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How to Stop the False Beliefs Drowning Out Your Wisdom

When most people hear the word “wisdom,” they envision someone who has it all figured out. On the contrary, wise people are the first to tell you there's always more to learn.

Credit: Berkeli Alashov, Unsplash.com

“Quiet the voice telling you to do more and be more, and trust that in this moment, who you are, where you are at, and what you are doing is enough. You will get to where you need to be in your own time. Until then, breathe. Breathe and be patient with yourself and your process. You are doing the best you can to cope and survive amid your struggles, and that’s all you can ask of yourself. It’s enough. You are enough.” — Daniell Koepke

When most people hear the word “wisdom,” they envision someone who has it all figured out — an enlightened soul who walks around dispensing deep truths and never sweating the small stuff.

On the contrary, wise people are the first to tell you they don’t have it all figured out. That doesn’t keep them up at night, because they’ve accepted that there’s no such thing as an all-knowing human being.

What makes a wise person, well, wise is the understanding that there’s always more to learn — and that the deepest, most worthwhile lessons come from within ourselves.

The False Beliefs That Ensnare Us

Intuition is one of our most powerful and wisest attributes, yet we often drown out our own instincts by succumbing to false beliefs. Among the most insidious of these is the idea that ignorance is a bad thing. Our current cultural attitude says that to be ignorant is to be lazy, uneducated, and willfully unaware.

But an appreciation for ignorance is a key foundation for wisdom. We can open ourselves to new knowledge and understanding only if we embrace that we are ignorant. If we pretend we know everything already, we don’t leave room for new insights to emerge. More tragically, we fail to appreciate the journey of cultivating wisdom and the gifts the universe provides for us along the way.

Another damaging belief is the thought that “if I had more, I would know more.” Too often, we convince ourselves that if we had a bigger house, a nicer car, a fitter body, or a higher salary, we’d magically be in a better place mentally and spiritually. But those external markers tell us nothing about what’s happening within our souls. You could own a fleet of Aston Martins and vacation in the South of France twice a year and still be no closer to possessing true wisdom.

We become wise when we realize that we already have enough and that we can be happy as we are. Certainly, there are always opportunities to improve. Haven’t we all wanted to exercise a little harder, be more patient with our children, or gossip less with our friends? We are never without some new project for how we can make ourselves better.

But wisdom tells us that even amidst this striving, we can find joy and truth, and we already know far more than we think.

The idea that having more is necessary for wisdom correlates to a third false belief, which is that we must always have an eye to the future. When we’re so caught up in thinking, planning, strategizing, and worrying, we miss out on the present moment.

Instead of musing about how life would be better if you could just land this promotion or receive that big industry award, we should be paying attention to what’s happening right now. Our day-to-day experiences can teach us so much if we are willing to humble ourselves and listen.

Some Hard-Won Lessons

How do I know about the false beliefs that keep us from tapping into our own wisdom? Because I’ve repeatedly fallen into these traps myself.

Several months ago, I was leading a project that was, to put it bluntly, a mess. Our team included a patchwork of internal colleagues, external partners, and outside vendors — and you know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen. We were progressing much slower than I had anticipated, and I found myself increasingly frustrated and stressed.

Then I realized that I was so busy being annoyed about what was happening that I was missing opportunities to turn the situation around.

Once I stopped obsessing over what would happen at the end of the assignment (and what would happen if we didn’t finish it), I was able to submerge myself in my frustration and worry in order to find clarity about what the problems really were. What was holding us back? Why did we keep getting delayed?

Rather than be angry that the project wasn’t taking shape the way I had envisioned, I looked at what was in front of me and what I had to work with. From that point, I quickly formulated a plan and brought the team back on track, collectively motivated by our common goal. The answers were with me all along, but I was so caught up in my fears about the future that I couldn’t see them clearly.

The Bathroom Break Pep Talk

Sometimes all we need is a few minutes of quiet to connect with our inner wisdom. That’s why I’m a fan of the quick bathroom break during moments of duress. When I’m completely caught up in anxiety and doubt, I’ll go to the restroom, take some deep breaths, and try to get perspective on the situation. Usually, those few minutes are enough for me to re-center myself.

I recall once being at a job interview where I was freaking out inside. As my potential boss and colleagues showed me around, my mind began racing with doubt-filled thoughts. What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I’m not as tech-savvy as these people. There’s no way I can do this job. Part of me wanted to run out to my car and speed away.

But I didn’t. I excused myself and went to the bathroom, taking a breath and thinking through the feelings. OK, you’re a little nervous. But they brought you here to spend the day at the company. They must believe you could be an asset to the team. Your job is to show them who you are and how you can help them achieve their goals. That’s what you’re here to do — and you can do it.

A simple pep talk like this can be a game-changer. After reassuring myself of my own value, I went out and aced the interview. By the time I left, I felt confident that regardless of whether they offered me the position, I could be proud of how I presented myself.

Tune in to Your Wisdom

The tricky thing about false beliefs is that they’re often deeply ingrained. Unless we’re vigilant, we can find ourselves stuck in old, unhelpful thought patterns.

The key to rewiring our minds with healthier, wisdom-nurturing beliefs is to acknowledge when negative thoughts arise and consider whether they’re worth heeding. Not every thought we have is a true one, and we don’t have to give weight to every anxiety-inducing idea that arises.

Not all negative thoughts are harmful, of course. A healthy sense of guilt and skepticism enables us to learn from situations so that we can improve ourselves and our relationships. But you need to take space when harsh thoughts come up so that you can evaluate whether there’s something worth considering or whether these self-critical tirades are distracting you from your deeper wisdom.

A strategy I employ when I get stuck in false beliefs is asking questions about each statement. The more I probe, the more outlandish the criticisms seem, and that takes the edge off them. So, if a meal I cooked turned out poorly, my mind might be flooded with thoughts about how I’m a terrible cook and therefore a terrible mother. Pretty quickly, I’m wondering whether I’m a complete failure at everything I’ve ever attempted.

Fortunately, those hysterical thoughts are pretty easy to reason down now that I’ve had some practice. I know I’m a decent cook because my family has raved about my past dishes, even though this one didn’t pan out. My daughters are affectionate and loving toward me and they often ask for my advice, so I don’t seem to be a terrible mother. And considering that I’ve had fulfilling tenures with several great companies, the idea that I’m a professional failure doesn’t hold water.

Once you start breaking down the false beliefs in this way, you realize how absurd they are, and you begin to free yourself from them.

Self-acceptance is essential to responding to false beliefs in this way. Knowing your strengths and accepting your flaws will help you observe and evaluate difficult thoughts and emotions without spiraling into fears and self-doubt. Extending kindness to your own heart creates space for wisdom to reveal itself. Through that wisdom, you will know understanding and peace, even as you acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know.

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