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Intrapersonal intelligence: What it is and why you need it

Have you ever wondered what that "it" is that makes some people great leaders, team members and successful entrepreneurs?

We can talk about Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Socrates, but they're not that easy to relate to. How about regular people like us who are more successful than we are?

The answer isn't that mysterious: they've learned how to use intrapersonal intelligence.

We all can use our intrapersonal intelligence, but most people don't know how to. Actually, most people don't even know about it!

Firstly, it's a very new area of modern scientific study, and then it's generally not explored or utilized in our education systems and business environments. For the most part, we still cling to rigid and outdated assessment systems, like Myers-Briggs.

Although the concept was discussed in writings of ancient philosophers, no one really expanded on it.  Friedrich Nietzsche, a 19th-century German philosopher, utilized theories of Aristotle in his research on how to lead a meaningful life.

It wasn't until 1983, however, that Howard Gardner, a Harvard developmental psychologist, continued study and proposed his theory of eight types of intelligence. After further research, he expanded it to nine in 2009.

Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence were two of Gardner's nine types of intelligence. Both pertain to personal relationships - one with the self, and one with other people. When used in tandem, they give you that "it" to develop into a wise and reflective person, capable of effective communication among other social and leadership attributes.

What is intrapersonal intelligence?

Intrapersonal intelligence definition is termed as "allowing one to understand and work with oneself. In the individual's sense of self, one encounters a melding of interpersonal and intrapersonal components." This, in the words of Howard Gardner in his book Multiple Intelligences.

To explain it more easily, it's the process of getting to know yourself, identify what you want and don't want, and to accept your strengths and weaknesses. When we understand and accept ourselves, we can work to build on our strengths. 

Knowing our own capabilities and intentions or ambitions also allows us to surrender the concept that a perceived weakness is a dead-end. Instead, we can view it as a blind spot that can be developed if we want to, or need to, to reach our life and career goals.

An old dog can learn new tricks!

The saying that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is a load of nonsense that so many sadly buy into. You can, at any stage of your life, improve your attitudes and motivations with self-work and coaching. The most critical factor is to firstly identify that your blind spots exist, and then to accept that you want to understand and improve that area of your thinking and attitude.

Most people don't have the know-how to identify their personal characteristics through intrapersonal introspection accurately. F4S is an excellent people analytics platform that helps you do just that. After completing an online assessment, you'll know where blind spots exist, and you'll get a detailed explanation of how they impact your career.

Why you need it in the workplace (and in life)

Intrapersonal intelligence isn't about self-absorption. It's about self-knowledge and acceptance of yourself as you are right now. With that comes the understanding of what you need to do if you want to change your circumstances or achieve specific goals. In other words, you're in sync with yourself and capable of evolving as your life and circumstances change. Unfortunately, as much as we'd like to think we've got our finger on the pulse of our being, most people don't know and rely on external feedback for self-validation.

People who have developed their intrapersonal intelligence are also good with intrapersonal communication. They're aware of their thoughts and understand that what we think directly impacts our attitude towards life and how we feel about ourselves.

Because intrapersonal communication continually goes on in our minds, we mostly don't pay it much attention. It's just self-chatter that takes us through our day. And it's normal, and it's vital! But often our self-talk takes on a very negative tone, maybe echoing voices from our past, our current life situation or our lack of self-belief and low self-confidence. This makes us doubt ourselves, our decisions and opens us up to external conflicts or inaction.

When we know ourselves, we don't buy into the external influences. We can accept criticism for what it is: a valuable opportunity to improve, or toxic comments that must get ignored. Criticism doesn't affect us personally. That's because, in self-understanding, we can better understand others. We can recognize when someone is offering helpful personal feedback and when they're malicious. 

Intrapersonal intelligence involves self-kindness. We can, therefore, look at others without judgment and respond without fear, anger or defensiveness. In all, that makes us better colleagues, team members, leaders, partners and friends.

Intrapersonal intelligence examples

A typical workplace example would be that you're actually in the wrong career or role. You're pretty bright, took a careers test and went on to study in the recommended field. Now here you are, dragging yourself to work every day, dreading the drudgery of your responsibilities while keeping a smile on your dial. At night you toss and turn, wondering how you'll achieve your career goals if you hate what you're doing. You're ashamed to think that you've descended into a TGIF person who suffers Monday morning blues. That wasn't your intention!

If you are high on intrapersonal intelligence, you won't toss and turn! You'll take a realistic introspective journey through how you've ended up feeling this way. This is a calm, solo and frank excursion through the passages of your mind, identifying where the issues and problems lie. That done, you'll come up with solutions and what you need to do to change your situation to achieve the goals you were so enthusiastic about. It might mean a complete change in career, or discussing a departmental move with your manager.

In your personal life, a great example is wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle. We all want to do it, and a gazillion ways bombard us to get it right. And then there are the fashionable fads that everyone's doing. You want to fit in, so you follow. You buy a mountain bike, join a gym and down endless raw fruit and veggie juice combos. But you hate it, and the mountain bike starts to gather dust, the gym subscription is a waste of money, and your juicer stands idle. You feel guilty and a failure.

When you know yourself, you don't follow the crowd (or the guru). You know you're not a failure; you just don't like those things. So you figure out a healthy lifestyle that works for you, like eating whole foods, taking walks and spending time meditating daily. Because you want to achieve your goal, you're disciplined and make time to do what you must every day.

We can develop our intrapersonal intelligence

If you think you might be a bit low on intrapersonal intelligence, the good news is that we all possess it, we just have to develop it for our benefit. The most crucial skills to learn are to be introspective and to practice honest self-analysis. 

That means that you must be able to step back from yourself and view yourself in an objective, critical light to understand yourself, not breaking yourself down. This involves figuring out why you think, feel and behave as you do, and how it impacts your daily life.

One of the best ways to achieve this is through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to internal and external experiences as they happen in the present moment without judgement. It's a progression of viewing and responding to situations rather than reacting to them.

In our busy and often stressed lives, many people run from one responsibility to the next. There's little thought of how they feel, are perceived or what impact their life has on them or others. Always living in survival modes impacts every aspect of our lives and careers negatively.

Becoming more mindful will automatically lead to making better decisions, identifying what makes us unhappy and what we enjoy, and improve our relationships with others. Mindfulness will also expose negative self-talk, unnecessary worry, people who take advantage of us and so many other unnecessary burdens.

How intrapersonal intelligence affects your career

Intrapersonal intelligence begins on a personal level before it impacts our career. Your relationship with yourself is a life-long process. As you become more in tune with your own wants, needs, likes and dislikes, you can recognize the same others. When you move away from fear-based thinking that's triggered by survival mode or a lack-based mindset, your mind will be more calm and receptive to external factors and events.

You'll connect more easily with team members, and that will make you a more understanding and compassionate leader. Your interpersonal communication will improve. Instead of feeling threatened by your work environment, which leads to either defensiveness or autocratic leadership, you'll bring vital kindness into business decisions.

Knowing your own and your team's capabilities also allows for more realistic strategic thinking and calculated decision making, which delivers quality results. People with well-developed intrapersonal intelligence are more inclined to see the big picture, something that's a vital asset to any successful entrepreneur.

For some people it comes more naturally

As with all talents or intelligences, we all have high levels of some and a lesser degree of others. Intrapersonal intelligence is no exception. Some people innately have well-developed qualities of introspection, self-analysis and a well-defined vision of who they are and what they want. These skills can often already get identified in early childhood.

People naturally gifted with intrapersonal intelligence are proficient at self-analysis and figuring out their own feelings, motivations and goals. They are characteristically introspective and regularly evaluate themselves to find understanding. Often intuitive and introverted, they seek to learn independently through self-reflection.

Many of them keep a diary, journal or personal blog because it helps them track their own progress and learn more about themselves. They're also very intuitive and can help other people understand themselves by being able to predict reactions in others. Because they know themselves, they can also predict their own responses, meaning that they can circumvent negative situations by opting for a different course of action.

Typical characteristics

Typical characteristics include:

  •  Always looking for ways to improve themselves
  • Learn from mistakes and avoid repeating them
  • Express themselves through creativity
  • Know what they want and how to get it
  • Apply what they learn to their own life
  • High level of self-awareness
  • Wants to understand the "self"
  • Need time alone for reflection
  • Inclined to entrepreneurship
  • A degree of introversion
  • Aware of their strengths
  • Work well on their own
  • Highly independent
  • Self-motivated
  • Very intuitive
  • Philosophical

Intrapersonal intelligence careers

We all tend to get drawn to following a career in something we're good at. If we're good at something we tend to enjoy doing it, and we naturally improve our skills through practice. People who are innately high in intrapersonal intelligence often choose careers in:

  • Arts
  • Agriculture
  • Conservation
  • Counselling
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Sciences
  • Theology

These are just some examples, but you can see that they focus around academics, creativity and humanities, and many professions not listed.

Before we go…

If you've chosen a career outside of those listed above, don't think that intrapersonal intelligence doesn't apply to you or that you can't acquire it. Although it's listed as an intelligence, it's more like a life skill. No matter what job you do, your business and personal life will improve radically if you develop your intrapersonal intelligence.

Knowing who and what you are will help you understand what you want at every stage of your life. You'll be less self-conscious and more self-aware. This will lead to better decision making, which, in turn, will improve your self-confidence. Better communication with colleagues, team members, friends and family will make you a happier person. Also, you'll be able to recognize toxic people and release them without feeling guilty.

Although it's still a very new area of science, intrapersonal intelligence has been taught, encouraged and practiced by psychologists for decades and spiritual practitioners for millennia. 

It's no secret that when we get to know ourselves, we are unaffected by external negativity, lead happier lives and are more successful within society. We also become contributors to the world rather than takers. Even in the face of severe external events like trauma, loss and disaster, people with high intrapersonal intelligence tend to cope better, remain productive or start seeking solutions, and heal quicker.

F4S is the ideal platform for you to begin your journey of self-knowledge. Take a free assessment to discover your unique motivational traits now.

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