03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Mar 20, 2015

Are You Intelligent Or Just Intellectual?

If you have been following this series of articles on creating a more positive experience of life, you will have noticed the penchant for some to keep finding fault.

Sometimes the criticism is the rather simplistic complaint that "positive thinking" doesn't work. No matter how many ways we agree that simple thinking isn't enough, the complaints still seem to come. And most often from the same complainants! For some reason, these folks just don't seem willing to acknowledge that a positive focus coupled with positive, proactive action provides the opportunity to progress or improve.

I'll be the first to agree that none of these ideas that I have been sharing work. No question whatsoever. None of these ideas work - at least not on their own.

For any idea to work, it takes a focused, determined person to implement the idea. Even then, the person must be willing to learn, make corrections, and stay focused in order to translate a positive focus into a positive result.

To be sure, there have been any number of charlatans over the years who have peddled simplistic self improvement elixirs to the equally simplistic recipients who keep hoping for a silver bullet, miracle cure or some bit of magic to transform their lives for them.

The real problem lies not in the idea of a positive focus on a positive outcome, but in the mindless hope that many hold for improvement without effort. If there is a disease in America, as some would suggest, it is not in the power of a positive focus supported by positive action. Rather, it is the entitlement mentality that many have adopted coupled with the wishful belief in the instant fix.

However, it gets even more insidious. (That's a great word, by the way. Insidious comes from the Latin, insidiae, for ambush. It generally means awaiting the opportunity to entrap, or something that is harmful yet enticing.)

Indeed, many of the negativists of the world seem to engage in an insidious game, using their intellect, but not their intelligence, to argue against the potential for positive focus or improvement. For some reason, this group apparently favors some form of helplessness, seemingly encouraging inaction over focused effort.

Over the years, I have encountered many who have read a handful of so-called self-help books, but who have not actually tried any of the suggestions. To be fair, there are also those who have tried and come up short. The curious thing is that a combination of reading without action and a few failed attempts somehow add up to positive focus as some kind of hoax perpetuated on the unsuspecting.

So what's behind the negativity? Why the persistence in claiming that a positive focus is somehow, well, negative?

Can't these folks see the difference between the superficial notion of "positive thinking," which is nothing more than pretending and denial, compared to taking positive action toward a preferred outcome? How does anyone achieve any goal without a positive focus, positive frame of mind, and willingness to take action? And if adversity presents itself, are you supposed to just give up and blame the circumstances?

I suspect the real challenge may lie in the difference between using one's intelligence vs. one's intellect.

A good friend and teacher of mine pointed out the difference to me with the following example:

Imagine that you want to learn a language. The intellectual approach might be to read a bunch of books about the language while an intelligent approach might be to hang out with people who actually speak the language. The intellectual approach may result in someone who knows all the rules of grammar but who is incapable of actually carrying on a conversation. The intelligent approach may produce someone who is fluent, but not necessarily able to articulate the rules.

Of course, in the latter instance, you could always use your intellect to parse the language once you have learned it. The only question would be how important would it be to learn the rules if you can already speak the language? In some circumstances, it might be quite important, and in others, not at all.

And if you want to have some more fun, try this one on for size: read the following phrase out loud and see if you can figure out what it means. Presuming that you will surely be able to understand the meaning, then come back with an accurate, complete way of writing the phrase. No matter how sharp your intellect, I doubt that you will be able to use any of your written language skills to accurately write the sentence, and yet the meaning can still be conveyed through your native intelligence.

Here's the phrase: there are three too's in the English language.

Should that be "there are three 2's, to's, or too's?" Clearly, you can say the phrase out loud and communicate its meaning; however, you just can't write it.

Following this somewhat flimsy yet understandable line of understanding, my admonition would be to try reading this work, and that of others who are offering something of possible substance, using your intelligence, not just your intellect.

I have frequently encountered another reason why people sometimes seem unable to apply these principles. Sometimes the real problem lies in an underlying fear of taking responsibility (response-ability) for the current condition and deciding to do something about it. Now, for the umpteenth time, responsibility doesn't mean blame - as Fritz Perls reframed it, response-ability means "having the ability to respond."

If we didn't have the ability to respond, I would understand. However, we do. Sometimes the choices are narrow, to say the least - just read Viktor Frankl if you want to see something about narrow choices (Nazi concentration camp) and what can be done.

However, in most Huff Post readers' lives, the circumstances are not quite so severe.

In the work I have done with people over the past 35 years, I have seen numerous instances where people fight against the notion of improvement. When we dig underneath the resistance, what we often find are people who are desperately afraid that they won't be able to improve, that somehow they didn't get the tools, the ability, or the luck necessary to succeed.

And then there's the problem of defining success. Does success mean living in the mansion with numerous zeroes in the bank account balance? Or could it mean something as simple as living life in alignment with one's spiritual or personal values? Could it mean improving just a little in terms of quality and qualities of life, however the individual chooses to define it?

I suspect that improvement can and does mean any number of things to people. I'm fond of saying that my goal in working with people is to help them get what they think they want as rapidly as possible so I can ask them, "Was that it?"

More often than not, the goal turns out not to be "it." Of course, that's what I've been writing about for the past 18 months.

It's pretty difficult to communicate a complete articulation of these principles within the confines of a single blog post, so I do my bit by adding to the conversation each week, hoping that some part of this will be useful to those for whom the information is new. To that end, it may be useful to look over the archive of my articles, all of which are free, at

This leads me to the most interesting group of negativists, the ones like our friend, "OtayPanky," who keeps writing something that probably makes sense to him or her. These folks keep missing the most obvious. Here's a recent example from a comment on an article two weeks ago:

The profit motive is a real part of the problem here.

When it comes to the dispensation of WISDOM (and that is what we are really discussing), we're speaking about an essentially SPIRITUAL phenomenon. And I would propose - and the great teachers of spiritual wisdom throughout history would agree - that once you try to make the imparting of spiritual wisdom a PRODUCT, that it is ruined.

Of course, no society in history has succeeded in making everything a product more than ours. So let's step back and reflect: Is this the best way to transmit wisdom? Or does it lead to hucksterism, and the splitting of society into the haves versus the have nots?

Is a new paradigm possible? Of course it is. But we have to become convinced first that the old "pay to play" paradigm is not good enough, and needs to be left behind.

OtayPanky likes to go on and on about profit, charging for wisdom, or teaching, or the like, and yet seems to keep missing a couple of interesting facts.

First, virtually all of this work is as old as the wind - truth seems to have a way of being old or at least it seems to keep on being true regardless of time. It could be that different descriptions emerge from time to time as new ways of saying something old. Of course, timeless wisdom will always be new to the person who hasn't heard it before. Wisdom, however, is wisdom and, contrary to OtayPanky, wisdom cannot be "ruined." It just is.

Second, it sure would be great if OtayPanky and those of the same mindset would pause to notice, even if for just a moment, that these writings are available here, at the Huffington Post, for free. All of them. All the time. And not just from me.

(By the way, I don't get paid to write this. It's just my contribution of thought and experience for those who might find it of value.)

Lastly, virtually all of this information can be found in books, scriptures, and writings of all manner and kind, and all of it at the local library. For free. I once attended a seminar and complained to the instructor that they were charging what to me was a lot of money for timeless wisdoms. The instructor countered that the information was free, but the container cost money (the seminar room, heat, lights, etc). Kind of made me sit up and take notice.

Sometime later, in one of those teaching moments wherein the difference between intelligence and intellect came up, my spiritual teacher pointed out something profound to me, about me. He said, as I was busy dismissing something else with my intellectual ability, "Russell - the information may be available to you, but the question is, are you available to the information."

So, why do I keep writing these articles? Because some people seem to benefit from them; some have used bits and pieces to encourage or inspire themselves to get up off their duffs and do something to make a difference - in their own lives, in those of their families, and sometimes for their communities.

I'm in favor of finding the source of your inspiration and that's a big part of why I write these pieces - it helps me connect to the part of me that is connected to Spirit, to the Divine, to our Source. I like it when I live my life enthusiastically and maybe you do as well. (Both Latin and Greek derivations of enthusiasm (en + theos) mean something akin to "being inspired by God.")

There may be something "divine" to learn - for me, for you, for goodness knows how many people. In addition to all the spiritual connotations of "divine," the word also means "something extremely good or unusually lovely."

I hope you can find the part that is Lovely for you!

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)