This article is about the multiple intelligence theory (MI), and the reason I write about it is simple. It’s because I am convinced that by knowing about MI and identifying your primary intelligence, you can discover your full potential and significantly improve your happiness. By being connected to the most effective path to your own realization, you can better and more effectively focus your attention and energies. You can learn, you can grow, and you can accomplish more overall. You can become a fulfilled individual.
Understanding MI Theory.
Dr. Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University, developed this valuable theory based on his cognitive research. Early on, he concluded that there isn’t just one kind of intelligence, but several. Through research, he then confirmed what most of us already knew: Different people learn in different ways. He saw — and was able to demonstrate — that people often learn, remember and even understand in radically different modes, or intelligences.
He identified eight different types :
• Linguistic: Uses words effectively, finding the right ones to express him/herself. Has highly developed auditory skills and often thinks in words, rather than impressions or concepts.
• Logical-Mathematical. Quantifies things, makes hypotheses and tests them. Thinks conceptually and abstractly and is able to see and explore patterns and relationships.
• Musical: Shows sensitivity to rhythm, sound and timbre.
• Visual-Spatial: Thinks in terms of physical space. Sees the world in 3D.
• Bodily-Kinesthetic: Has a keen sense of body awareness. Likes movement, touch and making things.
• Interpersonal: Understands and interacts well with others. Senses people’s feelings and motives.
• Intrapersonal: Understands his or her own needs, wants and goals. Stays in tune with inner feelings and motivations.
• Naturalist: Understands living things. In touch with nature.
Throughout history, we have generally thought of intelligent people as those who have mathematical skills or whose brains are good at logic and linear thinking. However, if we limit our consideration of intelligence to this traditional way of thinking, we ignore large segments of the population who are just as smart but in different ways.
The existence of MI is what creates such a huge diversity in the human makeup. And, it is to the great benefit of humanity. Can you imagine a world of mathematical geniuses in which no one had the ability to create beautiful music or see nature in an intimate or connected way? Or, more personally, an individual with only one thing he or she did exceptionally well, to the exclusion of any other ability?
Each individual has his or her own particular mix of MI, ranging in a kind of reverse-bell-curve fashion, from those having a lot of one intelligence on one extreme, to those having perhaps none of it on the other.
So, knowing that there are eight different forms of intelligence (and that the usual measures of intelligence don’t tell the whole story), what can we do to become more effective and fulfilled individuals?
Be aware of your dominant intelligence .
Unless you are extremely stubborn and want to pursue something even without aptitude for it, or because of some unusual circumstance, I believe you need to play to your strength. You might long to be a concert pianist, but if you don’t have musical ability, it’s better to seek competency in a field in which you have a better chance of fulfillment.
But, for some people, this is very hard to do. They have difficulty claiming their dominant intelligence and giving a lesser role to their weaker intelligences. For example, this is common in women who don’t want to admit that they would excel in a male-dominated field, like math or science.
If this sounds like you, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Our brains are very skilled at justifying actions or inactions, especially when dealing with them involves added work or effort. And no one said pursuing your full potential was easy.
The bottom line is that you must critically assess yourself, perhaps with the assistance of professionals, to determine exactly what you’re good at. What is your dominant intelligence?
Engage and apply your dominant intelligence .
Having determined what your dominant intelligence is and what you are potentially good at, you have to apply it. This is called execution.
Like any other endeavor requiring execution, you need to utilize your dominant intelligence in service to your goals and aspirations. As one bright guy or gal once said, “A goal without a plan is just a pipe-dream.” You were endowed with a dominant intelligence that can be a wonderful tool in creating the life you dream of, but you have to use it. And, you can’t just use it any old way. You need to think it through logically and methodically, again, perhaps with the assistance of a knowledgeable third party, such as a vocational counselor, coach or advisor.
Then you must come up with and begin implementation of a doable plan.
Check yourself .
As your plan unfolds, you must constantly seek feedback and validation, both from yourself and from others you trust. With the pressures and vicissitudes of our busy life, it’s easy to get off track.
Stay on track by monitoring and measuring yourself against your plan. Establish as many metrics as possible so that you have some objective standards by which to gauge your progress. Check in with yourself on a regular basis and adjust your plan in accord with developments. Engage your emotional intelligence, too.
As for the non-dominant or lesser intelligences, you certainly don’t want to abandon them entirely. Feel free to engage in related activities all you want. Just recognize that your strength lies elsewhere and that one of your lesser intelligences will probably not bring you as much satisfaction and fulfillment as your dominant one.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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