There are times when it really pays to be able to get some distance. Looking back on things that have happened a long time ago that might have devastated us at the time allows us to see all sorts of things that we couldn’t back then. We might see that what we mourned as the end of something good actually turned out to be the beginning of something much better and a blessing in disguise. Far removed from the pain of whatever hurt us in the past, we see the spiritual gifts and valuable soul lessons that came out of hard times that hugely helped us along our path.
A paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General Boosting Wisdom: Distance From the Self Enhances Wise Reasoning, Attitudes, and Behavior delves into how getting that necessary bit of distance helps us become wise.
It lays out three elements that contribute towards wisdom.
It lists the first as being, ‘Recognizing that the world is in flux and the future is likely to change’. Another way of saying that is that wisdom comes from understanding that ‘this too shall pass’. Even if things seem really bad, they never stay that way. If something happens that devastates us, hanging on to an understanding that the nature of life itself means that change and growth are just around the corner is the wise perspective that helps us to get through.
The second is listed as ‘recognizing that there are limits associated with one’s own knowledge’. When something happens, a lot of how we feel is created by the stories that we tell ourselves about what’s happening. Usually, we only know bits about what’s actually happening and fill in the gaps about the rest. Unless we’re really careful about being conscious, we can fill those gaps with assumptions that lead us to the wrong conclusions or understanding. For example, if someone behaves in a rude and hurtful manner to us, or does something that is clumsy enough to cause us pain, we can leap to all sorts of conclusions that they don’t like us or that they’re an awful person when in fact they might be totally preoccupied by something that’s going on in their own life. The wise thing is always to try and remember that we only ever see scraps of the bigger picture in the moment.
Lastly, the paper says that wisdom is all about having ‘a prosocial orientation that promotes the “common good”. This is where we hang on to the fact that there is a much bigger picture and we turn our thoughts to what’s best for everyone. Sometimes we might be disappointed by not getting what we want, but that thing we thought we wanted might go to someone else who really needs it.
The really good news is that you don’t have to wait ten years to get some distance on something that you might be struggling with right now. Here’s how to find the space to allow your own wise self to shine through on whatever it is you’re dealing with.
1/Leap ahead. When you’ve got some quiet time and you know you won’t be disturbed, visualise yourself going ten years into the future and meeting the you from then who’s already way beyond whatever it is you’re dealing with. Ask that version of you for tips on how to get through and what you most need to learn to leave it all behind.
2/Soar above it. Again, when you’ve got some quiet time, imagine soaring hundreds of feet above yourself. Look down and see what you can see from this different perspective. You might be able to see all sorts of details you can’t when you’re in the middle of it. Also, as you take the higher view, it might shrink in size. If you’re really brave and have a head for heights, you can imagine zooming miles above to the point where you’re above the clouds and looking down on the earth. How big does whatever it is that you’re dealing with look from there?
3/Get lateral. Taking a sideways leap in your imagination so that you can look across and see you dealing with whatever it is can reveal important information about how you’re actually tackling what’s going on. You can see how you are talking with others involved or spot important clues about how you look. If you’re looking tired and exhausted, for example, you might want to get a massage and an early night.
4/Whether you go ahead, up or sideways, make sure that when you return to the present, you bring back what you have learned so you can put it to good use in the moment and leave the pain behind.
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