Cultivating Wisdom: Your Path To Recognizing Patterns, Seeing The Big Picture, And Staying Calm In The Face Of Uncertainty
In a field as young as health and fitness, wisdom is a rare and important commodity. The ability to recognize patterns, be comfortable with ambiguity, tolerate uncertainty, and see the big picture is what separates great professionals from everyone else. Here’s how to develop those skills and cultivate your own wisdom.
What Is Wisdom?
While it often feels like an intangible quality, psychologists define wisdom is a thinking process that integrates knowledge, experience, deep understanding, common sense, and insight.
Practically speaking, wise people tend to:
- Recognize patterns, noticing how things play out over time.
- Be comfortable with ambiguity and lack of control.
- Have a tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as its ups and downs.
- See the big picture, have a sense of proportion, and know themselves.
But wisdom isn’t something you’re born with, nor is it a quality that “just happens” for some people. Rather, it’s something you commit to, invest in, work on.
It’s something you cultivate like a garden, preparing the soil, planting the seeds, watering, weeding, pruning, and clipping. Finally, after a long growing season and a lot of work, you harvest.
10 Ways To Cultivate Wisdom
So, how do you cultivate and invest in wisdom?
#1: Try unfamiliar things
Each time you try something unfamiliar—from visiting a new place, to experiencing a new hobby, to checking out a different form of entertainment, to trying a new skill at work—you open yourself up to learning.
Approach this learning with a growth mindset and current you slowly becomes wiser future you.
#2: Face your fears and do the uncomfortable
It’s often the things we’re afraid of, the things we come up with seemingly good justifications for not doing, that help us grow. Or, at the very least, hold the key to helping us handle discomfort in the future.
Don’t purposelessly expose yourself to real or psychic danger, of course. Instead, look for the fearful things—like starting that book you’ve been wanting to write, or applying for the new business loan, or asking a colleague for help—that will give you meaningful growth rather than just pointless pain or anxiety.
#3: Talk to people with different perspectives
Listening closely to people who think differently than you—about social, political, economic, religious, and scientific issues—and have different life experiences—from where they grew up, to the jobs they’ve held, to the hardships they’ve faced, to the triumphs they’ve experienced—can teach you about perspective, kindness, and compassion.
You have to really listen, though. And ask: “What’s it like to live in their shoes? What would my worldview be if I were them?”
You don’t have to agree with their conclusions. Yet the more you’re able to see the world through multiple lenses and understand why those exist, the wiser you’ll be.
#4: Pursue education
No, you don’t have to go back to school. But you do have to learn with intention. Because the more exposed you are to organized and well-researched viewpoints, the more likely you’ll be to discern fact from fiction, single from noise.
I talk more about education in this article.
Reading can be done as part of your educational curriculum or purely for pleasure. Whatever the goal, read.
Not only does reading expose you to the narratives and inner lives of thousands of real and imagined characters.
It also gives you the quiet time to absorb, process, and reflect on what you’re learning in your life and help integrate it into your thinking.
#6: Spend time with wise people
Humans are expert mimics. From infancy, we learn everything by copying others. People around us walked, talked, and fed themselves. So we figured out how to walk, talk, and feed ourselves.
If wisdom, then, is our new goal, the next step is obvious: Spend time with wise people. Yes, ask them how they think, what frameworks they use to see the world, and why they do what they do. But, most importantly, observe what’s behind the words: How they live.
#7: Know your (changing) self
While learning from others is clearly important, wisdom also comes from balancing what they offer with what you offer.
Get to know each iteration of your today self—expecting, of course, that it’ll one day change—to grow ever more comfortable with the wisdom of change.
#8: Lead with a beginner’s mind
As you gather experiences, education, and insight, it’s easy to rely on pattern recognition, make quick assumptions, and get everything wrong. That’s why it’s important to enter new situations like a beginner: Wide-eyed, open, and curious.
Ask questions, listen closely, and confirm that your understanding is correct before assuming you know what’s exactly going on and you know what to do about it.
#9: Review cause and effect often
Nothing feels more frustrating and foolish than making the same mistakes, over and over and over, without learning anything or even seeing what’s happening.
Wisdom is able to see patterns and links between inputs and outputs, rather than insisting that something should work, even though it demonstrably hasn’t.
However, it’s hard to see this without making space to reflect, and without purposely looking for how things might be connected.
#10: Slow down
When you act (or react) too quickly, you don’t have time to engage all the parts of your brain. Especially the parts that store your accumulating knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.
To develop this skill, practice meditation, mindfulness, or even counting to ten. Respond too quickly and emotionally in high stakes situations and it’s like you’ve never cultivated wisdom at all.
Why Is Wisdom So In Demand?
Practicing the behaviors above will help you see through the matrix.
You’ll start noticing patterns and seeing the big picture while others get bogged down in the details. You’ll remain calm in the face of both challenges and opportunities while other swing from soul-crushing despair to irrational optimism. And you’ll be able to help others do the same.
And here’s one final reason why wisdom is so important.
We live in what’s been called “the information age,” which means that most people now have access to the kind of information (i.e. facts and figures, procedures and processes) that people of the past never would have even known about.
Just a few hundred years ago, all recorded knowledge existed in a few libraries, curated and controlled by a tiny percentage of the world’s population.
Technology has opened it all up.
Even more, technology is helping us create new knowledge at alarming rates. For example, 90 percent of the world’s data have been generated in the last two years, which means the rest of recorded history, from the beginning of time, represents only 10 percent of what we know today.
While open access to knowledge is a good thing, this glut of information brings new challenges that technology has yet to solve. For example, it’s impossible to curate the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day or evaluate its accuracy.
(For some perspective, this means the world will create enough data to fill up 39 million 64GB iPhones today alone, and to fill up 14 billion iPhones within a year.)
Further, even if there were a way to curate, evaluate, and consume that information, people now realize that new knowledge doesn’t equate to ability. They know that “I’ve watched a video on how to play the piano” is very different than “I can play Chopin’s ‘Nocturne in C sharp Minor’.”
For these reasons, and more, wisdom has become such an important commodity. People have either already consumed the info they need, or they know how to get it. Yet they don’t know how to make sense of it, prioritize it, or put it into action. That’s why they’re looking for help.
When you can calmly, wisely can do that, your reputation will grow faster than you’ll believe.
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