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What's Your Intelligence?

When I think about brain health coaching, I think about building healthy habits and rewiring our brains for more energy and less stress. But what if coaching could also make you smarter?


We tend to think of intelligence as being an innate characteristic defined by our intelligence quotient (IQ). Individual IQ is a measure of verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed. It’s considered to be a fixed trait that is standardized to age and doesn’t change with education.

Working smarter means building a team with diverse and complementary strengths

I have never thought of myself as being particularly intelligent. Even as a premed or medical student, I considered myself to be smart enough to be able to memorize what I needed to pass the exams, but I mostly saw my strength in terms of being willing to work hard, rather than possessing innate intelligence.

Photo by Rachel Claire:

I now see that my perception of self was strongly shaped by having a mathematics professor for a father. I distinctly remember being locked in my room as a small child and not being allowed to come out until I had memorized my times table. My childhood years were punctuated by shameful moments when I disappointed my parents for inadequacy in math or was ridiculed for being bad at Chinese.

My parents were simply doing their best for me as dictated by the Asian parenting style, which was handed down through generations and across millennia. Fear and shame were considered to be the best ways to toughen up your kids, to push them to get ahead and to achieve more. My story is no different than many, if not most of us - the survival and scarcity style of parenting cuts across countries and cultures.

Multiple intelligences

But what if IQ is only one measure of intelligence? You have probably heard of EQ or emotional intelligence, which measures the perception of emotions, the ability to reason with emotion, understanding of emotion, and management of emotion. Our modern world has increasingly accepted the premise that both IQ and EQ are important to achieve success.

Of the many different approaches to organizing and categorizing intelligence, the best known may be Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences where he suggests that there are eight main types of intelligence.

Visual-spatial intelligence refers to an ability to visualize things easily. Individuals enjoy visual arts, and are good at interpreting pictures and graphs.

Linguistic-verbal intelligence refers to people to use words well - whether verbally or through written media.

Logical-mathematical intelligence refers to those who have strong analytic, problem solving skills. Such individuals may enjoy complex computations and abstract ideas.

When you have body-kinesthetic intelligence, you are good at creating things with your hands and physical coordination.

Maybe we need to question the societal programming that values STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) over the humanities

Those with musical intelligence are able to think in patterns, rhythms and sounds, and may be good at musical performance or composition.

Interpersonal intelligence refers to strength in understanding and relating with others. They may be good at resolving conflicts and seeing things from different perspectives.

On the other hand, those with intrapersonal intelligence are able to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses, and to understand their own motivations and feelings.

Naturalistic intelligence refers to those with a strong interest in finding patterns and relationships in nature, and are good at categorizing and cataloging information.

Getting smarter

Your inner skeptic may be critical of the Multiple Intelligences framework, as mine was. After all, aren’t we just saying that we all have different gifts or abilities? The answer is yes, and I’d argue that rather than questioning the reality of how we are built as humans, maybe we need to question the societal programming that values money over kindness and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) over the humanities.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

For me personally, the first step in getting smarter was actually to stop beating up on myself for not being good at certain things. When I was able to see what came quickly and easily to me, and to learn where my blind spots were, I found that working smarter meant building a team with diverse and complementary strengths. One that is grounded in the authentic messiness and complexity of our human experience.


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