In Praise of Self Smarts! Part 1

What_is_action_plan_smI have long been a strong advocate for the Intrapersonal intelligence. It is too often neglected and under-appreciated. I call it the “invisible intelligence” because it is a force that is intangible so it is easy to overlook or misunderstand. It has no obvious objects associated with its performance, but it shows up in the literature by many other names. Its two core components have an ancient lineage going back to Greek wisdom. Over the entrance to the temple at Delphi, where kings came for divine guidance, was the admonishment, Know Thyself. Many years later Shakespeare penned those immortal words, To Thy Own Self Be True.   I was struck recently by two articles describing the importance of Intrapersonal intelligence in daily life and also in higher education.



rock_climberWhat makes a person resilient in the face of adversity? Researchers have puzzled over this fascinating topic for years. A number of personality and cognitive factors have been identified that contribute to a person being able to bounce back from setbacks in life. What caught my attention was research that identified several brain structures associated with both resilience and Intrapersonal thinking. These are “…neural circuits governing fear, reward, and social and emotional regulation.” Brain structures cited are: amygdala, Nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex. There is also a scale on the MIDAS Profile that is called Self Efficacy that involves successfully relating oneself to others. This is the exact skill that is described as being key to recovering from adversity: “…to reframe stressful events and benefit from relationships.”

Harvard_logoA second article in Harvard Magazine describes three new courses that introduce Harvard freshmen to core competencies in the humanities: The Art of Listening, The Art of Looking and The Art of Reading. These courses aim to “… help us to become not just political citizens, not social citizens, not citizens in the legal sense, but cultural citizens” with “…interpretative skills … to reason rigorously, the means to express ideas in a compelling way, and the ability to write well.” This skill set is said to be the real force behind an education in the humanities.

What is interesting is that a goal underpinning all three courses is the development of “…self-awareness on the part of the students…the ability to think about their own role and responsibilities as readers. Self-reflection… is now structurally part of the course. Self-awareness is an important element of all the frameworks courses.”
Researchers have long known that metacognitive skills associated with Intrapersonal understanding contribute to academic success, but this is not common knowledge in the classroom. These innovative courses at one of the world’s premier universities make explicit that connection between Intrapersonal skills and high achievement. But, it is more than that. As the article on resilience makes clear, a vital function of Intrapersonal ability is life management. Keen self-understanding leads one to better manage one’s self in relationship to others. This extends from close personal relationships to the larger spheres of community and the world writ large.

Ready for Anything. Steven Southwick, Dennis Charney. Scientific American MIND. July/August, 2013
Toward Cultural Citizenship. Jonathan Shaw. Harvard Magazine. May – June, 2014.