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What is Intrapersonal Intelligence? Five Habits to Develop It

December 9, 2019
7 Min Read
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As professionals, our thoughts can easily be the pebbles that start an avalanche of negativity. How we talk to ourselves can affect how we feel about ourselves. We lose confidence and become filled with self-doubt. Our self-worth is diminished.

Soon you're suffering from imposter syndrome, believing you aren't good enough for your job. You doubt your own skill-- low intrapersonal intelligence can impact your personal goals and overall job performance.

So what is intrapersonal intelligence? It is the key to combating imposter syndrome, more readily getting team buy-in, and demonstrating your leadership skills. By developing your own intrapersonal intelligence, you combat self-doubt and increase your professional confidence.

A young Steve Jobs in 1985. Leaders like Jobs prioritized interpersonal intelligence and the power of saying 'no' (Credit: S STEEL)

Why Intrapersonal Intelligence Matters

Intrapersonal skills help you to continually reflect and evaluate your inner feelings and, through reflection, find ways to enrich both your personal and professional lives. This allows you to better regulate your own emotion and thought. Basically, it's how you interact and communicate to yourself in your own head. It is the yin to the yang of interpersonal skills.

That brings us to intrapersonal intelligence, which shares a lot in common with emotional intelligence. Both rely on self-awareness, intelligence, and sensitivity to gather an inventory of your emotions. With both, you analyze what exactly are you feeling, why you are feeling it, and how it is impacting you.

Whereas emotional intelligence gives you empathy for another person's thoughts and feelings, intrapersonal intelligence gives you a greater compassion for and understanding of your own. Intrapersonal intelligence seeks to define your motivation, your learning style, where you excel, and where you have an opportunity to grow.

Intrapersonal intelligence allows one to understand and work with oneself. In the individual's sense of self, one encounters a melding of interpersonal and intrapersonal components.

- Howard Gardner, Author of Multiple Intelligences

Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner came up with the concept as part of his book, Multiple Intelligence. Howard Gardner's theory questioned whether human intelligence could be measured or defined by a single factor. Thus, he worked out multiple stages, including intrapersonal intelligence.

With high intrapersonal intelligence, you are completely aware of who you are and can appreciate yourself fully. You can embrace our feelings, fears, and motivations without hesitation. And thus, imposter syndrome won't weigh you down. You won't take feedback personally. You'll be able to apply a growth mindset. You'll be a better leader. And you'll more easily contribute and communicate your ideas to the team.

#1 Combat Your Negative Self-Talk

We all have that inner critic inside our heads that constantly pressures us to be a better person, which can become a nuisance if left unchecked.

For example, we all get sweaty palms when it comes to submitting our work for direct feedback. It's hard to open ourselves to critique. We can easily begin talking our work down in our heads. Those thoughts soon become words as we warn peers, "It's not as good as it can be."

Now we're anticipating a flood of harsh critiques. This is called catastrophizing, i.e. making things worse in our heads based on little evidence to the contrary. It's irrational thinking.

University of Miami neuroscientist Amishi Jha studies how wandering thoughts diminish our ability to focus. She suggests in this video that "paying attention to our attention," (or learning intrapersonal communication) can stop our minds from veering into dangerous territory.

Here is some further wisdom on combating negative self-talk and gaining strong intrapersonal intelligence:

  • Assess the situation for what it is. Don't make assumptions. Look at the reality of the situation. Ask yourself if what you're thinking is actually happening.
  • Don't catastrophize a situation. Focus on the best possible result rather than the worst.
  • Don't be afraid of feedback. Feedback is a tool. It can help us improve. It doesn't need to be the end-all-be-all of our overall performance. Seek feedback from your trusted peers who may see the situation more objectively than you do. Be a student.
  • Don't take feedback personally. How you handle feedback can affect how you talk to yourself. If the feedback is negative, look for how it can help you grow. Think of it this way: you can't improve if you don't know where to start.

#2 Self-Care and Being Kind to Yourself

Taking care of ourselves is as important as taking care of others. We can't be of any help to people around us if we don't prioritize ourselves. If our health suffers or we don't get enough sleep, we won't be effective as team members or leaders.

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs practice self-care on a regular basis. Bill Gates takes an entire week to himself so he can reflect. He calls this his "Think Week." Richard Branson and Mark Cuban advocate exercising daily. Ariana Huffington practices meditation each morning. Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani blocks off "me time" on her schedule. Sheryl Sandberg writes down three things she accomplished before going to bed to improve her emotional awareness.

What these successful people have in common is that they prioritize self-care-- because they see it directly leads to high intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence, keys to being super-effective leaders.

Self-care doesn't have to be lavish spa days or extravagant vacations. It can be small things practiced daily. Here are a few daily tips:

  • Get rest and eat enough. This is the very basic of self-care. Just make sure you get to bed on time and keep your body nourished throughout the day. That may include unplugging from work completely during lunch breaks or in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  • Move your body. We get it, it's not always easy getting a full gym session every day. Give yourself credit for any exercise you can do, even if it's taking a 10 to 20-minute walk around the office block.
  • Learn to say no. This is a great way to be kind to yourself. You don't have to do everything for everyone. And not everything is a priority to be done. If you say yes all the time, you'll overextend yourself, adding undue stress. You might even be surprised at how much your peers and managers appreciate your candor.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.

- Steve Jobs, cofounder and former CEO of Apple

#3 Mindfulness and Effective Multitasking

In that quote, Steve Jobs is talking about mindfulness and effective multitasking. Jobs knew that you can't take on everything and do it well. He put this into practice when he shrunk Apple's products from 350 to 10. So instead of 350 potentially shoddy products, the Apple team could work on creating 10 amazing ones. This newfound focus allowed Jobs to push the team's innovation since it wasn't stretched thin on projects that didn't create impact. This simplicity was his intelligence.

You have to find focus on the things that matter most. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Taking one task at a time and delegating other tasks assists in combating catastrophizing and negative self-talk as well. However, it is possible to juggle multiple tasks at the same time.

Let's take a look at some tips for effective multitasking:

  • Prioritize. Effective multitaskers are good at prioritizing. Organize your tasks into levels of effort and impact. As Jobs suggests, say no to the ones that have the least impact on your overall goals.
  • Stop the busy work. Prioritization and saying no are about ending the busy work. Doing a lot isn't the same as being productive. Don't get caught up in every little menial task.
  • Delegation. The best multitaskers are masters of delegation. This isn't just passing the buck. This is careful consideration of assigning tasks to those who can appropriately handle them. In other words, you can't do everything and sometimes you need to seek help from your peers, especially those who may have more experience with a particular task.

#4 Improve Your Interpersonal Communication

Strong interpersonal skills and communication assist in raising our intrapersonal intelligence, allowing us to better articulate our needs and wants. These skills don't develop overnight, and require a lot of introspection on our part.

In order to articulate your needs and relate to others, you have to be keenly aware of yourself and how others perceive you. This is where seeking outside feedback from peers can be handy.

Here are some key questions you might ask your peers:

  • Are my instructions, suggestions and overall verbal communication clear? Sharing your thoughts and ideas is crucial to be an effective leader and team member.
  • Do you feel that I hear and understand your instructions, suggestions and feedback well? Communication is a two-way street. As much as we like to be heard, so do others. Listening also helps us develop rapport as well as empathy.
  • What do you perceive as my blindspots and what do you feel I contribute best to the team? Asking your peers for their perceptions of you can assist in better understand your own growth opportunities and where you excel.

Just the words "yet" or "not yet," we're finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence.

- Carol Dweck, Professor at Stanford University

#5 Embrace a Growth Mindset

All of these habits allow for this last one: embracing a growth mindset. In order to negate harmful self-talk and improve our intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, you have to believe that we can learn and grow.

This is what psychologist and Stanford professor Carol Dweck calls "the power of yet." It's the concept that failure isn't an ending but rather a "not yet." This allows us to believe more readily that we can achieve things with resilience and tenacity. It gives us a path to the future, as she says.

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