“Knowledge is power.” So proclaims one of the most famous quotes in history — a quote commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, the medieval English philosopher and statesman. Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian diplomat who served as the Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006, expanded on Bacon’s wisdom by declaring: “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”
It is indeed a fact that those with knowledge go further in life than those without knowledge. And those who add wisdom and discipline to their toolbox go even further! If you wish to become successful in life, you must lay a foundation for success. That foundation will be in your faith, mindset, and intelligence.
Here are five ways to keep yourself learning and your mind sharp:
1. Make Wisdom Your Top Priority
King Solomon, widely regarded as perhaps the richest man who ever lived, declared: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). Wisdom should be a higher priority to you than money, health, security, or anything else you may desire. Solomon wrote that wisdom’s proceeds “are better than the profits of silver and her gain than fine gold” (Proverbs 3:14).
While some may argue that relationships (particularly your relationship with God) are more important than wisdom, the truth is that you can better understand, appreciate, navigate, and enjoy your relationships with wisdom than you can without wisdom. Relationships without wisdom are doomed to frustration and failure.
2. Listen – and Listen Some More
It’s more important to understand others than it is for them to understand you. A person who only wants others to understand him or her is inherently a self-centered individual. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said it best: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
My mom used to say I was born with two ears and one mouth, which means I should listen twice as much as I speak. This is good, common sense wisdom. But…
It’s not enough to just hear somebody. You must focus and concentrate on what the other person is saying as well as what they are not saying. You need to read the lines and read in between the lines. You need to gauge the other person’s emotions and reactions as well as the words they are actually saying. Communication takes a lot of work and patience, but it pays off when it’s handled correctly.
3. Manage Your Anger
Those who fail to manage their emotions, especially their anger, will struggle in life. And they will often make life very difficult for those around them. If you want to be successful and if you care about those in your life, you MUST learn to manage your emotions.
Angry people don’t think straight. Their minds close (more on this in a moment). They start pointing fingers. They take verbal or physical shots at others. They want to strike back and vent their rage. And, in that angry state, people often do things they would never do otherwise.
4. Keep Your Mind Open
A closed jar can’t receive any more liquid. A closed refrigerator can’t receive any food items. A closed store can’t receive any customers. And a closed mind can’t receive (let alone process) new information. If your mind is closed, you will not learn anything new. Period.
Some believe that a closed mind is appropriate or they think that opening their mind will threaten long-held convictions. I can only speak concerning my own faith. The Apostle Paul says we should “test all things” and “hold fast what is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21). All things means…all things. Test everything. If it’s good, it stays. If it’s not, it goes. But in order to test, your mind must stay open.
This is the case especially when you’re upset about things. The other day I engaged a couple people in an online conversation about the role of a church pastor. Rather than respond to specific points I was making, the people with whom I was conversing could only talk about the frustration or anger they had experienced with their own pastors. Because of this, they completely brushed aside the article written by an expert on church life (the article I was defending) as well as the points I was offering.
A similar example came up many years ago when the country was transfixed with the allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas by his former colleague Anita Hill. To this day, we don’t know for sure what happened, but one of my college friends “knew.” We’ll call her “Bonnie.” Bonnie was convinced Clarence Thomas was guilty of sexual harassment. How was she convinced? What evidence did she have? Well…Bonnie herself had been sexually harassed.
Note that her assessment of Thomas’ guilt had nothing to do with Hill’s charges, any evidence, or any analysis of said evidence. Rather, Bonnie was judging Thomas guilty of sexually harassing Anita Hill because Bonnie had been sexually harassed. And her mind was made up.
Now, I’m not saying anything about the Hill-Thomas relationship. I don’t know what happened between them. My point isn’t to defend Thomas. It’s to point out that Bonnie’s mind was made up (based on NO facts of the case at hand — and only a personal, very unrelated experience) and her mind was closed to anything further.
This kind of thing happens all the time. People see or hear things. They have an initial reaction, often based on their background or personal experience. They often personalize what they’ve seen or heard – and, depending on the situation, their emotions kick in. And then they’re off to the races (so to speak) with their minds closed tight!
I’ve spent a lot of time on this point, because I believe it’s among the most important reasons why many people don’t get smarter and don’t keep their minds sharp. If you want to be smart and successful…you MUST keep your mind OPEN.
5. Spend Time With Smart People
Solomon said: “He who walks with wise men will be wise” (Proverbs 13:20a). If you want to be smart, hang out with smart people. It’s quite simple. And yet how many people actually do this?
There are a few ways to invest time with smart people. You can directly spend time with them (going to lunch, hanging out after work, networking, etc). You can also closely observe smart people. You can read what smart people write. You can listen to what smart people say.
Don’t know any smart people? Go to your library. There are plenty of books penned by some really, really smart people over the years. Read them. Take notes. You can also go on YouTube or Vimeo and watch speeches or lectures by smart people. And, again, take notes as you listen to them. You can listen to smart people on your CD or mp3 player as you drive to and from work. There are many ways to connect with smart people. You just have to do it!
Getting smarter is not going to happen by accident. It takes work. It takes commitment. It takes time. But it’s very much worth it. You’ll be a more successful person as a result.