Wisdom is a very valuable trait but also an elusive one. While you can study to get smarter, or perhaps meditate to get calmer, most of us don't know any way to get wiser other than to live, experience, and learn from our errors. Wisdom, in other words, doesn't seem to lend itself to hacks or shortcuts.

But perhaps that perception is incomplete. Years of experience will always remain the primary path to greater wisdom, but recent psychological research suggests that while you wait for that wisdom (and those gray hairs) to accumulate, there is at least one simple mind hack that can help you make wiser decisions now.

The insight comes from research out of the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan which was recently published in Psychological Science. It looked at why we tend to be wiser and more clearheaded when it comes to advising loved ones than when it comes time to make our own decisions. To delve into why this might be, the researchers asked study participants to imagine one of two scenarios: one in which their romantic partner was unfaithful or one in which it was a friend's partner who strayed. They were then asked to complete a questionnaire designed to test aspects of wisdom, such as the ability to assess missing information and take another's perspective when pondering a situation.

This "study confirmed that people were wiser when they reasoned about someone else's problem compared with when they reasoned about their own challenges," reports the Association for Psychological Science Observations. With this information in hand, the research team then asked, "Could prompting people to distance themselves from their own problem and consider it in the same way they would a friend's problem increase wise reasoning?"

The answer appears to be yes. When another batch of study subjects were asked to ponder the same relationship problem but were additionally instructed to think about it from a third-person perspective--i.e., what would they tell someone else to do?--this small change in framing yielded significant benefits.

"Stepping back from their own problems, psychologically speaking, led them to reason more wisely--to think more like they would if they were giving their friends advice," says APS Observations. This held true regardless of the age of the person being tested.

The takeaway, the post goes on to say, is simple and easily actionable: "The next time you find yourself dealing with a personal dilemma, maximize your wise reasoning skills by taking a step back and thinking about your problem the way an outsider would."

Published on: Feb 25, 2015