Internet Mental Health


Wisdom: Knowledge of what is real and true; good judgment; ability to quickly learn from experience

How Would You Rate Your Wisdom?

Our evolution as a species has shown that it was not our strongest or most intelligent ancestors that survived. Our ancestors that survived were the most adaptable. They learned survival skills, and passed these skills on to their offspring. Without this sharing of learning, humans would not have survived - no matter how intelligent or strong our ancestors were. Thus the most important part of wisdom is an individual's willingness to share it.

Questions To Ask Yourself

      Adapting To Change:
  • Are you able to adapt to the major changes in your life?

      Open Mind:
  • Are you open to suggestion and criticism? Are you open to new ideas and willing to explore both sides of an argument?

      Scientific Method:
  • Do you use the scientific method to answer many of your important questions?

      Knowing What You Can Change:
  • Do you change what you can, and accept what you can not change?

  • Do you learn from your mistakes and from the wisdom of others?

  • Do you freely share your wisdom with others?

  • Write down achievable goals
  • Compose daily to-do lists
  • Listen more than you talk
  • If you have a problem, be quick to admit it and seek help
  • Ask others what they think
  • Suspend judgment until there is sufficient proof
  • Freely share your knowledge with others
  • Be open to suggestion and criticism
  • Admit your mistakes and make amends when appropriate
  • Change what you can, and accept what you can not change
  • Manage money well so that you don't have money worries

Historical Perspective

    Every civilization produces sages - individuals whose wisdom is highly valued by their society. These sages are responsible for passing on learning from generation to generation. Most of the recent evolution of the human brain has been to improve our learning and judgment ability.

    Throughout history, the world's great sages have stressed the importance of the following rules:

    • Learn to adapt since change is inevitable.

    • Listen more than you talk; nobody learns anything by hearing themselves speak.

    • If you have a problem, be quick to admit it and seek help.

    • Use the scientific method:
      • Keep asking questions
      • Suspend judgment until there is sufficient proof
      • Freely share your knowledge with others
      • Be open to suggestion and criticism
      • Learn from your mistakes

    • Change what you can, and accept what you can not change.

Adapt To Change

    Nature's most important rule is "adapt or die". We are here because our ancestors were able to adapt to severe adversity. Evolution required that our ancestors quickly learn from their mistakes. As the human brain evolved, it became better at determining what was real (and not a hallucination), and what was true (and not a delusion). As our brains got bigger, our judgment got better, and we became faster at learning from experience. The biggest leap forward occurred when our ancient ancestors evolved the ability to communicate and pass on their wisdom to the next generation. Today, without this accumulated wisdom, it is unlikely that most of us would survive.

    The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Stress

Ask Sincere Questions

    You already know what you think. The important thing in life is finding out what others think.

    On a cruise ship, my wife and I were assigned to sit for dinner with another couple. We enjoyed the dinner conversations we had with this couple. However, after 18 days, it dawned on me that the information flow had been very one-sided. We had learned a wealth of information about this couple, but they had barely asked anything about us. The other couple were entirely self-absorbed, and not interested in other people's lives.

    How do you get other people to open up about themselves?

    It is important to ask sincere questions that make other people open up. These questions should be open-ended questions (i.e., questions that can't be answered with just a "yes" or "no"). When someone tells you something, ask them to tell you more (e.g., what they liked about it, or what they've learned from it). Your questions tell people that you have a genuine, personal interest in them. When you ask these questions; it's important that you listen more than you speak.

Ask Smart Questions

    The fastest way to learn at work is to ask a lot of smart questions.

      "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning..."

      "Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."

      "If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask."
      (Albert Einstein)

    Einstein knew that before you can find the right answer, you first need to find the right question. The perfect answer to the wrong question is still the wrong answer.

    In problem-solving, you must ask what is causing the problem. If you see drowning people floating down a river; you may spend all of your time trying to pull these drowning people out of the water. A better solution would be to ask who is throwing all these people into the river, and then fix that problem.

    In problem-solving it is also important to ask what will happen if you fix a problem? Will that just cause other, potentially worse problems?

Use The Scientific Method To Answer Questions

    Perhaps the greatest intellectual accomplishment in history was the development of the scientific method of learning. The scientific method consists of (1) logically questioning, (2) empirically testing, (3) suspending judgment until there is sufficient proof, (4) freely sharing research findings, (5) being open to suggestion and criticism, (6) learning from making mistakes.

    An example of the scientific method: Let's say that you logically questioned whether boys have better memories than girls. You could empirically test this by asking boys and girls to remember 7 numbers. Then you could see if the boys did better than the girls. Such testing actually would show you that boys and girls are equal on this memory task. Thus this test would disprove that boys have better memories than girls. In science, you would then publish your research findings so that your peers could offer suggestion and/or criticism of these findings. In this way, you could learn from your mistakes. The main goal in science is to freely share knowledge.

    Ancient Chinese craftsmen made many discoveries centuries before they were made in Europe (e.g., gunpowder). Why then didn't Chinese science surpass western science?

    The problem in ancient China was that ancient Chinese master craftsmen would always hold back a secret or two from their apprentices so that an apprentice would never surpass his master in knowledge. Over the generations, this meant that ancient Chinese technology gradually lost its most important scientific discoveries.

    This underscores the importance of the scientific method. It is not good enough to make scientific discoveries. The most important thing is to freely share these discoveries with your peers so that they can learn from your findings and point out any mistakes.

The Scientific Method Applied To Everyday Problem-Solving

    The scientific method can be applied to the solution of many everyday problems.

    Its 7 steps are:

    • Define the problem (e.g., how to overcome recent job loss)

    • Set attainable goals (e.g., to be re-employed within 3 months)

    • Generate multiple solutions (e.g., (1) stay & actively seek new job, (2) move & actively seek new job, or (3) stay & live on unemployment benefits until job situation improves)

    • Evaluate and compare solutions

    • Select a feasible solution

    • Implement the solution

    • Evaluate the outcome, and try alternative solution if no success

    This scientific approach to problem solving has been shown to be highly effective in treating scientific and business problems. It is hoped that this same approach will prove to be just as effective in treating social and emotional problems.

    The scientific method is the most powerful intellectual tool that you have for discovering the truth. Usually the scientific method requires that you leave the security of your home or office, and go out into the world to really see what is going on, in order to empirically test your assumptions. This testing often proves that your beliefs or actions are incorrect.

Change What You Can, And Accept What You Can't Change

    It's essential to focus your energy on the things you can control, and to accept that you cannot change the things over which you have no control.

    Thus worrying about the things you have no control over doesn't help; only changing the things you have control over helps. For example, if you are unemployed, worrying about being unemployed won't change it. The only thing that will help is taking action to find a new job.

      "Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action." (Benjamin Disraeli)

    Some of your problems are "actionable" (they are under your control so there is some action you can take that will change them). Other problems are "nonactionable" (they are not under your control so there is no action you can take that will change them).

    To decrease needless worrying, it is wise to list a problem under 3 columns:

    • The 1st column lists the problem

    • The 2nd column lists the "nonactionable" things that you have no control over; hence your worrying cannot change

    • The 3rd column list the positive, "actionable" things you have control over; hence you can change

    (Things I Have No Control Over)
    (Things I Have Control Over)
    Friend is an alcoholic I can't physically stop his drinking I can confront his denial
    I can ask if he wants to stop drinking
    I can mobilize his social network to help
    I can suggest total sobriety & getting help
    I can avoid being an accomplice to his drinking

    Many people waste their life worrying about things that never happen.

      "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." (Mark Twain)

    Wise people accept that there's no point ruminating about the past or worrying about the future because both are beyond your control. So to make the most of your life you must focus on changing things in the present over which you have some control.

    Wise people believe that you have no control over what others think of you, but you have control over how you treat other people. Thus you should always show virtuous behavior towards others, regardless of how they treat you.

Learn From Your Mistakes And From The Wisdom Of Others

    Instead of sitting and complaining or making excuses for your problems, evaluate why something went wrong and fix it. By solving problems you grow stronger.

    Often failure later turns out to be life's best teacher. That's why you need quiet time each day to reflect on our progress.

    Such reflection should ask: "What went wrong? What was my role in this? What does this teach me?"

    This reflection can be assisted by writing every evening into a journal. This journaling speeds up your learning, and makes you less likely to repeat your mistakes.

    Wise people realize they don't have all the answers. As a result, they are always on the lookout for new and better ways to do things. They surround themselves with people who offer different approaches. They read everyday, keep a journal, talk about ideas, share information, continuously learn and embrace change.

    Wise people ask for help when they need it; whereas unwise people will really mess up, not admit it, and not ask for help. Research has shown that when you ask people for advice, you validate their expertise, which makes you more likely to win their cooperation.

    A very quick way of gaining wisdom is to have someone you trust point out your flaws.

    Wise people are willing to consider ideas that conflict with their current way of doing things. If the new approach is better, they adapt. Their ego does not get in the way of their intellect. When they are wrong, they do not fight it or take it personally.

    Wise people know that there's no shame in admitting what they don't know. The only shame is pretending to know what they don't.

    Contrast that with close-minded people who think they know it all. Their mind tells them they have life mastered. As a result they can not learn anything.

    Wisdom can come from our life experience, but wisdom can also come from being mentored by good teachers. There's no point in "rediscovering the wheel" if teachers can easily provide solutions to your problems. Students, however, must test the teacher's solutions to see if they actually work.

    When exchanging information, it is important to not indulge in gossip.

      "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Failure Is The Price Of Success

    Try playing this free online game of 20 questions.

    When you play this game of 20 questions the computer is trying, by the process of elimination, to narrow down the alternatives until it guesses the word you are thinking.

    In order to get the correct answer, the computer has to make many wrong guesses. However, each wrong guess teaches the computer something useful, and narrows down the range of alternatives. Finally, the computer fails often enough that, by the process of elimination, it arrives at the correct answer.

    The computer keeps a record of all of its successes and failures. In that way, it does not waste time by repeating its mistakes, and it learns from experience. Thus, if you win against the computer, then play against the computer a second time using the same word; the computer will win because it learned from its original failure.

    Why does the computer always eventually win? It's because the computer never gives up. It keeps learning from its failures.

    This game illustrates that you must often endure repeated failure before you are successful in solving a difficult problem. Such problem-solving proceeds by the process of elimination. Only by testing your incorrect guesses, do you eventually arrive at the correct answer. The more logical your questioning; the sooner you find the answer.

    You must not give up when an obstacle causes failure. Failure teaches you what doesn't work, and forces you to seek alternatives.

Life Is A Maze

    Life is like a maze, and to transit this maze, you have to make many wrong turns that lead into blind alleys. The important point is that you not give up when blocked by an obstacle in the maze.

    The maze teaches that going forward is not always the correct solution. Often going sideways, or going backwards around the obstacle is the right solution. Transiting a maze illustrates how pointless it is to have a head-to-head confrontation with an obstacle you can't overcome. You always have to search for alternative solutions.

    It is very easy to get lost in problem-solving unless you record your successes and failures. You can do this by writing in your journal every evening. Without keeping a journal, it can be very difficult to learn from your mistakes.

Our Interpretation Of Events Determines Their Effect

    Two workers in the same job might be laid off due to a recession. One worker might pessimistically see this as a disaster and become paralyzed by anxiety or depression. The other worker might optimistically see this as the push that was needed to get a new, better-paying, job. The optimistic person is far less likely to become anxious or depressed.

    Thus often it is not the event, but your interpretation of the event, that determines its effect. The wise person sees adversity as a challenge that can be overcome. Less wise individuals see adversity as a barrier that can't be overcome.

Overgeneralizing And Catastrophizing

    A common error that people make is to overgeneralize.

    Here are two examples of overgeneralizing:

    • A woman was rudely treated a half dozen times by members of a certain group; she then concluded that everyone in that group was rude, hence avoided them.

    • In dating, a man was rejected a half dozen times; he then concluded that women will always reject him, hence he gave up on dating.

    Both people jumped to a conclusion based on a negative experience with only 6 people. Scientifically, you cannot generalize to all members of a group by only meeting with 6 of them. To do so would be overgeneralizing.

    Another variant of this theme is "catastrophizing". This occurs when a person incorrectly believes that a minor event is a major catastrophe. For example, a person may believe that their life is over after a breakup with their lover. Using the scientific method, it would be easy to prove that this catastrophic belief is untrue.

Pathological Repetition

    People often fail to learn because their minds are closed to new learning, hence they keep repeating their old mistakes.

      "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein

    This repetition of maladaptive behavior can become crippling. A example of this is seen in anxiety and depressive disorders where ill individuals obsess over their negative emotions and thoughts without learning more effective coping. They become locked in their negative ruminations and just "spin their wheels".

    Institutions, religions and governments can also become trapped in pathological repetition, and fail to learn from their repeated mistakes.


    When you stay oblivious to having a problem and live in denial, you don't take action and things get worse. But when you know you are in trouble you can act. So the first step in problem-solving is admitting there is a problem.

    This is especially true for addictions. Commonly those with addiction don't get better until they see that their addiction is a problem. Once they can overcome their denial, they can take action (e.g., for alcoholism: joining Alcoholics Anonymous, taking disulfiram and naltrexone) and recover.

    Denial is overcome by helping individuals see that:

    • Their repetitive behavior is harmful and self-defeating

    • There are better alternatives

    • The long term benefit of this new behavior far outweighs the initial pain of learning this new behavior

Common Traits Of Very Intelligent People

    Jim Winer studied very intelligent people and identified their common traits:

    • They're highly adaptable:
      Very intelligent people are flexible and are very adaptable. When presented with a problem, they are very inventive in coming up with alternative ways to solve the problem.

    • They understand how much they don't know:
      Very intelligent people are not afraid to say: 'I don't know.'

    • They have insatiable curiosity:
      Albert Einstein said, "I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious." Very intelligent people become fascinated by things others take for granted.

    • They ask good questions:
      Very intelligent people ask questions which challenge their thinking and help them come up with new solutions to old problems.

    • They are very interested in learning new things:
      Very intelligent people have the ability to listen and to learn. They don't waste their time debating just for the sake of debating.

    • They're open-minded:
      Very intelligent people are open to considering new ideas. They know that unless you explore different points of view, your mind will eventually close, and you'll become a prisoner to a certain point of view that you'll never question.

    • They're skeptical:
      Very intelligent people will accept new ideas, as long as they're backed by supporting facts. They do not accept things on face value and therefore they withhold belief until presented with ample evidence.

Unwise Behaviors Of Some Very Intelligent People

    Some very intelligent people do some very unwise things:

    • Spending too much time thinking and not enough time doing:
      Thinking and planning are great in moderation, but this can quickly lead to perfectionistic nitpicking over minute details rather than finishing projects.

    • Undervaluing social skills:
      Some very intelligent people don't realize that intelligence is only one factor in achieving success, and that social supports are very important. Without many friends, later in life when adversity strikes, they lack the support of mature, kind, competent people who would have helped them overcome this adversity.

    • Being closed-minded:
      Some very intelligent people are close-minded because they believe they are right all the time. Their "know it all" attitude closes their mind to exploring different viewpoints.

    • Feeling superior:
      Some very intelligent people may develop a superiority complex in which they overestimate their own intelligence and underestimate others. They assume their intelligence gives them some kind of insurmountable advantage over others; hence are blinded to the serious mistakes they make by underestimating others.

    • Becoming lost in impractical theory:
      Some very intelligent people may focus solely on theory and forget that they're dealing with reality. They become so enamored with their brilliantly complex abstractions that they become blind to the fact that their theories don't work in the real world.

Thinking Habits Of Rich People Vs. Poor People

    Thomas Corley, the author of "Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits Of Wealthy Individuals" spent five years studying the lives of both rich people (defined as having a liquid net worth of $3.2 million or more) and poor people (defined as having a liquid net worth of $5,000 or less). He found that there were some striking differences in the habits of rich vs. poor people:

    • Rich people are very goal focused:
      "I focus on my goals every day."
      Rich people who agree: 62%
      Poor people who agree: 6%
      The rich put their goals in writing.

    • Rich people compose daily to-do lists:
      "I maintain a daily to-do list."
      Rich people who agree: 81%
      Poor people who agree: 19%
      Not only do the rich keep to-do lists, but most of them complete most of their listed tasks each day.

    • Rich people don't watch TV:
      "I watch TV one hour or less per day."
      Rich people who agree: 67%
      Poor people who agree: 23%
      Only 6% of the rich watch reality shows, compared to 78% of the poor.

    • Rich people love reading:
      "I love reading."
      Rich people who agree: 86%
      Poor people who agree: 26%
      Rich people love reading, and that's why they watch so little TV.

    • Rich people read for self-improvement:
      "I read for self-improvement for 30 minutes each day."
      Rich people who agree: 88%
      Poor people who agree: 2%
      Rich people are voracious readers on how to improve themselves.

    • Rich people listen to audio books while commuting:
      "I listen to audio books during the commute to work."
      Rich people who agree: 63%
      Poor people who agree: 5%

    • Rich people work hard:
      "I do more than my job requires."
      Rich people who agree: 81%
      Poor people who agree: 17%

      "I work an average of 50 or more hours a week."
      Rich people who agree: 86%
      Poor people who agree: 43%
      Only 6% of the wealthy people surveyed found themselves unhappy because of work.

    • Rich people don't gamble:
      "I play the lottery regularly."
      Rich people who agree: 6%
      Poor people who agree: 77%
      The rich aren't afraid to take risks. Most of the rich were business owners who put their own money in their business and took financial risks.

Successful Vs. Unsuccessful People

    Wisdom is a prerequisite for success in life. Notice how the habits of successful people are also the habits of wise people:

Teaching Others

    A quick way to alienate people is to give them advice before they ask for it. However, there often are occasions when people may ask for your advice or knowledge. When teaching others, try to use the "Socratic Method" whereby you ask questions of the other person so that they actively participate in their learning. Your best approach is to assume the role of the humble sage who delights in sharing wisdom.
Internet Mental Health 1995-2016 Phillip W. Long, M.D.