This is the third in a series of posts about the psychology of making good decisions in the contexts of life in our twenties and thirties. In the first post we talked about the good and bad things of having much more freedom after college. In the second post we talked about the cost associated with an abundance of opportunities. In the third post we discussed how with every opportunity there is a cost and the more choices we explore, the worse we can feel about our decisions. In this post we will talk about how you can begin using emotional intelligence to make better decisions.
During my first week in college, I met Steve. He was valedictorian of his high school and a math wiz who was just a few points shy of getting a perfect SAT score. Steve was one of the most intelligent people I had ever met and yet, at the end of the first semester, he was on probation for nearly flunking two of his classes.
The reason Steve had done so poorly in school was because he had spent most of his semester hanging out with friends, drinking, getting high, and sleeping until one or two in the afternoon. At the end of the year, he had to leave our school for a year and take classes at a community college before coming back. I still don’t know if he ever graduated.
Whenever I thought about Steve, I always used to ask myself how someone with such a high IQ could act so dumb. Why did he have so much trouble making good decisions? I soon found the answer in Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
What Goleman has found during his years of intelligence research is that things like IQ, the ability to get a high SAT score, or good grades are not always the best ways to predict who will succeed in life. This is not to say that there isn’t a relationship between IQ, SATs, grades, and future success. There certainly can be. However, more and more research continues to show that they aren’t the only factors involved, says Karen Arnold, professor of education at Boston University who tracks valedictorians. “To know that a person is a valedictorian is to only know that he or she is exceedingly good at achievement as measured by grades. It tells you nothing about how they react to the vicissitudes of life.”