Energy Intelligence

Smart Language Learning  - Energy Intelligence

The theory of multiple intelligences, developed by Howard Garner,  is well-known among educators and learners. It states that we all are equipped with a different combination of “intelligences”, and this combination is what enables us to learn in a specific manner. Garner first outlined eight categories of intelligence, later used by teachers to convey the information to learners: visual, kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. He later added existential (spiritual) and moral intelligences to the list.

Loosely connected to Garner’s theory – in its use of the notion of intelligence – is the concept of energy intelligence. I came across it in this article by Josh Allan Dykstra. Based in strengths assessment theory, the energy intelligence is aimed at measuring what energizes a person, rather than what they’re good at. Being good at something does not necessarily imply that we also feeling energized by that thing. For example, you may be fairly good at math in school, but after an hour of working on math problems you start feeling drained and miserable.

The question is: does applying energy intelligence theory work in language learning?

I believe it does, and the reason is simple.  As human beings, our actions are often dictated by our emotions. We don’t feel like learning when we get back home from work, so we don’t. We feel bored when we’re struggling with vocabulary drills, so we stop. Too often when we’re learning, we focus on what we think we should master rather than on directing our attention to what makes us feel energized and joyous.

When you’re energized, you get things done without really feeling like you’re trying. Trying would also imply some sort of resistance, an effort to stay busy or feel productive. Feeling energized, similar to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, is based on the assumption that you do your best work when you’re feeling at your best, while going with your will, not against it.

There are a few things that you can do test out this theory and take advantage of it.

1. Pay attention to what energizes you when you’re learning or focusing.

Is it writing down ideas? Is it freewriting? Is it doing audio lessons? Is it practicing new expressions out loud? Create an “energizing log” and write in it whatever activity you’re doing when you feel at your best without feeling like the effort exceeds the reward.

2. Make sure that you’re energized by something you’re actively pursuing.

Sure, I feel great when I listen to smart people being interviewed on podcasts. But that’s not a product of my brain. My brain just processes information. It does not reflect or act on it. I’m taking that a step further by noticing that I’m also energized when I’m brainstorming and wordmapping around the concepts that I’ve discovered on the podcast.

3. Enable energizing activities.

Enabling good habits is crucial in forming good habits. A simple example would be placing a glass of fresh water next to you if you want to get into the habit of drinking more water. By seeing the water, your brain will be triggered into feeling thirsty and wanting to drink. The fact that the water is readily available eliminates the effort and enables you to take action.

Similarly, we can enable energizing learning habits by making it easier to get into an energizing state. That could mean simply having a dedicated spot or a dedicated ritual for that state.

4. Use energizing activities to get started.

If you know that something feels good, gets you in the flow and helps you get work done, start with that something. Start with it even if it doesn’t connect immediately with what you should be doing. Starting a project is, very often, half the battle, because it builds momentum. Momentum is a learner’s best friend.

5. Use knowledge of what energizes you to get back on track.

You can use energy intelligence to your advantage when you need to refocus. If you find yourself procrastinating and dreading to get back to the work that you were doing, it helps to remind yourself how energized you feel when you’re actually doing it. Again, trick your brain into re-starting (your conversations, your learning sessions, your reading, your classes) and it will only get better from there.

Original image: L’Energie Moderne by Georges Hugnet (French, 1906 – 1974) from The Met online archives


  1. Sarah Greesonbach

    I’m learning a lesson related to this as a freelancer right now: I can force myself to do things because I have learned discipline, but that still doesn’t stop the energy draw that happens when I’m forcing myself to do it. Eventually that discipline fails if I don’t balance it with energizing tasks… which I’m also still learning to do!

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