focus on trying to program yourself to be more logical.

Some rules of thumb I’ve created for myself:

  • I try to base my beliefs on how useful they are. I’d rather be less ‘witty’ and get what I want instead of the opposite outcome.
  • I try to understand both sides to an argument and listen to people I disagree or don’t like, as difficult as it may be
  • Instead of focusing on the way I think things should be, I try to focus on the way they actually are
  • Conversely, I understand the power of narratives and will delude myself if it helps me get what I want
  • If a series of decisions I make continue to, you know, not work, I’ll analyze things from an internal focus, what did I do, versus an external focus, what about the world needs to be fixed because I failed

I’m not perfect and I’m prone to many mental errors, but I know that.

Do you?

Why Smart People Fail to “Go For It”

Smart people tend to be risk-averse because they’re better at seeing downsides and negative scenarios. In short, they think too much.

Maybe you fit this description.

You’re constantly researching and plotting, but never turning those plans into actions. You read a lot and you’re a self-improvement junkie, but you never implement the information in the real world. You set so high standards for yourself that you can never meet them, leaving you in a loop of procrastination and perfectionism.

I see this in writers who want to become the next great author but don’t write anything. Or people who always have genius ideas but never do anything with them. Right before they pull the trigger, they flood their brain with reasons why their idea won’t work.

Then there are some people in the world who might not be rocket scientists, but they execute simple ideas well. For every billionaire tech genius, you’ll find thousands of regular folks who just ran with their idea and got it to work.

So how do you overcome your overthinking? How do you stop needing to be so meticulous about your plans? What’s the secret to turning all those amazing ideas you have into reality?

Try getting a grip on yourself and getting over yourself.

The market is not anxiously awaiting your genius ideas at all. Nobody cares whether or not you get your ideas off the ground at all.

Even if you’re able to come up with a bunch of reasons why you’ll fail, focus on the reasons why you’ll succeed, and understand that if you do fail, nothing will really happen.

And one day the concept of ‘you’ won’t exist because you’ll be dead along with all your genius ideas. Stop trying to come up with an idea so good that you’ll become the world’s best. Just get started, take your lumps, and focus on getting good to start with,

Intellect Breeds Arrogance

Some ‘smart’ people have this tendency to sometimes be pretentious. Ever noticed that?

Someone commented on my YouTube video that blog writers are garbage and ‘won’t be remembered.’ He called my writing garbage and said I’ll never be the next Plato or Aristotle, something like that.

Oh well.

I have a writing career. He doesn’t, he definitely wants one, but his intellect combined with his simultaneously elitist and pessimist attitude will keep him from having what he wants.

Many academic types are like this — snobby perfectionists who get mad that the market doesn’t recognize their genius. Maybe the market’s intelligence is more valuable than yours. Maybe it’s not the crowd that doesn’t get it, but you. 

They also tend to value and pride themselves on book smarts and trivial knowledge over practical knowledge. They are the type who thinks that complexity matters most when simplicity works better.

You’re alone by yourself so be honest. Do you turn your nose up at the world yet find yourself lacking results? How much is your intelligence worth then, really?

Here’s what’s happening to you. You don’t want to push yourself to the limit of potential failure because that challenges your identity as a smart person. You probably coasted along through school and quit everything when it got too hard.

I saw a great Tweet somewhere that said all of the people who label themselves as ‘gifted’ are really just garden variety narcissists. It’s true. I’m narcissistic myself and I used that label as an excuse, too. But guess what?

When I was broke and left with few opportunities, my potential didn’t matter at all. Don’t let your intelligence seduce you into thinking things will click one day just because you’re smart.

Try having some humility. Look around and see all the people who are ‘dumber’ than you, yet getting better results.

Who’s the dumb one?

Try being more humble, period. I wrote an article called The Single Most Underrated Trait You Can Have. The trait? Understating your intelligence. Nobody likes a know it all. And it’s that know it all energy that’s holding you back in life. Let it go.

Match the Map With the Terrain

You live in the real world.

Maybe there’s no objective reality, but there are a number of reliable patterns and phenomena in the world:

  • Human nature
  • The power of incentives
  • Basic economics
  • Profit and loss statements
  • 80/20 rule
  • Ripple effects ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’
  • The correlation between hard work and success (when choosing the right path)
  • Inequality as a constant of human civilizations and societies
  • The fact that life is simply not fair

Too many smart people use the word should.

Reality doesn’t care about your pretty ideas about the way it should work. Stop trying to save humanity if you’re not even managing your own life well.

Since you’re smart, you do a great job of painting a complicated yet inaccurate map of reality.

You distort and divorce yourself from reality because you can’t cope with the fact you’re unable to get what you want. So maybe you’ll blame it on the institutions of society, create an elaborate narrative about unfairness, blame other people for not recognizing your genius, anything to avoid facing the fact that perhaps you need to change something about yourself.

I put the word ‘smart’ in quotes because there’s not a ton of inherent value in having a high intellect at all. Honestly, unless you have serious deficiencies, the amount of intelligence or talent you have doesn’t matter a ton.

Where and how you apply the level and type of intelligence you have, matters much more.

How you use your intelligence to make and judge your decisions matters. Your ability to use your intelligence in harmony with your emotions, instead of letting your intellect ride your emotions like a jockey, matters.

Focus on figuring out how the world works and what you can get from it instead of patting yourself on the back for paper shuffler’s knowledge.


About the Author

Ayodeji is the Author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement and two other Amazon best-selling titles. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, eating chicken wings, and occasionally drinking old-fashioned's.