IQ measures cognitive intelligence—something we were all encouraged to develop at school. It measures our ability to think, make clear decisions, and solve problems using our intellectual mind. It’s governed by a part of the brain called the “neocotex,” an area of the brain we also use for language. That’s why cognitive intelligence is usually easy to explain in words.

However, we all have other forms of intelligence, too. Not so long ago, for instance, the world was introduced to “EQ” (for “Emotional Intelligence”), which became a hot topic in psychology and the business community. Compared to IQ, EQ is related to a different part of the brain called the “limbic system,” and is now understood to be more important for working in groups and for building strong organizations.
EQ consists of four elements: (1) self-awareness, (2) self management, (3) social awareness, and (4) relationship management. Basically, emotional intelligence is the ability to get in touch with and manage our own emotions in any circumstance. It is also about being able to sense others’ emotional dynamics and to be able to create effective relationships. In short, EQ is the ability to recognize and work with our own and others’ emotion.

Instinctive Intelligence

Besides IQ and EQ, I’d now like to introduce yet another form of intelligence, this time tied into the deepest layer of the brain—the brainstem, also often called our “reptilian brain.” I call it “instinctive intelligence” because it refers to our natural and automatic instinct for self-protection. Think of it as your “BSQ,” your Biological Safety Quotient.

As we would expect from a part of the brain associated with cognition, the neocortex (the outmost layer of the brain) is responsible for thinking and understanding logic. Modern society and education focus on developing this part of our brain. But focusing exclusively on our “thinking brain” leaves out a lot of who we are.
Below the neocortex, the limbic system governs emotions. This area of the brain is also connected to memory, making emotions and memory almost inseparable (we often associate past experiences with intense emotions). As mentioned above, we also need to develop our emotional intelligence, too. However, even that is not enough…

At the deepest layer, our “reptilian” brainstem is responsible for instincts—such as flight or fight, our instinctive survival reactions. Just like in any other animal, our biological survival quotient (BSQ) keeps us alert by constantly scanning our environment to make sure we are safe. Getting in touch with your BSQ is important for managing stress, a biological state we instinctively experience when we feel a lack of safety.

To train ourselves to expand our BSQ capacity, we need to understand the following steps:

(1) Response-ability. We are responsible for our feelings, which means we need to cultivate “the ability to respond” to our experience. Instinct just happens, and there is no way to change it because it’s a built-in survival mechanism. Whatever the situation, instead of blaming the environment, you will be more effective if you develop awareness that “I created my experience, and I have the ability to choose how to respond.”
(2) From head to body. Even though the reptilian brain is in your head, you can sense a threat in your whole body. Being “in your head,” you will continue to ignore or suppress your instinct. Instead, you need to process the threat by fully experiencing it; otherwise, you will continue to repeat the same experience over and over.
(3) From looking out to turning in. Once you drop into your body, you need to refocus your attention from the external environment (that you “think” created the experience) to yourself, who actually created it.
(4) Finding the trigger. From here, you continue to ask a simple question: “What am I trying to protect myself from?” Any threat or sense of not feeling safe results from something you need to protect. Without clear awareness of what that is, you will never be able to understand what is happening in everyday experience, or solve any stress you might have.

Most of us don’t take the time to process our everyday experiences; as a result, stress is now the major cause of degenerative disease in the modern world. People often complain about something happening to them from the outside, completely ignoring how to work through the situation from the inside.

When you begin to develop your instinctual intelligence (BSQ) with daily practice, you can change everything. When you take full responsibility for your experience of stress, you develop the ability to transform it. In time, when enough of us start to develop this capacity, we will begin to change the culture, transforming how we communicate and interact with others—creating a better, healthier world for all.