Positive intelligence (PI) is a psychological concept developed by Shirzad Chamine that focuses on how we think about ourselves, our abilities, and the messages we give ourselves. It claims that when we are able to recognise negative thinking and identify our saboteurs—nine distinct mental habits that impede personal growth—we can achieve greater success and satisfaction in life. In this article, we'll explore positive intelligence in more detail and discuss how to overcome your saboteurs.
What Exactly is Positive Intelligence?
In his book, "Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours," Chamine defines positive intelligence as “the percentage of time your mind is serving you as opposed to sabotaging you." He believes most of us have a saboteur—an internal voice or mental habit that works against our best interests and holds us back from achieving success.
His neuroscience and cognitive behavioural psychology research suggests that we share only ten saboteurs and that if we can learn to identify them and address them head-on, we can ultimately achieve greater success and satisfaction in life. The way to do this is through five "sage powers" that help us to move away from negative self-talk and towards a more balanced, mindful way of living.
"The Saboteurs push you into action and success through anger, regret, fear, guilt, anxiety, shame, obligation, etc," he writes in his book. "But the Sage pulls you into action through compassion, curiosity, creativity, the joy of self-expression, a desire to contribute and create meaning, and the excitement of action. Would you rather be pushed or pulled? Only the Sage lets you achieve success without sacrificing happiness and peace of mind.”
Chamine's work is in line with the works of other scholars, including, most notably, Carol Dweck and her growth mindset vs fixed mindset theory, which suggests that our beliefs about ourselves and our potential play a significant role in how successful we are. Having a growth mindset means that you view yourself and your abilities as malleable, changeable, and something that can be improved over time with effort. This contrasts with a fixed mindset, which suggests that abilities and talents are largely predetermined.
The Nine Saboteurs
Shirzad Chamine identified nine distinct mental habits—or saboteurs—that impede personal growth as limiting beliefs. These include:
1) The Victim
You tend to feel powerless and blame external factors for your lack of success. You often don't take responsibility for your life and instead rely on others to fix things or make decisions for you. This can lead to feelings of resentment and anger, as well as a sense that life is unfair.
2) The Controller
You are a perfectionist and tend to micromanage yourself and others. You often focus on the details, neglecting the bigger picture, and as a result, can miss out on opportunities for growth.
3) The Avoider
You tend to procrastinate and avoid things that make you feel uncomfortable, such as difficult tasks or challenging conversations. You may also bottle up your emotions, which can lead to feelings of isolation, depression and low self-esteem.
4) The Pleaser
You are a people-pleaser and may have difficulty saying no to others. You tend to put other's needs before your own, which can lead to feelings of resentment and a lack of fulfilment. You may also be prone to guilt, shame and anxiety if you don't meet the expectations of others.
You are driven by a need to achieve and may constantly strive for external validation. This can lead to an unhealthy obsession with success and material possessions, as well as feelings of inadequacy if you don't reach your goals.
You tend to rely heavily on logical reasoning and factual evidence, often denying or ignoring your emotions. This can lead to feelings of disconnection with yourself and others, as well as difficulty expressing empathy or understanding different perspectives.
You are constantly on alert, always worrying about potential danger and risk. This can lead to feelings of paranoia and anxiety, as well as a sense of being overwhelmed and out of control.
You are easily bored and find it hard to stay focused or motivated. This can lead to feelings of frustration and a sense that life is passing you by.
You are a perfectionist and may find it hard to accept imperfection. This can cause you to become overly critical of yourself and others, as well as feeling a sense of disappointment if your high standards aren't met.
Overcome Sabotaging Thoughts
Chamine says that everyone has what he calls " Sage’s five great powers." They are the ability to 1) explore with curiosity, 2) empathise with yourself, 3) innovate and create new perspectives, 4) navigate and choose a path that is aligned with your values and mission, and 5) activate and move forward decisively. After years of research and working with numerous clients, Chamine concluded that these five powers are essential to overcoming sabotaging thoughts and behaviours.
"Your Sage lives in an entirely different region of your brain, the middle prefrontal cortex, “empathy circuitry”, and parts of the right brain. It generates positive emotions while handling life’s challenge," reads a summary of his book PositiveIntelligence.com. "Activating this region results in release of endorphins that counter the negative impacts of stress-induced cortisol."
Ultimately, while not all of us may be limited by all nine of the saboteurs, it's important to be aware of our own inner critics, patterns and behaviours and how they may affect our lives. With the proper understanding, self-reflection, and tools like Chamine's Sage's five great powers, we can work towards overcoming sabotaging thoughts and behaviours that are holding us back from a life of joy and fulfilment.