A New Kind of Intelligence

The most exciting tool I’ve seen lately for raising test scores - AND for making an impact on the rest of a student’s life, too - has been Positive Intelligence.

Positive Intelligence has answers for all of us, whether it's about choking on the big test, sinking your five-foot putts, or wondering about how to parent a kid through the stresses of high school.

From author Shirzad Chamine, Positive Intelligence (or “PQ” like IQ or EQ) is the ratio of thoughts you’re having and believing that serve and empower you versus those that disempower you.

The key number is 75. If your PQ is 75, then you’re having an average of three thoughts that empower you to every one thought that disempowers you. Only one in five people has a PQ above 75, but for those that do, their inner world of thoughts and reactions to life is an inherently empowering place that lifts them up, assures them of their value and worth, emboldens them to take on challenges, and reminds them not beat themselves up too much over mistakes.

For most, however, our PQ is below 75, causing our inner world to be one that inherently pulls us down. It tells us how stupid we are. That we need to be perfect to be loved. That we just can’t bother to look at that email right now because it must say something bad about us.

That answer choice C on question 15 which our instinct wanted to choose when we first saw it just can’t be right; it can’t be that easy; I must be wrong. And that’s how a testtaker with low PQ doubts her first instinct and second-guesses her way to the wrong answer instead.

PQ looks at ten voices in our heads that undermine us (lowering our PQ) when we feel stressed:

The Judge The Stickler (Perfectionist) The Pleaser The Hyper-Achiever The Victim The Hyper-Vigilant The Hyper-Rational The Restless The Controller The Avoider

Chamine calls these voices “Saboteurs,” i.e. voices that sabotage us, yet which pretend to be helping us.

The Judge tells you how you or someone else isn’t good enough.

The Stickler craves order and perfection above all else, lying to you that perfectionism doesn’t come at a huge cost.

The Pleaser believes it needs to do favors and give compliments to people to make them like you.

The Hyper-Achiever cannot live without the external validation that achievements bring, throwing you into workaholism.

The Victim harps on your own pain and wounding from the past, both to seem more significant and to get others’ sympathy and love.

The Hyper-Vigilant sees disaster around every corner, imagining catastrophe.

Any moment we feel tension or stress, it is because a Saboteur is “running our show.”

Why We “Choke” in the Big Moment

Standardized tests like the SAT are a prime arena in which students often “choke,” or perform below their best, because stakes are high.

The Hyper-Vigilant tells a student “you better not screw up. All of college and your future are riding on this. You don’t want to disappoint Mom and Dad or get a score that embarrasses yourself in front of your friends.”

That voice will stress anyone out.

Then the Judge jumps in: “you’re doing it wrong. You’re not going fast enough. The student next to you is two pages ahead. This is going terribly.”

The student’s confidence plummets as he listens to and believe these voices. So does his test score.

And this happens to people ALL THE TIME!!!!

Growing up, I was lucky enough to barely be in the grip of Saboteurs when I took standardized tests. But in sports, I was maybe 50/50 caught in Saboteurs versus not. Socially, meanwhile, it was Saboteur City! Probably not until this past year at age 33 have I stopped having Saboteurs run my show in every interaction.

I was choking in 90% or more of my interactions, and it caused me so much pain and frustration in my relationships. We all have arenas where our Saboteurs come out and take hold of us.

Introducing You to Your Inner Sage

So who CAN we be if we’re not going to listen to those “stressful voices”?

We can be what Chamine calls our “Sage”: our deeper, inner wisdom; who we are at our core; our true self who exists beneath all the layers of insecurity that we’ve placed on top through time and hardship.

One reason little children are so endearing to be around is they have not yet developed their Saboteurs. They live in their “Sage.” They live in the essence of who they really are. No masks. No affectations. No compensating behaviors because deep down they believe they really aren’t good enough.

Knowing PQ, though, even as adults, we can choose In any moment to live in our Sage. We can notice the Saboteur voices that are trying to run our lives, and flip instead into our Sage.

All we have to do is ask our Sage what it knows.


The Avoider might have me resist doing a task that isn’t fun (which was me in the face of 95% of my homework growing up). Faced with handling my taxes or close-reading a contract, I might feel stress and hear the Avoider say “You don’t need to do that. You’ll do it later.”

OK. Knowing that voice came from a feeling of stress, I can be sure it’s a Saboteur. So what does my Sage say instead?

“But my Sage knows,” I say to myself, and then just see what words fill in the blank that follows - “that if I tackle it right now, it’ll be over with in 15 minutes, and I’ll feel fantastic for having handled it.”

And guess what. I find myself handling it!

Now that I know PQ, I have about 25 of these conversations with myself per day. And I can honestly say it’s changed my life.

Last night I took the Growth Wise tutors out to dinner for the holiday - something we did for the first time - and we hadn’t all be together in one social space. In tiny moments of social awkwardness at the beginning of the meal, I felt the Saboteurs flare up. The Judge was saying “This is really awkward! Nobody knows what to talk about! This is your fault! You should know how to make this interaction more smooth!”

But my Sage knew: “People are having a great time. A moment where people don’t know what to say next is common. They feel really good to be here.”

And then I relaxed.

It’s interesting: you know it’s the Saboteurs when your mind harps on the same issue over and over, creating stress, and saying really mean things to you! The Sage, meanwhile, is always kind, yet never weak; it always says the truth; and it only needs to say it once.

Whether we know it or not, we’re all making a choice, over and over each day, to live from our Saboteurs, or to live from our essence, our Sage. And that choice will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I relaxed at the holiday dinner, my tutors probably relaxed, too, and we ended up having a great time together.

Whether we live in Saboteurs or in Sage, our choice is contagious, and it leads to very different lives.

You may be a student gearing up for a major test, or a parent looking after one and wondering how to keep them on task (the Pleaser might prevent you from doing that) yet not over-stressed (the Hyper-Achiever could have you driving them into over-work). In any situation, awareness of PQ is a game-changer.

You need your Sage to navigate these waters successfully.

Reach out to me if you’d like yourself or your child to learn PQ in a couple of sessions with me.

Nothing is making me happier these days than to share this awareness.

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