Wiser: The Scientific Roots of Wisdom, Compassion, and What Makes Us Good

Wiser: The Scientific Roots of Wisdom, Compassion, and What Makes Us Good

via Next Big Idea Club by Dilip Jeste

Dilip Jeste, MD, is a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, and director of that school’s Center for Healthy Aging. He is a neuropsychiatrist specializing in geriatric issues, and previously served as president of the American Psychiatric Association.

1. If you think you’re wise, think again.

If you think you are wise, there’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that thinking you are wise means that you are not. As Socrates famously said, the only true wisdom is in knowing that you know very little. But the good news is that you can become wiser—whether you’re young or old, healthy or physically disabled. A wise person can learn from almost any person they meet and every situation they find themselves in.

Wisdom is a unique personality trait that includes several specific components:

  • Self-reflection: knowing your strengths and your limitations.
  • Emotional regulation: controlling your emotions.
  • Empathy and compassion: understanding others’ emotions and helping those people.
  • Striking a balance between accepting diversity of perspectives and being decisive.

Like other personality traits, wisdom can be measured. Find out how wise you are using the San Diego Wisdom Scale, developed by Dr. Jeste and his team, and use the results to see where you can improve. Recognizing your limitations is the first step toward increasing your wisdom.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know very little.”

2. Understand yourself better.

We all have biased perceptions of ourselves, and tend to be better at spotting the weaknesses of others rather than our own. So how do we learn and practice the self-reflection needed to improve our lives?

The first step is to set aside some time on a regular basis for quiet and honest reflection. You can do it during your lunch hour, before going to bed, or even during a workout. Use that private time to think about the events of the previous day, focusing on things that upset you. Go over the sequence of events without blaming yourself or someone else immediately. Over a period of time, you will find recurring patterns that you can begin to address. For example, if you note that you often feel shame because of shyness, you can research strategies for increasing your social skills.

Self-reflection followed by self-correction is usually the best way to reduce your level of stress and increase your personal well-being. Remember that you are the master of your own ship—so check from time to time if you are navigating in the right direction, and correct the trajectory if needed.

“Good decisions come from experience—and experience comes from making bad decisions.”

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