6 Brainy Habits of the Wisest People
Intelligence may be somewhat innate, but wisdom can most certainly be learned. Here’s how to wise up at any age.
Wisdom vs. Intelligence
Although people value intelligence—understanding, reasoning, the ability to learn—they also respect wisdom, or the knowledge and experience that we accumulate over a lifetime. Cognitive scientists call the former “fluid intelligence,” which does reduce somewhat during adulthood, and the latter “crystallized intelligence,” which generally improves with age. In some ways, wisdom is like beauty: we value it, we desire it, we know it when we see it, but it is nearly impossible to pin down such an ethereal quality. But researchers have tried—and here’s what they’ve found.
The Definition of Wisdom
In the late 1980s, the Berlin Wisdom Project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development defined wisdom as having:
- Intellectual knowledge
- Factual knowledge
- Superior judgment
- Excellent problem-solving skills
- The ability to learn from experience
- Emotional resilience, or the ability to rebound from a setback
- Openness, or the maturity to be comfortable allowing the world to see you as you really are
- A deep understanding of human nature, including empathy for people who are different or from other cultures
Don’t have all these qualities? Almost everyone has the capacity to become wiser, especially if you strengthen these six habits that the wisest people all share in common.
Wise people work at being social
Studies show that people who stay connected to others demonstrate higher levels of wisdom than those who are more isolated. Make an effort to join a new club, reconnect with far-flung friends on Facebook, or invite an old friend or new co-worker for coffee. Next time you’re at a party or gathering, single out someone who’s standing alone and strike up a conversation. People generally love to talk about themselves; you, on the other hand, have a harder job: to listen closely.
They practice being open-minded
Wisdom involves being able to understand all sides of an issue without letting emotions or personal feelings get in the way. Being open-minded means finding empathy and realizing that everyone has a life story that influences their actions. During the course of every day, make a note of the issues that bug you, and take a moment to see them from the other side.
They’ve learned how to say, “I could be wrong”
A wise person understands that it is impossible to know everything and that life is capable of taking unexpected turns. Recognizing your errors can lead only to greater wisdom, and admitting that there are times when you could be mistaken will go a long way in solidifying your reputation as someone whose advice can be trusted. As the Roman philosopher Cicero said, “Any man is liable to err; only a fool persists in error.”
They switch up the types of books they read
While current events are important, both fiction and nonfiction books can help you expand your worldview and allow you to explore new ideas and points of view. Mix up your bookshelf: Read histories, biographies and memoirs, funny reads, fictional books that expose you to new cultures and eras, and books that present a point of view or make a case about certain aspects of heath/science, politics, and other subjects.
They tap into their self-knowledge
You’ve learned a lot just by being alive, but have you taken the time to review all that you’ve learned? Try this exercise: write down your three biggest failures and three greatest successes. For each, review the events that led up to it and what lessons you took away from the experience. Look for patterns. This is not a time for regret or pride; the goal is to look at each experience, good or bad, as more fuel to enrich your wisdom.
They read the news
You cannot make balanced choices unless you understand world circumstances and the experiences of others. If you don’t already read a daily paper or news online, start by going through a single front-page article from a major respected news source, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post, from start to finish, every day. Don’t just scan or skip around it; read every word. Eventually, try to get through the main articles of a full newspaper every day.