How To Know A Lot By Doing Very Little

Knowing always begins with asking and I’ll show you how

I’d never self-proclaim to be a person that knows a lot — in a world as changing and fast-pace as the one we are all currently living in, it seems implausible to me even to even be able to process enough information to adequately be deemed, ‘a person who knows alot.’

My friends, and sometimes strangers, would disagree.

They refer to my brain as ‘helpful,’ when they forget the word for something, or are struggling to recall something, usually a factoid, or tidbit of information relating to science, or nutrition, or the world.

I’ve been described as ‘useful,’ by a stranger, which I presumably took as a compliment, despite the questionable word-choice.

And I have one friend, Yasmin, of whom I would argue possesses an equal, if not greater, degree of intellect than me, who insists on embarrassingly introducing me to everyone she knows as, ‘my super smart friend.’

It’s a weird one, let me tell you, to be considered intelligent and knowledgable when you feel as though you don’t know much at all.

Recently I’ve had some time to reflect on it. I’ve been meeting a lot of new people via the wonderful world of online dating (also questionable), and have, subsequently, become increasingly conscious of my brain during these interactions.

I’ve pin-pointed what it is people are seeing in me when I speak about a given subject, and I think I know how I can share my findings to benefits others, too.

So, here’s my personal theory on how to seem like you know about by doing very little:

  1. Ask questions

You know that phase when you’re a kid where you incessantly feel the need to ask, ‘why?’ to just about every sentence that floats into your ears? Be that kid again.

Follow up on discussions that you’re interested in with seven questions from Sunday that you genuinely want to know the answer to. Type any and everything that crosses your beautiful mind into the google search bar and see where that baby takes you.

History, politics, biology, sexology, the study of cults, how many toes a giraffe has (they have two), what happens when you leave chopped broccoli to sit for 45 minutes after you cut it (nutritional magic by the way), are all great things to spend a few minutes, nay — seconds — of your time researching.

You don’t have to go deep — most things that you’ll remember well will likely be simple and most relatable. Don’t miss an opportunity to nurture the very small bits of curiosity that pop up over the course of your day.

Also don’t be so quick to dismiss a topic as one that doesn’t belong to your personal interests. If you can find ways to make the results of your inquiry applicable to your own life or experience of the world, then even better!

Get good at wondering about things, asking questions, and finding answers.

2. Make your conversations interesting to YOU

Everyone knows the feeling of being stuck in an exchange of meaningless small talk; you can practically feel your passion and will-to-live being slipping away with every word of the mundane that leaves your mouth. It’s natural for this to happen from time to time (I think), but don’t settle for these interactions as being the norm.

You are 50% of every conversation you have, and you’re wasting your own time, as well as the time of the opposite party, by failing to incite an interesting discussion when you get the chance.

It’s totally okay to change the topic from the weather to a subject that you’re interested in — if your not sure they would find it interesting, themselves, then there’s only one way to find out! Alternatively, it’s very cool to ask them to tell you about a topic they’re into, or perhaps an expert on, too.

“Okay, so if you had to give a presentation for 20 minutes with no preparation — what’s the topic of the presentation?”

I realize that I say things like this all the time.

Maybe it’s weird, or even elicits the vague sensation of being on an awkward first date, with nothing but a list of hastily memorized icebreakers to depend on, but — I promise you it works. You will learn SO much, appear more engaging, and feel a whole lot more engaged while you’re at it, too.

3. Inspire don’t inform

So now that you’ve begun to make a habit of absorbing small pieces of information — either by way of involving yourself in more stimulating conversations or by putting your curiosity into action on the inter-webs — you can make practical use of your findings.

I want to assure you, first and foremost, that I do not have a great memory. Roughly 90% of the time, something will pop into my head that I have a very faint recollection of reading or learning about, but I can’t recall all the specific details.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you remember the correct terms, or all the names, dates, and technicalities, by mentioning it, you’re contributing to increasing the level of intrigue of the conversation via some form of added external information.

This is how, and why, I believe people like to think I’m knowledgable. It’s less about what types of knowledge you’re sharing, and more that you’re adding something of value and interest to the interaction.

In fact, while having these recent exchanges with strangers, either over the phone, FaceTime, or face-to-face, I often found myself saying things like, “Oh, that’s the guy that said x,y,z, right? I know this about him,” or “I read the other day about why that is, exactly — are you familiar something called x?”

If you try to start referring to the half-baked facts that are bouncing around your head, you may be surprised by the extent to which they lend themselves to insight. People will appreciate the attempt (and even the poor ones) to be engaging and intelligent.

And lastly, it goes without saying, but allow yourself to entirely forget the fear of sounding nerdy or awkward — it’s what I do, at least, and it seems to be working so far!

Alexandra Walker-Jones — November 2020

Writer and published author with an international background in psychology, nutrition, and creative writing. I’m just here to learn ;)

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