Your brain is a meaning-making machine. At all times, your imagination and creativity are actively creating scenarios and potential outcomes in your head. How you experience your world is mostly a creation of your perspective and beliefs.
While situations create emotions, our thoughts and beliefs about a problem often run the show. I previously shared the cybernetic loop in a blog post about how stress and anxiety block decision-making.
Practical creativity recognises your mind’s role in how you experience your world: what do you want to create?
You can awfulise and catastrophe: allowing your inner critic to judge and tell you all that is wrong with you. Your anxiety and stress limits can be pushed by imagining the worst-case scenario. Your relationships can be strained by thinking the worst.
You might go the other way and dissociate into fantasy, creating in your mind an idyllic scenario where everything is perfect. Do nothing. And nothing changes.
While it might seem obvious sometimes, there are many moments in life when we think we know how to tackle a situation, but there’s a sense within us holding us back. Perhaps we feel pressure to conform with the desires, but it doesn’t sit well within. Other times, we want something, but our gut kicks in to say “hold on” without clarifying clearly why we need to take a step back. Wisdom is more than just “thinking informing action” and “action informing thinking”.
Wise choices incorporate knowledge, experience, and understanding into thinking and action. There’s a sense of compassion and profound self-awareness, which is more than just academic learning or data and information.
Wisdom in action begins with wise planning:
It starts with creativity and planning, from a place of compassion & self-awareness. Wisdom knows that when you only consider the needs and desires of other people, life becomes empty and meaningless. You find rewards in showing yourself love and support so that you can better support others. Self-compassion is a source of strength, not a weakness.
When we plan what to do, there’s a moment for considering ourselves and other parties that will be impacted. In business, we might refer to these parties as stakeholders. But the reality is that even in our personal lives, any decision and choice we make (even professionally) may impact our relationships. Wisdom is being able to foresee the long-term impact choices might make on our relationships. Then take those factors into account when planning.
Hopes, dreams & values: prioritise your actions
Hopes and dreams are much loftier than goals. Often, they are much longer-term as well. But it’s these hopes and dreams that give us the feeling of “a life well lived”. When our plans overlook these deeply held desires, we begin to feel inauthentic. If we carry this way for too many years, life begins to feel like it has no purpose and meaning.
So, rather than just considering what you think is “a good idea”, inform your planning from your values and what is truly important to you. Make sure that these plans align with that vague picture you have in the mind of your ideal future self, the one that lives in alignment with your hopes, dreams and values.
Wise planning identifies personal issues of risk, safety & security
Fear stops us and shuts us down on so many levels. It inhibits our ability to think straight. And in some cases paralyses us from taking action. Mindset & willpower will only take us so far. But it can be exhausting to be continually at war within yourself while trying to push forward on a goal.
If you truly want to set goals that you will complete, consider the angle of personal boundaries and your feelings of safety & security in the planning stages. Perhaps the problem to be addressed is not the goal you are chasing but the route to get there. Does your plan allow you to feel safe?
When your plan addresses your personal issues of safety and security, you will find it easier to light a fire deep within you to move forward. Creating safety will allow you to direct your energy towards your protection or activities rather than expend energy on protection and boundaries.
Your inner wisdom expands your sense of self.
When you know what to do and are confident within, it’s because you have a sense of “this is who I am”. It fosters a greater sense of personal power, enhancing your ability to say “yes” to what you want to achieve. This also makes it so much easier to say “no” to all the busy activities and urgencies that arise along the way.
When you aren’t totally sold on the idea, it’s easy to get distracted and busy doing other things. You might know what the plan is, but are you focused on doing what needs to be done? Is all your energy flowing towards this purpose in wise action?
Wisdom is more than “a good idea.”
It’s easy to teach information, knowledge and processes. Unfortunately, wisdom is not taught in schools or at universities. It is so much more than thinking, analysis, processing, or even problem-solving. We can intellectualise without truly understanding.
Even if something is “a good idea”, does that make it a good idea for you? At this moment and stage of your life? How does this good idea impact those you love and care for?
Does it consider all the knowledge and data available to me about what I want, desire and my life goals? Does it incorporate good judgement of my resources, time constraints and limitations?
For our plans to succeed, they need to include compassion for ourselves and others. I like to think of compassion as a breath we take. We cannot exhale more compassion for others than we have inhaled compassion for ourselves. Likewise, if we’re busy only inhaling compassion for ourselves, we’re going to get light-headed at some stage.
Good planning and execution have both wisdom and compassion. There is such a thing as “dumb compassion” – acting on our feelings without thinking things through.
Wise compassion can see ahead, have insight, plan. Wisdom is not simply taking action without thinking of the short and long-term impact that this will have on ourselves and others. How many people do we see working themselves to the bone – with the wisdom to recognise the need for effective self-care? When illness or chronic disease takes hold, they say, “I should have thought it through better”.
Similarly, we might throw our energies into our careers or businesses, thinking we will make time later for our families. When the family fails to stick together, we recognise the role we played in our absence.
Wisdom sees the pitfalls in a plan, staying alert, and exercising compassion regularly to allocate our energy, time and priorities.
I sometimes wonder if the inventor of the guillotine regretted his creativity when it was used to behead him. Or consider Thomas Midgley, who fixed the problem of gasoline’s dependability – by adding lead. He then (without knowing the future consequences or danger) invented freon and CFCs, which we know have a role to play in the hole in the ozone layer.
On the other hand, you might remember the Chinese scientists and planners responsible for killing all the sparrows as a solution to food shortage, which resulted in the largest plague of locusts ever to devastate the grain production of China.
Just because we can do something, should we?
Wise creativity takes into account more than just our creative mind! Without compassion and heart, our mind is no better than the mind of a psychopath or sociopath. It is highly creative and ingenious. But we need the emotions, wants, desires and compassion of the heart to soften and guide the mind.
Wise creativity will incorporate your hopes, dreams, feelings, and values. It will consider the impact of your relationships and weigh up what is truly important to you. It takes into account authenticity, safety and security, and potential challenges in the future.
Wise creativity is both realistic and compassionate.
All of this leads us to a place of wise courage: taking action that is aligned with our plans and dreams. Action without wisdom is foolishness, the same way that action without compassion can be cruel.
Wisdom in action is using both our heart and our mind as guides. It is a deep-seated fire that burns within us, acknowledging our sense of self and creating safety, even while moving the boundaries of our comfort zones. This action-taking is not movement merely for the sake of moving forward, but rather it is directed consciously.
It is embodied wisdom: heart, gut instinct, and mind all working together as one.