- Wisdom can be defined as a combination of wit and virtue.
- To build wit, it can help to try new things and practice humility.
- To build virtue, consider your intentions and make a point to cultivate compassion.
I wanted to be many different things when I grew up: a snail (age 5), an aerobics instructor (age 13), and a psychiatrist (age 17).
Now, what I want to be is wise.
When I consider guests for my podcast, for example, the number one quality I look for is wisdom. I want to talk with folks who are humble, inquisitive, open-minded, and innovative, and who’ve gotten out of their own way so they can be of service to others. When I work with clients, we work together to grow their wise mind.
There are many different definitions of wisdom in psychology research, but the one I like best centers on two characteristics:
- Wit: Having procedural and factual knowledge, problem-solving abilities, critical thinking skills, self-reflection abilities, and perspective-taking skills;
- Virtue: Being goodhearted, motivated to enhance the well-being of self and others, guided by values, and able to tolerate uncertainty in the service of meaning.
Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age (my 10-year-old is often far wiser than me). Wisdom is contextual (I’m a wise friend but not a very wise financial planner).
If you want to grow wiser—which I hope you do because we need wise people to solve our world’s problems—you must devote energy to building both wit and virtue. Try these wisdom-building exercises to get started.
Build Your Wit
1. Practice deliberate humility.
Do you ever do things that make you look bad on purpose? It’s a great way to build wisdom and challenge your cognitive biases.
We tend to protect our egos by searching for information that supports our pre-existing beliefs (confirmation bias). Sadly, the less we know about something, the more confident we are in our views (Dunning Kruger Effect).
Build your wit by admitting you don’t know and seek out opportunities to learn more. Uncertainty is a central tenant in the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm, and knowing the limits of your knowledge is a sign you are wise.
2. Try new things.
We develop rich procedural knowledge through experience. When we don’t allow ourselves to be uncomfortable and try new things, we block opportunities to grow fresh perspectives and problem-solving skills. (To be a good problem-solver, after all, you need some problems.)
As we age, we get locked into patterns and routines that prevent us from expanding our skill set. Set a goal of trying something new at work (listen to me do this in my real plays!), in your hobbies, or in your relationships. Even if you don’t gain wisdom, at least you’ll have more fun!
3. Talk to wise people.
Who’s the wisest person you know? Take some time to interview them. What challenges have they faced, and how did they overcome them? What do they regret most? What’s one piece of advice they would give you about living well?
Build Your Virtue
1. Consider your intention.
Cultivate wise intention by asking yourself, “What attitudes and values do I want to bring to this experience?” In our busyness, we can get stuck in meaningless habits and impulsive behavior.
What’s the deeper purpose behind what you are doing? Put some time marks in your day to set an intention. For example, I set an intention before meditating, with guests before we hit record, and with my family before we eat dinner.
2. Cultivate compassion.
A wise vision recognizes that your well-being is inherently linked to others' well-being. You can build virtuous wisdom by connecting with others who are struggling. What or whom could use your care, generosity, and encouragement? Notice how your perspective shifts when you get out of your problems and into helping others.
3. Shift to "heart mode."
Four Arrows and Darcia Narvaez describe "heart mode" as “an openness to the beauty and uniqueness of the other… aware of shared living energy, dissolving separation.” Check in with your heart. What beauty can you open to? What shared living energy is here for you to learn from? Make a practice of regular heart check-ins. Your heart is wise. Trust it.
Practice developing your virtues and mental wit and we will all benefit from your wisdom.