We recognize people who demonstrate wisdom and also see those who could use more. Learning how to gain wisdom and understanding makes life better. How do we become wiser and more prudent? Is wisdom gained by experience better than others?
Before we dive into the six lessons of wisdom, let’s define our territory so you know what we’re talking about.
How to Define Wisdom and Knowledge
Some define being wise as the practice of reason and common sense. Still, others argue it has more to do with our connection to intuition. Or could wisdom be the quality of decision-making, perhaps even finely tuned observational skills?
Knowledge is the facts and information about a subject. Knowledge runs on a continuum from useful to useless. Knowing a lot about something that is useless is a waste of mental energy. Knowing a lot about something that is useful is valuable. Valuable knowledge can make you wise. Many people define wisdom and knowledge as true wealth.
Another option is that wisdom is the ability to assess data and circumstances and, as a result, draw sound conclusions? It’s more likely a mixture of all the above, plus knowledge, perceptive ability, and judgment. (1)
Maybe this isn’t the right question, and perhaps there are unique kinds of wisdom? In that case, this mental asset may be situational, even perhaps temporary—our training and education impact situational awareness.
““Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” ― Aristotle
Is this the key to knowing what mental skills to use? Is this how to gain wisdom and understanding? Are there situations where intuition is a better option than reason, common sense, or observational skills? If that is true, then it is a combination of things. It’s enlightened judgment and uncanny ability to understand the underlying root cause.
As we’ll discuss shortly, some feel three main ways to get this commodity are wisdom gained by experience, observation, or simply using common sense. The problem arises when you don’t have any common sense, have a short attention span and don’t learn from your mistakes Is it even possible define wisdom and knowledge that works for everyone?
No matter how you define this quality, we value the people who show it in their words and actions. So, it’s only natural to ask, what is wisdom, and how do we become wise? Is this a skill set anyone can gain, or are there restrictions on acquiring it, like IQ, for instance?
So how to gain wisdom and understanding? Let’s look at the options. Indeed, wisdom can be elusive, and gaining it doesn’t come easily for most of us. Living a long life doesn’t make you wise, but living longer does increase the probability of gathering knowledge or experience being an asset. If you are young, it doesn’t mean you can’t be wise. People can show wisdom at any age, and some children are far more intelligent and wise than their parents.
How To Gain Wisdom and Understanding
If you don’t have wisdom, you can gain it in two primary ways, from experience (hard knocks and failures) or through the study of certain disciplines (but not comic books). Let’s talk about experience first.
One way to become wise is to learn from the mistakes of others. If you are aware and discerning, you see and understand your lessons and the lessons of others. To do this, you need good observational skills. Otherwise, you’ll miss the reason for the experience.
Wisdom Gained By Common Sense
Some people are just lucky. They are born with enhanced analytical and cognitive abilities. They seem to understand the root cause and then find practical solutions, and they are the ones who come up with fresh ideas. Still, this doesn’t mean they have social skills in the same proportion. So, just because they aren’t assertive or well-known doesn’t mean they don’t have this quality. (2)
People from all personalities and backgrounds show reason and common sense in their daily lives. However, even those with these natural abilities are more likely to do things to enhance their observational skills.
If we define wisdom and knowledge as common sense and rational thinking, then we have a place to start for our self-development. Analytical thinking and common sense can be cultivated through the study of simple logic. It’s not rocket science. Anyone who can read this article can do it.
If others in your family are wise, this is no guarantee you’ll inherit this attribute, but you cannot buy it directly, just pay for advice. Similarly, suffering and pain do not always produce wisdom. Just because you make a lot of mistakes does not mean you will be wise. We observe people repeating the same experiences and making the same mistakes repeatedly.
Is Wisdom Different from Intuition?
Intuition is the ability to know something without using a rational thought process. The answer or solution magically appears in our awareness. It’s an intuitive hunch. If the answer or solution is correct, perhaps this is also a demonstration of wisdom? So, getting in touch with the voice of our intuition is probably an excellent idea. Does this oppose the analytical approach?
You could say that reason and common sense complement intuition. If you confirm your answer by both methods, you will probably be on track. So, if your intuition proves what your observational skills tell you, then again, you probably have the best answer. So, they are not opposing forces, they all work together. These mental approaches are all part of the cognitive toolbox we recommend for everyone—even you. If we are wise, we will cultivate them all. Thus, we will enhance our overall problem-solving abilities.
Those we recognize as being wise have the whole package. Smart people show a high level of intuition, common sense and reasoning, and good observational skills. These types of people seem one step ahead of everyone else. So analytical skills and intuition go hand in hand, and the Dalai Lama is someone who exemplifies this kind of extraordinary wisdom.
Wisdom Gained By Experience
Some people think experience is the only way to gain wisdom, however, this is true only if you can learn the proper lesson. Experience is the most painful way, but sometimes it’s the only way you get the message of life’s essential instruction. Some people keep repeating the same bad experiences, and they still don’t get the lesson. (3)
It’s practical to find what wisdom means to you. To do this, we recommend a simple exercise known as automatic writing. Here’s a link to describe the process. To do this, set the intention with the question, what is wisdom, then find out what your intuition tells you. It is often a surprise to find how your intuitive mind can offer. You’ll find out how much wisdom is available and how to cultivate it.
Here’s another opinion. Confucius says thinking is the noblest option. So you can increase your wisdom through thinking and contemplating. Then the second option is by observing others. Be careful not to follow the bad example, otherwise, you will end up gaining this knowledge through unpleasant experiences.
“By three methods, we may learn wisdom. First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” — Confucius
However, wisdom gained by experience is the most prevalent way we learn life’s lessons. Learning how to gain wisdom and understanding with this method is what is the most costly.
Self-Development to Gain Wisdom
The path of self-development is probably the best way to gain wisdom. It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes on the way. However, it will help to ensure you capitalize on the lesson when you do make a mistake, that way you won’t repeat as many. We recommend a diverse approach to self-development with an emphasis on building memory bandwidth and critical thinking skills.
Your program to increase wisdom should include a range of activities to improve your mind, body, and spirit. This means no junk data, no junk food, and no junk spirituality. If you don’t know this means, then you should start with some basic research to find out what you should not be doing.
“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
1st Read to Increase Your Awareness
Read books and articles on a variety of subjects, especially those which enhance your critical thinking skills. Logic, analytical reasoning and common sense are skills you can always use. So study logic.
Read ancient sources of knowledge. Vedic Wisdom is a rich source of wisdom. The Bhagavadgita is another Indian source of philosophical wisdom and knowledge. The knowledge in Western theology is a copy earlier Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Perian texts. We suggest you seek the original sources rather than those found in the Bible.
Don’t just read to reinforce what you believe. Read things that challenge your thinking. Whatever you read, always check the validity and accuracy of the source. Learning things that are incorrect or useless is a waste.
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
— Mark Twain
2nd Challenge Your Beliefs
Look for resources that challenge your worldview. The above example of reading outside of your belief system is an excellent way to challenge and explore other systems of thought. Above all, develop your spiritual path. Practice those things which expand your awareness. Focus on forms of seated and moving meditation. Use the Enneagram to determine your personality and instincts’ default settings. Aristotle says the lessons of wisdom begin with knowing yourself.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” — Aristotle
3rd Enhance Your Critical Thinking
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
— William Shakespeare (As You Like It)
4th Practice Kindness
Practice being a good person. Your wisdom increases by opening your heart to the needs of others. Crazy as it sounds, this will help put you back in touch with your default state of innocence. It’s our natural state before exposure to any cultural programming. Be brave. Fight for the rights of everyone. Fight to save our environment. It’s the only place in the Universe with chocolate. Live with courage but with risk management restraint, remember life is a long-distance event.
“Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” — Brian Tracy
5th Take Care of Yourself
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde
6th Listen to Your Intuition
The last but not least is practicing activities that help you hear the voice of your intuition.
Define Wisdom and Knowledge, then Seek and Live it
Now you know the ways you can increase this mental asset. The hard part is putting these lessons to use in your life. One simple thing you can do is to put sticky notes as reminders where you can see them. Which way resonates with you? Is wisdom gained by experience the way you learn, or do you use observation and intuition?
Use your smartphone reminder to do one of the action items every day. Or, you can also try using sticky notes on your refrigerator door and on the corner of your computer screen. Do at least one of the six lessons of wisdom every day.
Creating good habits will return dividends. Remember, wisdom is a combination of skills and mental abilities that produce quality decisions. What works best for you is likely a unique combination of observational skills, reason, common sense, and intuition.
It’s possible to gain wisdom by cultivating both analytical and intuitive skills. Therefore, you can learn to do it too. The wise person will find what works best and then practice.
Learn how to build positive behaviors. Discover your strengths and limitations. Work to fill the gaps in your analytical and intuitive abilities. You gain more wisdom by continually learning and refining working on yourself. Develop practical observation skills, enhance your common sense and analytical and critical thinking skills.
If we are to define wisdom and knowledge in practical terms, we need to start by identifying sources and people who help make the definition a meaningful goal.
(1) The New Science of Practical Wisdom: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7138215/
(2) Common sense: folk wisdom that ethnobiological and ethnomedical research cannot afford to ignore: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3880218/
(3) Hard-earned wisdom: Exploratory processing of difficult life experience is positively associated with wisdom: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6383748/