Decoding “success”

Through systematic and continuous use of various quantitative and qualitative research methodologies over the past few decades, psychologists have firmly established the fact that IQ alone does not account for one’s life success. Research data in this area is so strong that it is now empirically accepted that cognitive development is not the sole aim of schools.

Living proof

The evidence for this was found through a study conducted by Gregory Feist and Frank Barron among 80 PhD (science) students who took a battery of personality tests, IQ tests and interviews in the 1950s at University of California, Berkeley. When tracked down forty years later and assessed for success through their resumes, evaluation by experts in their own fields, and listing in the American Men and Women of Science, it was found that social-emotional intelligence were four times more important than IQ in determining professional success and prestige among these individuals.

A meta-analysis of data from various research over time and across cultures also reveals that IQ scores (which are believed to significantly correlate with school grades) account for as little as four percent and as high as twenty-five percent variance for success in job performance.

What researchers have consistently found is that while IQ scores and school grades could get people in to universities and good jobs, whether individuals succeed or fail thereafter is significantly determined by their abilities to, as Daniel Goleman puts it, “sense, understand, value and effectively apply the power and insight of emotions as a source of human energy, information, trust, creativity and influence.”

End result

As such, individuals who are able to handle frustration, control emotion and get along well with other people are invariably more successful, get and keep good jobs, are given promotions and live happier, fulfilling lives.

Although success is tangibly measured and used to guide decisions about people’s potential, the fact remains that we live in a social environment that is dynamic and not confined to measurable outcomes all the time. Hence, people who truly succeed in the long run are those who acknowledge that there is more to success than IQ and school/college grades.

Awareness in this direction will enable individuals to recognize the importance of spending time in self-reflection (introspection), learning impulse control, developing perspective taking skills, valuing intrinsic over extrinsic motivation, handling relationship better and recognizing and responding appropriately to others’ emotion (empathy).

Back to basics

It is time that schools take these research findings seriously and include the emotional aspect of learning more rigorously in mainstream curricula. This was the case in ancient schooling systems, regardless of how primitive they were – founded on the belief that focusing on developing strong emotional intelligence is the pre-requisite to producing clever individuals (unlike our education system that aims at making students clever and leaving emotional development to chance and natural causes, i.e. age and experience).


Schools could do this by engaging students in activities that are geared toward deliberately developing emotional intelligence. Starting the day with a gratitude exercise, where students focus their attention on at least three good things they have in life, and making verbal remarks about how grateful they are, are both an exercise that enhances introspective skills as well as increases a sense of appreciation and optimism.

Additionally, schools could incorporate technologies available from Institute of HeartMath ( – a non-profit organization that has spent the last 18 years in studying heart intelligence and emotional management, and provides students with inexpensive, easy-to-use tools scientifically developed and tested to increase their self-awareness and emotional states.

Schools would also benefit from appropriate and intelligent use of strengths-profiling assessment tools made available by at, another cutting-edge research organization that is founded upon the principles of positive psychology that advocates for positivity, personal happiness, healthy relationships, resilience and mindfulness.

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