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Beyond Smarts

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Do you ever wonder what it takes to be successful? A recent study published in the journal Nature Human Behavior found that success in school and in careers is due to more than just high intelligence. The researchers suggest that non-cognitive skills directly impact academic achievement, psychosocial ability, and language ability. In addition, they conclude that certain traits such as attention, self-regulation, and perseverance have an important impact on life success. The findings are similar to other research focusing on emotional intelligence and the importance of skills beyond intellectual superiority. One researcher who studied emotional intelligence (EQ) postulated that the person with a high intellect might get hired for the job, but the person with a high EQ will get promoted more quickly. And sometimes our intellect can even negatively impact our interpersonal relationships because we overanalyze at the expense of making a connection. We may spend too much time thinking and not enough time feeling. Or we look to solve problems rather than listening intently and showing compassion.

Of course being intelligent can be a real asset and enable great success as long as it is balanced with good interpersonal and non-cognitive skills. How does a person learn these skills? The simple answer is practice. Whereas IQ remains fairly stable over our lifespan, EQ skills can be learned. Start by asking others about their lives and actively listening to their responses to make a positive connection. Be sure to avoid interrupting or talking over the other person. Work on being fully engaged and attentive, maintaining good eye contact and not multi-tasking, when you're in a conversation. When we ask open ended questions we allow the other person to decide how they want to respond and elicit more conversation since they can't answer with a simple yes or no. Another good way to connect with people is to validate their feelings when they express some emotion. For example, if a person is expressing irritation about a work conflict, validate their feelings by saying, "I can see how that would be very frustrating." Most of us like to be heard and understood. Paraphrasing is another good skill to practice when in conversation, which is repeating back what you heard the other person say.

Success comes from multiple skills and resources, but the key is accessing our strengths and working on improving our shortcomings. We all have areas that can be sharpened and strengthened. Many of us only focus on what we're good at and avoid skills that we struggle with instead of challenging ourselves. We grow when we reach beyond our comfort level and engage in activities that stretch us. Maybe that is physically, intellectually, socially, emotionally or spiritually. Assess which area of your life you need to grow and take action. We can achieve more in life when we are well-balanced and continue to strive for mastery. Decide today to use your talents wisely and continue to expand your repertoire of skills. Balance breeds success.

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