Intelligence vs. Intellect (#926)

This week, I’ve been reflecting on the essence of what my clients and students bump into most often in their attempts to live happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives. What I’ve noticed is that even after people see the inside-out nature of experience – that we are living in the feeling of our thinking, not the feeling of our circumstances – they still often struggle to navigate the world with as much ease and grace as they had hoped for.

For myself, I recognize that this struggle has its roots in a simple misunderstanding of the different functions of the mind. To use an analogy, our minds have two modes – receptive and active. When our personal mind is in “receptive mode”, our thinking settles down and we gain access to an intelligence that comes from somewhere beyond our personal database which will guide us through even the most difficult of circumstances. When our “personal mind” is in active mode, we access our intellect – a kind of a processing capacity to quickly sift through available information in support of a specific result.

Both modes of mind are useful, but most of us use the processing capacity of the intellect as our primary means of navigating life and the guiding wisdom of our intelligence only when we “really need to”.

Here’s how I wrote about my own re-balancing of the system in The Inside-Out Revolution:

While I intuitively recognized the value of ‘getting stupid,’ I was also fiercely resistant to it. My mother has a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Brussels, my brother started MIT at 16, and my sister started Harvard at 17. Our family valued intellect, and I was damned if I was going to put that to one side. After all, I reasoned to myself, my intellect is what’s gotten me where I am today.

So, when I hired a Principles-based practitioner named Kristen Mansheim to assist me in integrating this understanding into my work, I spent way too much time trying to persuade her of the value of intellect in general and of my intellect in particular.

What lost me the argument wasn’t anything she said, but rather something I felt: in the midst of my repeated intellectual thrusts into her annoyingly non-judgmental listening, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a deep and profound feeling of peace and quiet.

In the lingering silence, I saw two things quite clearly. The first was that this sense of peace was something I recognized as having been present in several of my most life-changing moments. The second was that even if I’d never experienced it before, I would gladly have traded a thousand intellectual victories for even five extra minutes spent resting in that world of deeper feeling.

The transformative conversation that followed unfolded over several months, and I came to refer to our sessions together as ‘speed bumps’ for the way in which they allowed my thinking to slow down and a deeper intelligence to flow through the cracks in my much ballyhooed intellect.

For the first 40 years of my life I’d been trained to use my mind like a buzz saw, filling it up with information and cutting through the weak points in other people’s arguments without ever noticing the scars I’d accumulated on my own psyche along the way. Now I began to see the value of listening without anything on my mind, allowing myself to become reflective and receptive to a wisdom that seemed to exist somewhere beyond the reach of my own experience.

While your own re-balancing may be a simpler affair – after all, not everyone is quite so in love with their own intellect as I was – the benefits are immediate and universal. As your intellect settles down and your intelligence kicks in more and more, you will:

  • feel more at peace
  • have insights more often, both simple and profound
  • get “philosophical” about life and take things less personally
  • connect more deeply with others

These are not goals to be achieved – they are the natural result of using our minds more in line with their design. Your intellect will still be there when you need it but it will no longer try so hard to run the show on its own.

For myself, I can trace pretty much every breakthrough I’ve had in my own thinking to the deeper intelligence and pretty much every freak out and stress-filled break down to my intellect run amok. Yet I still find myself turning to my own well-worn thoughts as a first port of call when faced with a new challenge or crisis.

The only advice I can offer, from one recovering intellect to perhaps another, is that the moment you turn away from your thoughts and allow them to settle, the intelligence that exists beyond the intellect will be waiting for you, right there where you left it…

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,


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