One of my favorite quotes on wisdom comes from an anonymous author:
“You are under no obligation to be the same person you were a year, a month, or even 15 minutes ago. You have the right to evolve.”
Society tends to prefer us to stay the same. Our family holds a version of us that was created in childhood: we were the black sheep, or the responsible one, for example. Whatever label they have attached to us from a young age makes them feel comfortable.
Decades can pass and even though we’re vastly different people at 40 then at 20: we’ve had a world of life experience—we’re still seen the same way.
Seeing us for who we are now can feel threatening to them; they prefer predictability.
The thing is, we may see ourselves through the same lens even though we have evolved and learned many a life lesson.
Here are eight ways to know that you have become a lot wiser than you give yourself credit for.
1) You practice emotional regulation
People who are mature enough to emotionally regulate themselves do not react in the moment. They can keep a calm demeanor.
This doesn’t mean that they never get angry or upset. They simply don’t get involved in the drama. If they do feel upset, they’ll take healthy measures such as removing themselves from the situation so that they calm down and figure out how to go about the situation in a more strategic and adult way.
“When you’re emotionally charged in a situation, it’s difficult to see what is real and true,” says Marie Miguel from The University of Chicago’s Center for Practical Wisdom.
We may be blinded by subjectivity which is why it’s crucial to look at the facts of a situation, she says.
Wise people will observe what’s going on rather than be emotionally overtaken on how they feel about it. They know that emotions are fleeting and that they need to focus on the facts instead to find the right resolution.
2) You know that other people’s opinions of you are none of your business
Have you noticed how the elderly could care less about what other people think about them? They say what they want, when they want, and they don’t waste precious time worrying how others might react.
They do this because they developed the wisdom that other people’s opinions have nothing to do with them (and really, they could care less about what people think at this point).
This is because everyone has their own unique perspective and way of gauging others that has absolutely nothing to do with you, says Sonia Vadlamani from Happiness.com.
This idea is beautifully portrayed in The Four Agreements by author Don Miguel Ruiz.
“What’s more, it’s likely to be an ongoing process that you cannot possibly control,” says Vadlamani. Indeed, you’ll continue to be judged and held in a certain regard by others, regardless of how many times you interact with them and whether you’re warm and friendly or cold and distant.”
3) You know that your only competition is yourself
You may have heard this quote by American poet Washington Allston: “The only competition worthy of a wise man is himself.”
Wise people know that there is no point in comparing themselves with other people. For one thing, everyone has their own unique path. If someone is more successful than you, they might have had a head start and support system that you didn’t.
If that wasn’t the case, a wise person will see them as inspiration for your own journey. Ask them how they accomplished what they did and apply it to your own situation.
For another, wise people know that the only thing comparison does is rob them of their happiness.
They know that if they allow the seed of comparison to take root in their life, that they are subconsciously telling themselves that what they have isn’t enough, says Mollie Donghia for The Simplicity Habit.
“When we allow comparison of others to dictate how we view our own lives, we enter into a disillusionment of reality that robs us of the joy we have right in front of us,” she says.
4) You are especially empathetic
Wise people understand that their own opinions aren’t the be-all and end-all: they like to see things from another person’s point of view. This helps them to relate to another’s emotions and build stronger relationships in different aspects of their life—be it work, school, or in their personal lives.
They also know that living a vibrant life requires empathy, says Madeline Miles from BetterUp.
“Empathy allows us to build community, have more meaningful conversations, and feel less alone,” she says. “We see ourselves in those around us and understand their experiences better. We also feel understood by others and feel safe to share.”
5) You have something called intellectual humility
Wise people will be the first ones to admit that they don’t know something.
This is what experts call intellectual humility. It’s when they accept when they have a gap in knowledge about something, say the researchers at Nature.com.
Inherent in having intellectual humility is the ability to be patient and not require an immediate answer—as well as having a tolerance for frustration, adds Maurice J. Elias from Edutopia.
6) You understand that uncertainty is part of life
Wise people know that uncertainty is part and parcel of life.
“Very little about our lives is constant or totally uncertain, and while we have control over many things, we can’t control everything that happens to us,” says the team at HelpGuide.org.
I recently interviewed Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Shirin Ebadi to get her thoughts on the evolution of the Woman Life Freedom movement in Iran a year after the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody.
When I brought up the legislation that the Iranian regime has passed in order to impart severe punishments to women who do not adhere to the country’s strict dress code and hijab laws, Dr. Ebadi said that that wasn’t important.
“The government is making things more difficult, but what’s important is that the Iranian people are resisting,” she told me. “What counts is the courage of the people. This movement is the strongest we have had in 43 years. Men are also part of the resistance.”
I bring this up because in life there will always be uncertainty—and many people around the world have to live with this in the most extreme of cases. But they push forward and stand up for what they believe in—even in the face of great danger to themselves.
A wise person will let the fear of uncertainty and the unknown keep them in a box.
7) You also know that to change is to grow
John Maxwell once said that “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”
That’s because change entails that we step outside of our comfort zone; it means doing things in a way that is different from what we’re accustomed to, says Sneha Philip, Development Director at Electronic Arts.
“If we do not do that, we will forever remain in the uncomfortable situation we are so used to, and things will remain as they are.”
Staying in our comfort zone is its own discomfort: things stay stagnant and we feel as if we aren’t living up to our potential.
A wise person will always try to challenge themselves—in small ways that lead to big changes.
Because they’ve been taking consistent, measured steps, by the time the big changes come around, they’re ready for it.
That’s how they continue to grow and evolve.
8) You appreciate all that you have, but know that there’s nothing wrong with desiring more
Many people think that being wise means you are always grateful for what you have and that you don’t have a right to ask for more.
This conditioning usually comes from an upbringing that was focused on lack (Parents who said: “We will always be lower middle-class,” for example). But it can also come from religious beliefs.
But it doesn’t have to work that way.
“Wisdom is the art of being grateful for what you have, while also striving for more,” says Kristina Segarra of Medium.
While I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, I would replace the word grateful with the word appreciative.
To me, being grateful alludes to the idea that you don’t deserve what you have. I would rather be appreciative of what I have rather than be grateful. The word grateful to me also implies that I owe someone something.
I can be grateful to someone for saving my life, or for lending me money when I most needed it, for example, but be appreciative of all the good things that have come into my life such as blessings and accomplishments.
The important thing, though, is to make appreciation a regular feeling.
“Wise people practice gratitude and contentment regularly because they know that the root of their happiness comes from meaningful connections, self-improvement, and self-development.”