The More Distinctions You Make, The Smarter You Get


Girl with book“A smart man only believes half of what he hears, a wise man knows which half.” — Jeff Cooper

You’re smart.

How’d you get so smart?

By making distinctions.

The more distinctions you make, the smarter you get.

You can get smarter.

The Growth Mindset is a Learning Mindset

If you don’t think you can get smarter, you have a Fixed Mindset.  With a Fixed Mindset you don’t think you can change your intelligence.  You think you are stuck at whatever you were born with.

That’s a limiting belief, and you won’t get smarter with that.

With a Growth Mindset, you believe you can learn and improve.

Whether you want to get smarter yourself, or you want your kids to get smarter, or anyone you know, encourage and entice them to make distinctions, create new categories, and build their personal library of profound knowledge.

If you want to grow smarter, you need to embrace a Growth Mindset.

If you need help developing a Growth Mindset, read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck.

Increase Distinctions to Get Smarter

Creating more distinctions is a way to improve your ability to think about a topic.  A distinction is simply a difference or contrast between similar things.

In Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki, says, “intelligence is the ability to make finer distinctions.”   And, Tony Robbins, says “intelligence is the measure of the number and the quality of the distinctions you have in a given situation.”

Dr. Deming focused on Profound Knowledge to improve businesses and organizations as a system.  With Profound Knowledge of the connections and the distinctions within a system, you get better insight.

Create your own personal system of Profound Knowledge for anything you want to learn by making distinctions.

You can create new distinctions by creating new categories.  Creating new categories improves your intelligence about a topic and makes you smarter. And, according to Ellen Langer, creating categories  improves your mindfulness.

Most importantly, continually creating new categories keeps you from being trapped by previously created categories.

Distinctions are the key to lifelong learning.

Empathy Helps You Go From Book Smart to Street Smart

If you just have facts and figures, that’s not enough.  That might be book smart, but you won’t be street smart.  Think of street smart as being able to use and apply what you know in relevant situations.

The key to take information deeper is to build empathy.  You build empathy through experience.  You can relate to the information in a meaningful way.  You have “feelings” about the information.

Without empathy, you can’t prioritize.

And if you can’t prioritize information, then your knowledge won’t be that useful because you won’t know what’s relevant, and you won’t know what’s important.

If you want to think about empathy another way, you can think of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains.  Bloom developed his taxonomy to help promote higher forms of thinking in learning and education.  If you take the balcony view of Boom’s taxonomy, you can basically see that you master something in terms of three levels: Intellectual, Emotional, and Physical.

When you learn something intellectually, you can regurgitate facts and figures.  When you learn something emotionally (i.e. empathy), you can relate to it in a deeper and more personal way.  You can think about it more deeply.  When you learn something physically, it’s baked into your body.  It’s in your muscle memory and your basal ganglia.

Distinctions become more useful when you have empathy for them.

These are you “ah-ha” moments, where light-bulbs go off, and you make the connections.

Distinctions with interesting connections and emotional impact provide powerful insight.

Example of Distinctions Using Saturated Fats

Let’s make this real.

Let’s get smarter, right here, right now about a topic we all know and love:


What does “everybody” say about fat?  Well, “everybody” says fat is bad for you.

Or, in your world, “everybody” might say fat is good for you.

Either way, that doesn’t help.

What insight does that provide us?  Absolutely none.  In fact, it gives us bad information, based on a watered down conclusions, that lose all of the meaningful distinctions along the way.

Let’s dive in.

Functions of Fat

According to Strong Medicine: How to Conquer Chronic Disease and Achieve Your Full Genetic Potential, by Dr. Chris Hardy and Marty Gallagher,  Fats perform the following functions:

  1. Energy storage
  2. A major component of cell membranes
  3. Essential for the proper brain development and nerve functions
  4. Proper lung function and prevention of lung collapse
  5. Crucial for inflammatory response and immunity cell signaling/communication

Types of Fats

First, let’s break fat down into three categories:

  1. Saturated Fat
  2. Monounsaturated Fat
  3. Polyunsaturated Fat

Now, wasn’t that fun?   Maybe not, but at least now if you wanted to research fat, you have three categories to explore, or three distinctions under the category of “Fat”.

But let’s break it down more.

Types of Saturated Fats

OK, so maybe you’ve heard that saturated fat is bad for you.  That’s a blanket statement and loses all of the precision.

Let’s break that down.

According to Strong Medicine, we can break Saturated Fats into three kinds:

  1. Short-chain saturated fats have backbones two to five carbons long.
  2. Medium-chain saturated fats have backbones six to twelve carbons long.
  3. Long-chain saturated fats have backbones longer than twelve carbons.

They are all “saturated fats.”

Without going into the chemistry, right off the bat it should be more obvious that each one reacts in our body very differently.

(It’s also worth noting that saturated fats are solid at room temperature, but they are all liquid at body temperature.)

Short-Chain Saturated Fat

Butryric acid (Butyrate) is a short-chain saturated fat.  According to Strong Medicine, here are some of the key distinctions of butyrate:

  1. It is the major product of fiber fermentation by the gut bacteria.
  2. Buyrate has very potent anti-inflammatory properties.
  3. Butyrate has powerful anti-cancer effects through epigenetic mechanisms.
  4. Butyrate has been used in conjunction with modern cancer treatment techniques (photodynamic therapy) on certain types of brain tumors, killing more cancer cells.
  5. Butter is about 3% butyrate, and is the best direct dietary source (fermentation of fiber is the best indirect source.)

Medium-Chain Saturated Fat

Lauric acid (Laurate) is a medium-chain saturated fat.  It’s a 12-carbon saturated fatty acid. According to Strong Medicine, here are some of the key distinctions of laurate:

  1. Comprises about 6% of the fat content in human breast milk.
  2. Potent antibiotic actions against bacteria and viruses.
  3. As a medium-chain triglyceride, laurate is used as an alternate fuel source in the brain, showing promising results treating epilepsy and degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s dementia.
  4. Increases high density lipoprotein (HDL), associated cholesterol, which may decrease risk from developing heart disease.
  5. As a component of medium-chain triglycerides, lauric acid in the diet has shown to aid significantly in weight loss.
  6. Coconut oil is a great source of lauric acid, which comprises about 50% of the fat content in coconut oil.

See how already the extreme distinctions within types of saturated fat, really change our overall picture of “fat”?

Long-Chain Fatty Acids

Now this is where the fun begins.   According to Strong Medicine, “medium-chain fatty acids in the diet are metabolized much differently than long-chain fatty acids.  The medium-chain fats, in the form of medium-chain triglycerides, are taken directly to the liver after they are absorbed in the intestines.  In the liver they are rapidly metabolized for energy use in the body.”

“The long-chain fatty acids are absorbed in the intestine and travel in the lymphatic system.  They have a much higher chance of being stored in fat cells before getting to the liver for energy use.”

“Additionally, the medium-chain fats do not need the specialized fat transporter (carnitine-acylcarnitine translocase) to get into the mitochondria (the place in the cells where energy production takes place) that long-chain fats need.  This fact allows rapid entry of medium-chain fats into the mitochondria for energy production.”

Hopefully, you can start to see now how the plot thickens.

According to Strong Medicine, palmitic acid (palmitate) is a long-chain saturated fatty acid, and here are some key distinctions:

  1. It is the primary fat stored by the body in fat (adipose) tissue.
  2. High amounts in fat cells are inflammatory.
  3. It is the primary saturated fat used in research studies.
  4. Activates an inlfammatory response by immune system.
  5. High levels of palmitate increase insulin resistance, contributing to diabetes.
  6. Palmitate levels are higher in the fat content of grain-fed animals.

Hmmmm …. that doesn’t sound very good.  I hope we don’t turn into “grain-fed animals” Smile

Another Long-Chain Fatty Acid Example

Well long-chain fatty acids are “bad” then, right?

That’s another generalization.

We can break that down.

Palmitic acid (palmitate) is a 12-carbon saturated fatty acid.

Stearic acid (stearate) is another long-chain saturated fat.  It has 16 carbons.

How much does the difference of two extra carbons in the backbone make?

Let’s take a look.

According to Strong Medicine, stearic acid, a 16-carbon saturated fatty acid has the following distinctions:

  1. Stearic acid has been shown to beneficially reduce blood clotting and may decrease the risk of heart disease.
  2. Unlike palmtic acid, stearic acid has no bad effects on insulin resistance or development of diabetes.
  3. Stearic acid does not promote inflammation in fat cells.
  4. Stearic acide triggers the death of breast cancer cells in laboratory testing.
  5. Grass-fed beef is a good source of stearic acid.

For those of you familiar with the Blue Zones, where people live the longest and happiest lives on our planet, you’ll appreciate the distinction between “grass-fed” and “grain-fed” when it comes to eating meats.

Make New Distinctions and Explore What You Are Capable Of

Well, we could keep diving deeper into fats, but at this point, I hope you really see the point.

You can greatly improve your knowledge in any domain by making distinctions.

Otherwise, everything is just a big ball of mush.

When you unpack things, create new categories, make new distinctions, and build your library of profound knowledge, you improve your ability to find new insights, make better decisions, and get better results.

It’s how you get smarter.

In the words of Albert Einstein:

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

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  1. Great article JD! The example really helps make the point come alive. Helps me turn information into a story which helps with memorising it intellectually. Well done!

    • Thank you!

      Stories are a great way to remember information. They link emotion to the insight, and emotion makes it stick.


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