Tips on what to read, listen to, or do to become smarter are incredibly popular. There's no mystery as to why -- lots of ambitious professionals are obviously looking to boost their chances of success by making themselves just a bit more intelligent.

What could be wrong with that? Quite a lot actually, responds Columbia University psychologist and author Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in a fascinating recent Fast Company article.

Generalized brain training is a waste of time.

While Chamorro-Premuzic doesn't discourage lifelong learning, he argues that focusing on boosting your IQ is actually a pretty wasteful way to approach self-improvement. The harsh truth from science is that our basic mental horsepower is pretty fixed throughout our lives. If anything it declines as we age.

That means that brain-training programs, intelligence-exercising puzzles, or other efforts to increase IQ in general are largely wasted effort (becoming a subject area expert is another matter entirely). If you want to get the most out of whatever mental capacities nature has endowed you with, there are far more efficient ways than trying to "get smarter" overall, Chamorro-Premuzic claims..

His article goes on to list a handful of more effective approaches. All are worth a try if this is something you're passionate about, but perhaps the most surprising of the idea that you would probably be better off spending less energy worrying about your IQ and more boosting your EQ.

EQ solves more real-world problems than IQ.

The essence of Chamorro-Premuzic's argument is that, a few very technical situations aside (and if you're involved in those, insufficient IQ probably isn't a major concern of yours), more real-world problems get solved with people skills than raw intelligence. That means you can get more bang for your self-improvement buck by focusing on EQ.

And while our personalities are shaped by genetics, "there are still habits you can practice to get better at social interactions," he notes.

How do you go about boosting your EQ? Chamorro-Premuzic says learning your own stress triggers can pay dividends. So can "getting feedback on how other people see you," in order to "enhance your self-awareness... It generally involves being more other-focused than self-focused--or at least seeming that way."

Some might object that managing your image in this way inauthentic. Get over it, responds Chamorro-Premuzic. Thoughtful self-presentation is a hugely useful skill for an adult to possess. "Contrary to popular belief, the most likable people are not authentic; they just manage to come across as genuine enough, while paying close attention to how they're perceived. In other words, they're just expert reputation managers," he concludes.

If you're looking for more ideas on how to strengthen your EQ, other experts have also offered lots and lots of ideas.

Do you spend too much time worrying about your IQ and not enough building up your EQ?

Published on: Apr 18, 2017
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