Human evolution has yielded a predicament for a percentage of our population that was born with above average intelligence.  The greater your brain’s ability to think, the greater chance you have that you will get carried away with thinking, and this can lead down some troublesome paths.

This problem is not exclusive to the wealthy, successful, or outwardly pretentious person.  In fact, high intelligence comes in all shapes and sizes, and a person’s ability to recognize and realize their potential is often stifled by some very ordinary means.

A child born into a well to-do family may enjoy writing poetry, but due to a hectic vacation and sports schedule, never has the quiet time they crave in which to think and write. A child born into poverty might love cooking or carpentry, but must spend all their time working odd jobs to help support the family. Both scenarios are entirely plausible and commonplace. And both may create adults whose true personalities are hidden, and whose outward personas are fabricated to help them cope with a world that causes grief and pain.

A book by Eric Maisel PhD, Why Smart People Hurtexamines why people with a higher intellectual capacity may struggle more with racing-brain syndrome, poor health habits, or even mental disorders.  He notes that intelligence is often viewed as threatening, in the form of non-traditional opinions, parent/child disputes, or even inflammatory rhetoric.  Some cultural norms act to dampen intellectual voices, or reduce our ability to acknowledge them. A classic example is the child who is bored with school, and gets poor grades. The school’s ability to recognize a gifted mind and cater to it, is limited in totally ordinary ways. Budget, staffing, curriculum. So, these children that are blessed with higher abilities, may find themselves cast out of a more average social system.

When they grow up, some may excel at college due to natural abilities, some may flounder because they are unsure of their gifts and don’t know how to manage them. Once these young adults enter the workplace, they may be able to apply their intellectual gifts more readily, having left the traditional educational system behind. However, they are also burdened with financial and family obligations, which means that once they have embarked on a career, and find it uninspiring, they are handcuffed from change.

Think of the financial executive who may leave his job to become an actor. Or a lawyer who retires in order to build boats. There are personal and professional risks to acknowledging and realizing your true self, and choosing to follow where your brain really wants you to go. The people that remain in jobs that are not well suited to their true personalities or real mental gifts, can often wind up pacifying themselves with substance abuse, self-harming, or other destructive behaviors. This can even be as subtle as the co-worker who is always grouchy. Or always taking sick-leave.

Maisel has written over 40 books on the subjects of creativity, psychology, and mental health. In Why Smart People Hurt, he does a masterful job of using anecdotes and step-by-step processes to break down the troubles of the smart, and deliver real perspective and a path to relieving the pain. His term ‘meaning making’ refers to the act of investing time in creating meaning in your life, in context. If you’re in a job you hate, and you simply cannot change jobs, then make a daily commitment to find one small thing that you can make meaningful to you. Analyze what you don’t like about your job, rank the issues, and carefully choose one factor you can change in order to add more meaning to your day. Such as, if you work on a team, create a team member appreciation process. Use your inherent gifts to inject meaning into your situation, and work on that act like a new skill-set.

In the context of ‘racing-brain’, another common ailment, you may find that a new challenge causes you spin out of control, thinking yourself into a distressful state. For most people, they accomplish little to nothing once their brains have run away on their own. If this is a problem at work, experiment with techniques to help you corral your thoughts before they cause you distress. Type an outline, use a whiteboard to free-form some thoughts, leave yourself a voicemail. Then, make your last thought about YOU. Reflect on the project, or challenge, and add a note about what value YOU bring to the table, your skills or ideas. Taking the time to reflect on the challenge, and how you relate to it, will help reduce your potential for distressing thoughts of failure or inadequacy.

Maisel’s book helps unravel the mysteries of a mind that has evolved to hold great potential, but was not designed with an off-switch. So, we must learn to manage the barrage of thoughts and ideas, and find ways to capitalize on meaning-making opportunities in order to lead happier lives. (image via Shutterstock)

For more information, visit Why Smart People Hurt.

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