Solomon's Paradox:
How to Apply Your Own Wisdom

Are you the type of person that gives so much love, compassion, and encouragement to others, but forget to give to yourself?

I definitely do and it frustrates me.

I sometimes feel like a hypocrite or an imposter who can’t take his own advice, which results in doubting my ability to give and help people. But there’s a reason why we’re wiser for others than for ourselves.

According to University of Waterloo psychologist, Igor Grossman, it’s a phenomenon he calls, Solomon’s Paradox.

And the best part is, we can use this phenomenon to our personal and professional advantage by becoming wiser for ourselves as well.

Solomon’s Paradox Explained

King Solomon was the third leader of the Jewish Kingdom and was considered a wise sage people flocked to for advice. But his personal life was a mess. He made poor decisions, got caught up with money and women, and neglected his son. Hence, the paradox.

Grossman used this story as his basis for his research to see if this was just unique to King Solomon, or if it was a common behavior. He did a series of experiments and found that people do, in fact, reason more wisely for someone else’s situation compared to their own. You can read the paper here.

Well, Of Course!

This social behavior explains why it’s easier to give that sage advice to others rather than to ourselves. Because we can see things differently when it isn’t so personal.

I now feel more able to empathize with everyone when it comes to making decisions for their own lives vs someone else’s. A lot of us are givers, which does make it much harder for us to take care of ourselves first, especially when faced with a deeply personal, emotionally-charged situation. We may even be in such great positions on the outside, giving great advice, coaching, love and encouragement, but struggle to internalize it for ourselves.

I’ve noticed that, in high-pressure situations (e.g. work environment, dating, profound, vulnerable conversations, etc.), we tend to react with an instinct or personal obligation to fill the silence or to show aptitude and intelligence. We feel like we have to think fast, move quickly, impress early, have something meaningful ready to say.

But what do you think would happen when we become comfortable with the silence, to allow our minds a few seconds to process our emotions, while distancing our egos from the conversation and view it from a third-perspective? How can we respond better?

This is what fuels my excitement to continue doing emotional intelligence work because it is the perfect tonic for our poison. We might think wisdom only comes with old age or experience, but there are ways we can make use of the wisdom we know we already have inside of us, as long as you work on these 3 things.

1. Slow Down

It’s easy to tell people to slow down when I’m sitting behind a computer screen, but I’ve been putting this into practice myself. Though it’s still difficult at times, when it does work, it’s been a crucial part of my well-being.

I get it, in the heat of the moment, everything is on fire, your heart is pumping, your chest is boiling, your mind is racing, and you burst out with actions or words that you didn’t mean or wanted to express in that way.

How can you possibly slow down from that?

I’m not going to tell you it’s easy, or that it even works for everybody, but if you are able to recognize when you start feeling a shift in your body, count to 6, three seconds to breathe in, three to breathe out. This prevents you from reacting rashly and allows you to spend time to respond appropriately.

2. Distance Yourself From The Situation

Grossman found that King Solomon (and many other wise sages, thought leaders, or coaches for that matter) didn’t have to be doomed to a frustrated personal life, feeling like an imposter.

If you can practice removing yourself from yourself, or pretend to be a fly-on-the-wall watching yourself behave in the moment, then you can also find the capacity to make reasonable decisions in both your personal life and in the workplace.

Again, easier said than done, I know. But all it takes is practice. When something happens to you personally, or when you’re stuck on something and don’t know what to do next, imagine you’re watching a movie about yourself. Watch their behaviors from the outside looking in. Tune into what you know as an audience member that your character might have missed. What insights might you draw from that?

“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” -Thomas Cooley

It’s weird, it’s scary, it’s definitely unnatural to force yourself into an out-of-body experience, but ironically, separating yourself from yourself is a great way to become self-aware.

As a creative and perfectionist, it’s a constant internal battle with myself on what I deem good enough to put out there. I exaggerate the judgments that I have on my own work. It’s a great trait to have, to a certain extent. It forces me to maintain a standard of quality, but too much of it and it becomes debilitating and I end up not making as much progress as I would getting it out there and building upon outside feedback.

This is where Solomon’s Paradox helps. I can speed up that process of getting that outside feedback if I can step back from my own work and view it from someone else’s point of view. This practice requires a lot of patience and empathy towards your audience, but over time, you’ll become less judgmental on your own work, which will help it improve from a place of positivity rather than hyper-criticism.

Which leads me to…

3. Treat Yourself With Compassion

I know you’ve heard it plenty before, you got to love yourself. And I totally agree!

But I think it might be helpful for you to also show compassion to yourself as well.

Think about it, we care so much about showing compassion for others, but how often do we do so for ourselves? My guess is if you’re somewhat of a goal-oriented perfectionist, who likes to be the smart one, you’re your own worst critic. But you would never treat others as poorly as you treat yourself, right?

Envision that part of you that wants everything to go according to plan, to have everything in order, to avoid flaws, risk, or uncertainty. Now imagine if they were someone else, berating you every time you did something slightly wrong. Imagine the pressure they force upon you. How would you feel?

The saying goes, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” What it’s missing is that the “others” also include ourselves.

Wisdom Has Its Many Sources

What I’ve learned from reading about Solomon’s Paradox is that great advice can come from anyone, anywhere, regardless of age, status, wealth, or knowledge. You just have to be willing to give them space and just listen.

As in the case with one of my good friends who met a random homeless person one day, he learned an acronym for life that was profound for my friend at the time:

Live Independently and Free Everyday.”

We are social beings. We care about social-proof. And that means we think wisdom only comes from the people who are living our idea of success.

Yes, if you want logistics on exactly what to do or what systems to put in place, definitely seek the mentor who’s “been there, done that.” But as we know from Solomon’s Paradox, even those with status and clout are human and make mistakes, which also means we can’t be quick to judge or wave off those who aren’t seemingly successful in our eyes.

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” -Bill Nye

Which also works the other way around. You can offer a unique perspective to someone else, even if you don’t feel like you yet have the qualifications. There’s no reason to feel like a fraud or imposter for passing on information that is true for you, or for asking good questions that helps others think about it from a new perspective.

You are wise. You have it in you. Just remember to slow down, distance yourself from the situation, and treat yourself with compassion and you will shine.

Make My Day By Letting Me Know How This Helped You!

Thank you so much for reading this! I’ve been enjoying writing for YPOS now for the last few months and I’d love it more to connect with you! If you drew any insights from this blog post for yourself, I’d love me some that of ego boost to help me keep writing!

Find me on Instagram and slide into those DMs!

Victor Ung