We have an image of wise people as elderly people who speak slowly.
The truth is that wise people come in all shapes and ages, but there is a reason for the elderly stereotype.
Wisdom is something you develop. It often takes time and sometimes painful life experience, but there are also some shortcuts to get there a little bit more quickly.
Here are the most highly effective ways to develop wisdom.
1) Learn from parents, teachers, mentors and role models
When it comes to the most highly effective ways to develop wisdom, nothing beats learning from parents, teachers, mentors, and role models.
Now, we’re clearly not all born to wise or even intelligent parents, but often our parents have more wisdom than we give them credit for.
Either way, our parents or guardians are our first influence growing up as infants and young kids, so we will inevitably absorb what they pass on to us both genetically and in terms of teaching and guiding us.
Teachers can also be an incredibly inspiring source of wisdom, as can mentors and role models.
I think all of us had childhood heroes and celebrities who we learned from and copied, as well as teachers, camp counselors and figures who imprinted their lessons and life philosophies on us.
Our hearts and minds are more impressionable at a young age and we tend to look up to and idolize those who are in positions of authority above us.
It’s unfortunate that some of those authority figures use their power to misinform or abuse us, but there’s also the opposite case when they truly do want to empower us and spark a desire for wisdom in our souls.
Never underestimate the impact of authority figures on the early search for wisdom, they make a big difference!
Which brings me to the next point…
2) Explore the roots of your own family tree
Our own family tree contains incredible wisdom.
I personally believe strongly in genetic and ancestral memory, that our cells subconsciously contain many of the specific memories of people in our ancestry who connect to our own destiny and personality.
Oftentimes, before you begin searching for wisdom in the world outside and in books, works of art or inspiring people, you are well advised to search for it in your own family tree.
Where are your family’s roots? What experiences did some of your ancestors go through, both positive and difficult?
What skills and trades seem to predominate in your family history? What physical and mental problems?
The family tree is the branch we grew out of.
No family tree is untouched by rot or other issues.
Every family tree has some dead branches, some weak branches or some unusual branches.
That’s the magic and fascination of it.
No two family trees are exactly alike, even from very ethnically or culturally similar people.
Knowing where you come from, or more like who you come from is a superpower. It makes you conscious of so much about what built you and connects you to a much larger tapestry than just yourself.
3) Investigate the hidden corners of history
As you become more familiar with your own family’s history and roots, you will also begin touching on many bigger picture eras and struggles of history.
I’ve heard many people say they don’t like history, and I get it. History can be depressing and seem full of the same patterns, mistakes and cycles.
But that’s also why history is such a source of wisdom and the study of history can yield so many valuable insights.
Think of history as the collective story of many individuals. On a smaller scale each of our lives has a history and we also tend to go through many of those similar cycles and repeating mistakes.
As you look at history and its ups and downs, you will come to experience wisdom and perspective about the foolishness and profundity of being human.
Many experiences and struggles the world is currently going through are not even that unique, just with higher technology.
Does the arc of history really bend towards justice or is it more of a circle?
That’s another fascinating debate that’s well worth engaging in and taking a look at.
There’s no doubt that reading historical books, asking other people about their family history and taking a general interest in history will make you a wiser person, especially if you keep your mind open to different perspectives.
Seeing the clash between the wise and the foolish, the strong and the week, the passive and the aggressive, the just and unjust and how it all meets in this sometimes ugly and sometimes beautiful symphony of life is a sublime thing to contemplate.
4) Grapple with the bright and dark side of human nature
As you become familiar with your family history and history more broadly, you will also connect with every other subject out there:
Religion, spirituality, philosophy, economics, art, finance, conflict, peace, invention and technological innovation, politics, psychology and more.
The most highly effective ways to develop wisdom are all centered around grappling with the bright and dark side of human nature.
Wisdom comes from facing and engaging with reality, rather than just with what we wish were true or what makes us feel nice and comfortable.
You’ll never become wise if you only stay in your comfort zone. But once you step outside the conditioning of society and of what’s around you and look at the complexity and often paradoxical nature of being human, you’ll begin to face life’s deepest questions and ponder the many answers.
Just asking the right questions already puts you on the path to true wisdom, much more than having any certain answers does.
5) Get wise about your emotions and those of others
In grappling with reality and human nature, you will also need a high degree of emotional intelligence.
Wisdom is not the same as just being book smart. Wisdom is about a deeper kind of empathy and emotional intelligence regarding yourself and others.
It’s not only seeing how life works and what people do, it’s understanding quite deeply about why they do, and what can influence you or others to act differently.
Looking at the most profound issues affecting our world today, we can see just how true this is.
The control of narratives and momentum has become a crucial part of the global economy as technology rapidly shifts the way we live, work and love.
Understanding your own emotions and those of other people isn’t just crucial for your love life or friendships, it’s also increasingly a part of business and commerce.
To put it another way: if you don’t understand the algorithm and how to use it, the algorithm will use you.
6) Face your past mistakes fully
Next up in the most highly effective ways to develop wisdom is to fully face your past mistakes and own up to them.
You’ll never become wise by putting yourself or anyone else on a pedestal, and it’s important to take a sober look at where we’ve fallen short and not over idealize.
Real progress and wisdom in life comes gradually and tends to come alongside disillusionment.
Every time an easy answer seems to present itself, it turns out to be too good to be true.
That’s because wisdom requires learning that luck is rarely just luck. Most of the growth and progress we make in ourselves and in life comes along with real struggle.
Cookie cutter solutions are for cookie cutter people.
Wisdom comes from facing your mistakes and creating your future with full awareness of your own imperfection and the unending nature of the journey to self-actualization.
7) Find a spiritual or religious path and commit to it
Another part of wisdom is finding a spiritual or religious path and committing to it.
That last part is going to be controversial, and I say it as self-advice as much as for anyone else.
What you choose to do or not do in your spiritual and religious journey is up to you, or it should be.
However what I have found in many modern countries is that people exist in a kind of religious and spiritual buffet: I know I do.
As someone who’s explored many spiritual paths and religions, I’ve always been a bit of a fence sitter.
I believed in various parts, but always held back fully identifying with any one group, faith, school of thought or religion.
I told myself it was my personal authenticity, but I think part of it was also not wanting the responsibility and dedication that comes with choice.
I think that even if you choose a flawed spiritual or religious path that you eventually leave, it is valuable to make a real choice.
Our modern world is too full of take-backs and liquid modernity is perhaps too liquid.
Try pursuing a spiritual or religious journey that really leads you into a certain type of life and identity.
If that means being a crystal energy healer in Bali, a madrasa student in Oman or a Hasidic worshiper in Israel, so be it.
If that leads to you joining a cult, I’d recommend against it. But I’d still say that at the very least you’ll have some interesting stories if you survive!
More crucial tips about becoming wise
Reading may not be firsthand experience, but it’s still enormously valuable and informative.
Living in a country now where most people I meet do not read has shown me the vast difference in those who do.
There is one caveat here, however:
If you just read what’s on the bestseller lists or politically correct and popular, you might as well burn the books.
Reading is only valuable if you’re actually exploring and reading about what you want to instead of just what’s spoon-fed to you by Oprah or some algorithm.
Many great books, both fiction and non-fiction, deserve that title. But always ensure you’re reading a wide range, including titles you personally may find offensive or wrong.
Being wise is about exploring all of it!
Even stupid things can make you wise.
After all, part of becoming a discerning and sage person is about learning to separate truth from fiction and useless chatter from interesting conversation.
The best way to do this is to open your ears.
The art of listening more than you talk is a great idea in general and helps especially in becoming somebody who understands more than you let on.
In addition, listen to podcasts, listen to the radio, listen to old speeches on YouTube.
Listen while you do the dishes or organize your living room. Listen while you drive.
Keep your ears open, there’s a lot of wisdom out there, and even the foolishness will help you become a more discerning individual.
There’s so much wisdom to be gained just by looking around.
Many things which appear obvious or boring have so many more layers to them and so much knowledge and interesting facts behind them.
Take even something like traffic lights and intersections. Study the history of road building and how traffic light systems developed, it’s fascinating.
You could then start looking at how cities are designed for or against pedestrians and reflect on how much of a revolution motorized cars were for society both economically, geographically and socially.
Or you might look at the different kinds of trees in places you visit and wonder why non-native species are so prolific in one place and not in another, with research leading you to find out much more about colonialism, ecosystem, climate and vegetation in general.
There’s a world of knowledge and wisdom out there, and sometimes it just starts by opening your eyes and wondering about what you see and what it means.
Wisdom vs. Intelligence
Intelligence and wisdom are closely related.
The primary difference is that wisdom is ultimately about far more than just intellectual sharpness.
Wisdom is emotional and intellectual intelligence combined.
Wisdom is experiential, spiritual and often non-verbal.
Wisdom doesn’t seek recognition or egoic satisfaction.
Wisdom isn’t sought for any payout or praise: wisdom is its own reward.