July 2018
Text by Prarthana Ajith

Image: © swissmediavision/istockphoto.com

As a technical communicator, Prarthana Ajith has over 13 years of experience in writing across several technical domains for hardware, storage, and automation products. She strives to look beyond the horizon of her job and take up challenging assignments. She believes that in life, change is the only constant, and that those who are able to adapt well to change are the ones who will lead rich, fulfilling lives.




Can I have the cake and eat it too?

Positive intelligence can dramatically change our lives, both personally and professionally. And while hard skills and experience take many years to build up and hone, positive intelligence can be improved with just a few focused exercises every day.

"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."

– John Milton, Paradise Lost


We go through a myriad of emotions during our lifetime, many of which leave a gnawing feeling inside us for not having done justice to what life has to offer. How many of us feel that we have reached an optimal state of happiness and performance when it comes to work and personal life? I for one feel the constant need to question if I am good enough or not. I find myself setting higher levels of achievement to reach that elusive state of happiness. On achieving what I think will make me happy, I always end up feeling that there is something lacking, and end up placing my conquest for permanent happiness further away.

How do we cope with situations like these? We read one self-help book after another, but the period of change lasts for a very short while. Learning from expensive training programs at exotic locations does not last too long either. So why is it that in spite of all the tools, technology and books, we have not been able to reach significant levels of happiness? It seems as if we are focusing on maintaining only the leaves of the tree of our lives, and we have forgotten how to water the roots.

Positive intelligence is a term that has been coined by Stanford professor Shirzad Chamine. Behind this term are strategies that can be used to dramatically change our lives. Positive intelligence helps us to put together the puzzle of what is at our root level and how we can tend to it more effectively so that we can reach significantly higher levels of happiness and performance.


Here is the summary of the powerful research that has been conducted over the past 15 years on four different areas of human psychology.

Positive psychology

After centuries of thinking that higher performance leads to higher levels of happiness, researchers have turned this assumption on its head to say that only higher levels of happiness can lead to higher levels of achievement. A happier brain is much more capable, resourceful, and creative.

Studies also say that 90 percent of the variation in the levels of happiness among different people is only dependent on what is happening inside their heads. It has nothing to do with occurrences or situations in their lives, such as wealth, possessions, relationships, job position, and so on.


With the help of powerful MRIs, neuroscience has been able to pinpoint the exact areas of the brain that, when activated, generate all these positive, wonderful feelings that collectively create our happiness.

In addition, this discipline has taught us that the brain is like a muscle and, with some simple exercises, you can command the parts of the brain that need to be activated and those that need to be soothed.

Cognitive psychology    

Studies in this discipline show that people have some dysfunctional, automatic habits of the mind that not only create their unhappiness, but also get in their way of performing at the highest level. Cognitive psychology has also shown us that there are some relatively simple ways to reprogram the mind and replace some of these dysfunctional habits with positive habits. This will not only make you happier, but much more effective.

Behavioral science

Many years of significant research have proven that emotional intelligence is the key to achieving your highest level of performance when it comes to professional accomplishments. Hence, it is clear that competencies in the soft skill domain are far more important than hard skills or IQ.

Psychological analysis

Positive intelligence combines the best of these four disciplines of psychology to create a framework that is:

  • Simple
  • Actionable, helping you to react differently to challenging situations
  • Measurable, so that you can track your progress

At its very root, positive intelligence is about a battle that is raging inside the head of every human being – a battle between the two voices of the brain: One that serves you and one that sabotages you. As much as we hate to accept it, every one of us spends a considerable amount of time in self-sabotaging mode. The voice that sabotages comes from the so-called saboteurs, while the voice that serves you is called the sage. The sage is actually your true, unique voice, and it is the voice that you must trust. Using positive intelligence strategies, you can measure the strength of the saboteurs against the strength of the sage. The balance between these two powers forms the root of the greatest level of happiness and performance you can achieve.

Neurological analysis

The brain is composed of the survivor brain and the positive intelligence brain. The saboteurs are the agents of the survivor brain and the sage is the agent of the positive intelligence brain. The survivor brain is made up of the brain stem, the limbic system and parts of the left brain. The positive intelligence brain is made up of the cortex and parts of the right brain. Both parts are wired differently with regard to neurochemicals and produce different chemicals.

The emotions generated by the survivor brain are anxiety, anger, and disappointment, whereas the emotions generated by the positive intelligence brain are creativity, empathy, and peace. It is important to understand that your level of happiness or unhappiness is not based on particular circumstances in your life, such as having a bad boss or losing your job. These are simply the events that are happening in your life. But if you can respond to these events by activating your positive intelligence brain, you can deal with difficult situations without feeling anxious or stressed.

The survivor brain’s job is to survive, which is extremely important from an evolutionary perspective. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors’ survival depended on their ability to remain highly alert and in a state of constant panic to endure the rough conditions they lived in. As a result, the survivor brain developed. It is particularly good at working out what is wrong and sensing danger. The problem is that it tends to sense danger even where there is none. The other problem is that the survivor brain is not very good at being creative or thinking outside the box. In survivor brain mode, we tend to develop tunnel vision, mentally and physically.

Positive Intelligence Quotient (PQ)

The Positive Intelligence Quotient (PQ) measures the percentage of time that you spend in sage mode versus in saboteur mode. You can measure it based on the time that you feel different emotions, indicating the mode that you are in. You want to aim to use your survivor brain as little as possible, because negative feelings such as fear or disappointment act only as a wakeup call to help you figure out what you need to do next. So while there is definitely a time and place for feeling angry, anxious or irritated, this should really only take up about 5 percent of your time! There is nobody with a positive intelligence quotient of 100 or 0. The questions are: How can you shift the scale and what dramatic improvements to your personality can happen while you do so?

Research has shown that people with a high PQ live ten years longer. The neurochemical that the survivor brain produces is cortisol, a stress hormone that is intended to be released only during actual danger. However, nowadays, cortisol is being produced 24/7. The positive intelligence brain, on the other hand, produces hormones such as endorphins, which give you a happy high. Think about it: If you run on naturally-produced hormones that make you feel better, is it not all but natural that you would live ten years longer?

Formation of saboteurs

All of us are born with endless access to our own positive energy. So how and when do saboteurs take over? Saboteur formation is a normal process, and the first stage of our mental development, when we develop survivor strategies. The best parenting and upbringing cannot save us from this mental drama. For a child, survival is beyond just physical survival. We also need to survive emotionally, as we make it to reproductive adulthood. Even if you did not have a chaotic childhood, there are enough challenges such as the illness of a parent, sibling rivalry, and peer pressure at school. Your saboteurs help you to sense and protect yourself from danger.

When we look at the different types of saboteurs, there is one that all of us have: the judge. This saboteur has the predisposition of exaggerating the negative and assuming the worst. Early on in life, the judge helps us to sort the world around us to create a coherent mental construct. The judge uses at least one of the following accomplice saboteurs to ensure your early physical and emotional survival:

  • Controller
  • Hyper-achiever
  • Restless
  • Stickler
  • Pleaser
  • Hyper-vigilant
  • Avoider
  • Victim
  • Hyper-rational

I strongly recommend that you go to www.positiveintelligence.com to learn about the characteristics of each of the saboteurs and take the test to understand the saboteurs that govern your mind.

Strategies to increase your PQ

Weaken your saboteurs

After you have identified the saboteurs that govern your mind, create a "Wanted poster" for them so that you can catch them when they show up. Give each of the saboteurs a name and list its characteristics. After this, when a saboteur appears in your head, recognize it, label your thought and let it go, instead of trusting it or pursuing it. This will take away the power and credibility of these saboteurs.

Strengthen your sage

It is not enough to just weaken the bad guys; you also need to strengthen the good guys. One key aspect about the sage is achieving the sage perspective, which tells you that every outcome or circumstance can be changed into an opportunity. An easy way to strengthen your sage is to actually begin to embrace this perspective. Once you assume the sage perspective, your brain actively shifts from the survivor brain to the positive intelligence brain. Accept your mistakes and use them as an opportunity. The sage perspective is not a matter of a spiritual leap of faith; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe in the sage perspective, your brain shifts into the region that will be able to turn the challenge, difficulty, failure or mistake into an opportunity.

Build PQ muscles

Building your PQ muscles will take you automatically to the positive intelligence brain rather than the survivor brain. The traditional way of strengthening your PQ muscles is meditation. Unfortunately, it is not a tool that works for more than 10 percent of the people, even though it is very profound if you can manage to use it. A more manageable way to train your PQ muscles is to get about 100 PQ reps in a day.

A PQ rep means ten seconds of bringing your full attention, as much as you can, to any physical sensation. You must recognize that personal transformation is more of a fitness model. You will need to care enough to achieve those levels of sustained happiness. Here are some sample techniques that you can employ to get in those 100 PQ reps per day:

  • For ten seconds, feel the rise and fall of your chest when you breathe
  • When you are having a meal, for a few mouthfuls, feel the texture and taste of the food on your tongue
  • Rub your fingertips with each other in rapt attention

Sage powers

So what happens when you have weakened your saboteurs, strengthened your sage and built your PQ muscles? It simply gives you unlimited access to five sage powers, which help you to handle whatever life or work throws at you:

  • Empathy: Can you be compassionate in difficult situations?
  • Exploration: Can you be excited about the opportunities in life?
  • Innovation: Can you truly think outside the box?
  • Navigation: Can you navigate to find the path that is aligned to the purpose and meaning of your life?
  • Activation: Can you take action with complete focus?

Achievement and PQ

Your PQ determines how much of your actual potential is utilized, as described by this straightforward formula:

Achievement = Potential x PQ

This is a common sense formula and not intended to generate specific calculations. It is simply meant to illustrate the relationship between potential, achievement, and PQ.

Your potential is determined by many factors, including your cognitive and emotional intelligence, skills, knowledge, and experience, networking skills, and so on. At higher PQ levels, most of your energy gets channeled through the five powers of sage and is focused on creating the outcomes you desire. At lower PQ levels, some amount of energy is used to sabotage your efforts, leading to less desirable results.

The formula confirms that only 20 percent of individuals and teams have PQ scores compatible with reaching most of their true potential. The fastest and most efficient way to increase achievement and performance is to increase PQ, and not potential. This is because part of your potential, such as your IQ, is fixed, and the rest of your potential is built over many years of acquiring skills, knowledge, and experience. Your PQ, on the other hand, can be increased dramatically in just a few weeks or months.


The American poet and philosopher, Henry Thoreau said "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Let’s say "no" to that! Using the science and technology of positive intelligence, you can be singing all the way until the end!