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intrapersonal intelligenceIntrapersonal intelligence is one of the seven categories of intelligence in the Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  The conventional, biased – and soon to be obsolete – definition, of intelligence is based on an aptitude in a very specific set of skills, in particular, verbal fluency, computational and mathematical proficiency, and logical/analytical ability. Measurement of only these particular skills was standardized into the highly popular Intelligence Test, something which was used to predict a person’s future educational achievement, job performance, and income potential.  A theory of multiple intelligences is a theory which helps us learn the art of whole brain thinking, something which maximizes our brain’s full potential.

Carl Jung was one of the first psychologists to recognize and write extensively about the limitations of an “intelligence” measurement which focused only on the above-mentioned skill-set, a skill-set he would have attributed to the thinking type. In his book Psychological Types, he outlined three other types, namely, feeling, sensation, and intuitive types. In more recent times, a new theory of intelligence came to light through the writing and work of the world renowned developmental psychologist, Howard Earl Gardner. In his book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Gardner, formally recognizing the limitations rigidly defining intelligence, defines it with a much broader stroke. Intelligence is

the human ability to solve problems or to make something that is valued in one or more cultures. As long as we can find a culture that values an ability to solve a problem or create a product in a particular way, then I would strongly consider whether that ability should be considered an intelligence.

After studying many effective and distinctly different personality types across cultures, Gardner finally delineated eight different types of intelligence. Before we explore the depths of the intrapersonal type, let’s briefly look at the other types.  In order to become more whole, it is important for us to develop as many of these intelligences as possible.

Multiple Intelligence Categories

Linguistic Intelligence

The ability to express oneself with such clarity that others can comprehend and relate to them. William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln are two examples.

Logical and Mathematical Intelligence

The ability for working with numbers, logical concepts, and abstract analysis. These are the physicists, computer programmers, and mathematicians, such as Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs.  If we want to increase our aptitude in this area, it is important that we learn to develop critical thinking skills.

Spatial/Visual Intelligence

Those with visual intelligence have an ability to see and represent the world using concepts such as shape, color, and form. Those with spatial intelligence understand the effects of manipulating the spatial dimension, such as a chess player who can see 10 moves ahead or a person who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in two minutes.  Visual artists of all kinds are also in this category. To develop this skill, we can take a course in drawing.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

These people have highly developed motor skills, such as dancers, athletes, sculptors, or even surgeons.  If you want to develop this aspect of yourself, do something sexy and fun with your partner like learning how to salsa dance!

Musical Intelligence

Someone with this kind of intelligence has the capacity to think and feel in terms of sound and rhythm.  You can develop an ear for music by learning some basic music theory.  You will never hear music the same again.

Interpersonal Intelligence

A person with this intelligence has a keen ability to relate to others as individuals. People in this category are teachers and counselors, or someone like Oprah Winfrey. To develop this skill, you have to know how to communicate effectively.

Naturalistic Intelligence

People in this category have an ability to perceive and classify the intricate patterns in the world around them. Scientists, botanists, and biologists would fall into this realm of intelligence.    To see more deeply into the intricate world of nature, you can take an online biology course.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence reflects a person’s innate ability to understand his or her inner world, a world from which many people are entirely disconnected.  The core characteristics of a person with a highly developed intrapersonal intelligence are affective awareness, ethical awareness, self-regulation, and metacognition.

Affective Awareness

Affective awareness is the knowledge of your feelings, attitudes, and outlook. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an affect is

the conscious subjective aspect of an emotion considered apart from bodily changes; also: a set of observable manifestations of a subjectively experienced emotion.

An affect is the psychic derivative of an emotion. It is how you experience an emotion as it emerges, or violently thrusts itself, into your awareness. Think of someone who gets angry about something and then flies off the handle and acts on that emotion without even thinking about it. This person may reflect on that later, asking himself, “Why did I get so upset?”  If so, he has the potential to develop affective awareness. If that person does not reflect, he may stay angry, finding all kinds of ways to justify his reaction.

A person with intrapersonal intelligence would react differently to the experience of anger. In the best case scenario, he would first experience anger as an emotion and before acting, would internally notice, “I am feeling anger.”  This nano-second of awareness is just enough time to keep that person from responding to the situation with anger. How does a person with intrapersonal intelligence do this?  The answer is through a natural tendency toward introspection, and activities which promote self-reflection.


Introspection is the deliberate act of looking inward in order to gain insight into the nature of one’s own thoughts or feelings. An introspective person wants to understand why he or she thinks, feel,s or acts in a certain way, not as a means of justification, but rather as a means to better understand what might be working “behind the scenes”. If he or she uncovers jealousy or envy, then that will further be explored. Where does the jealousy come from?  Why am I envious? If fear is discovered, then he or she will want to go to the roots of that fear in order to find out where it started.  A person who has explored his or her inner depths in such a way develops an entirely different level of ethical awareness, one that goes far beyond the simplicity of a conventional ethical system.

Self-regulation and Metacognition

Two other core characteristics which emerge out of this tendency toward introspection are self-regulation and metacognition. Behaviorally speaking, self-regulation underlies our ability to act in our long-term best interest, not in an egotistical way, but rather in a way that is consistent with our deepest values. Again, we obtain knowledge of those values only through self-reflection.  When we violate our deepest values, we experience guilt, shame, and anxiety, our natural, ethical barometers.

Emotionally speaking, self-regulation is related to our ability to calm ourselves down in a heated moment, so that we do not act in the passion of an overwhelming emotion. This does not mean that we suppress emotions, but rather that we can experience them without identifying ourselves with them, a skill which requires a subtle, but potent shift in awareness.  Self-regulation is the ability to say, “I know that I am angry” instead of unconsciously identifying with the anger.

Along with the capacity for emotional regulation, comes a high level of emotional awareness. Emotional awareness allows a person to authentically express and communicate feelings to others in a way that is not as highly charged as someone who is emotionally unaware or unregulated.

Through introspection, one also gains an awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. This kind of awareness allows a person to make more appropriate choices in their lives. He or she can act on the opportunities for which they are best suited. An awareness of limitations keeps a person from trying to do something for which they are not compatible. In addition, awareness of one’s limitations can show a person where he or she possibly needs to develop.

Metacognition is another unique capability of intrapersonal intelligence. According to the dictionary, metacognition is what “enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.”  In the learning process, it is an awareness of how you think and what strategies you are using to approach a task. According to a research review by Susan Imel (ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, 2002), metacognitive skills are divided into two types:

self-assessment (the ability to assess one’s own cognition) and self-management (the ability to manage one’s further cognitive development) (Rivers 2001).

How to Stimulate Intrapersonal Intelligence

If you have recognized a particular weakness in this area of intelligence, there are things you can do to stimulate intrapersonal intelligence.  Intrapersonal intelligence is ultimately about having a high level of self-awareness. In order to attain self-awareness, you have to be able to self-reflect – that is – to look at and understand why you do what you do, think what you think, and feel what you feel.

Journaling is a highly effective method for self-reflection.  Learning to journal effectively will help increase your self-awareness. You can use the old-fashion method of writing it down or you can use a voice recorder. If you do use a voice recorder, it is best if you take some time daily to transcribe your recordings into a journal or onto your computer. In your journal, you simply write about whatever you are feeling. If you see something that affects you, whether it is a mother and child on the street or a couple in an intense argument, note how you are feeling about that. If someone says or does something that upsets you, write that down. This forces you to become aware of how you are internally affected by the world around you.

The more you journal, the more you start to see patterns in your behavior. For example, do you become overly upset when someone disagrees with you? How do you feel when someone compliments you?  Note especially those times when you feel strong emotions, such as love, fear, anger, or anxiety.  Once you have noticed patterns, you can start to reflect on those patterns. When do you first remember feeling that way? Can you make a connection between a previous experience and how you feel today?

Another, scientifically-proven, way to increase self-awareness is through meditation. Through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), contemplative neuroscience has been able to show a relationship between meditation and increased grey matter in all areas in our brain that are associated with higher thinking and enhanced levels of awareness, in particular: the frontal cortex, which is associated with executive decision-making; the left hippocampus, associated with learning and emotion regulation; and the temporal-parietal junction, which is related to perspective-taking and compassion.

Simply establishing a practice of daily meditation can increase your intrapersonal intelligence, meaning that it is setting up your brain to make you more aware, to be more reflective, to make better-informed decisions, and to be able to see with a much broader perspective. Now, when you add to those effects of meditation, conscious self-reflection, you will start to take leaps and bounds in enhancing your intrapersonal intelligence. Through your enhanced executive decision-making ability and self-reflection, you will be more naturally inclined to consider your strengths and weaknesses in every big decision. With better emotional awareness and regulation, you will not act on heated emotions, but instead, step back and notice your mood.  If you  have ever acted rashly due to uncontrolled emotions, then you already know the benefits of learning to regulate them.

The theory of multiple intelligences does not have to compartmentalize us in the one area where we show competency, but rather a theory of multiple intelligences can open the door for us to develop other areas of our brain, and thus, give us opportunities to experience our lives in new and exciting ways.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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