The 3 Methods For Learning Wisdom, According to Confucius

Secrets to becoming wiser today than you were yesterday.

Thomas Oppong
Apr 5 · 5 min read
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Humans have evolved, transformed and become better versions of themselves because of better knowledge. We continue to refine, improve and upgrade what already works. It’s a survival skill.

Our future depends on practical knowledge. Your future depends on your present wisdom for better living. Wisdom and understanding can help you decide what is right from wrong and good from bad.

Knowledge alone is not enough. It’s the application of the proper knowledge that can make a huge difference in your life. Being wise is not about what you know; it’s about how and when you apply the right kind of information or mental tool to solve a practical problem in your life or career.

Becoming wise is a journey, not a destination. It’s a valuable process that can help you improve the knowledge of yourself and the world.

With better wisdom, you can make informed decisions, better judgements and choose your next steps in life carefully to live a meaningful life.

By all means, get wisdom and understanding; your success depends on it.

But the real question is: how do you acquire the right wisdom for life? In our modern inform-rich world, how do you spend your limited time finding wisdom, and where do you even look?

There are many sources of knowledge. Finding the right knowledge is a skill.

Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, once observed three ways to acquire the necessary wisdom you need for life.

He said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

The art of reflection

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful,” says Margaret J. Wheatley

Acquiring wisdom by reflection means making time for deep introspection, metacognition (thinking about your thinking or thinking about your knowing). It also means learning to think deeper in solitude.

When you learn to reflect, you make time to ponder over what’s happening to your life. And how that information can inform your next action.

Reflection is a valuable self-awareness process that can help you understand yourself better. It can empower you to think better, make an informed choice or take your next action carefully.

You can reflect using a journal (good old pen and paper work best) or via blogging. Any reflection exercise is an intimate process, a session with yourself that can help you discover what you truly value in life. It’s an opportunity to get closer to yourself to understand your needs deeply.

It can also help you practice gratitude. “Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens said.

Making time to reflect on everything good in your life can help you appreciate what you already have — a source of happiness.

“Intentional reflection is sobering. It forces you to examine the reality of where you are today relative to where you want to be,” wrote Rick Lindquist.

The imitation method

“Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself,” says Alfred Sheinwold.

Many people have already figured out a lot of ways to lead a better life. Learning via imitation is one of the quickest ways to apply what already works in your life. There is nothing new under the sun, so find that unique knowledge and use it in your present circumstances.

Learning from the most intelligent people is something I find increasingly valuable. Instead of spending a lot of time to find the truth, arm yourself with the tools others have already discovered to make your life better.

By opening yourself to better knowledge from people more intelligent than you, you improve your chances of learning even better tools of the people who have already succeeded in different life areas.

There is more to learn or understand in life than you can ever imagine. Wisdom is knowing the experiences, habits, routines and behaviours you can adopt and apply in your life.

You can quickly become wise by learning from what the experts, great minds and extraordinary people have already figured out. Read their books, posts, listen to their interviews and most importantly, read their biographies.

It’s one of the best ways to gain wisdom and understanding. “Experience is a master teacher, even when it’s not our own,” says Gina Greenlee.

Experiential learning

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt said.

Learning by doing is probably one of the best ways to know what can work for you. It’s a necessary process that can help you gather wisdom fast.

But it’s a painful process. “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” Oprah Winfrey said. You have to embrace the action and push past your comfort zone. It’s one of the best ways to learn and understand knowledge.

Every experience in life is an opportunity to learn what can work now and in the future. When you learn by doing, you gather wisdom fast but slowly. Your own experiences become your best teacher.

Experiential learners are doers. They choose to act. They don’t just read or gather knowledge; they act on what they know.

“Don’t just learn, experience,” argues Roy T. Bennett. He also said, “Some things cannot be taught; they must be experienced. You never learn the most valuable lessons in life until you go through your own journey.”

Experience can teach you more than you can ever read in a book. The process can be enriching. It’s not without failures and hardships. But you would be proud you took a step.

Learning to be wise is a process. You can use all three methods to accelerate the process. Learn from others. Take action on what you know, and don’t forget to reflect on the knowledge you are gathering. The combined approach is advantageous. And your long-term success depends on it.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder | Writer | Published Author | As seen on Business Insider, Inc., Entrepreneur and Pocket. For my popular essays, go here: https://thomasoppong.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder | Writer | Published Author | As seen on Business Insider, Inc., Entrepreneur and Pocket. For my popular essays, go here: https://thomasoppong.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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