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20 Paradoxes That Give Us Wisdom and Perspective

20 Paradoxes That Give Us Wisdom and Perspective

Paradoxes may seem logically impossible, but they’re often true. Paradoxes reveal the essence of the human condition, while pushing us to question what’s really true. From everyday tips to poignant life lessons, paradoxes can teach us how to navigate the world in a wiser fashion.

1. The best things in life are free.

We’ve all heard this phrase, but it’s somewhat paradoxical. Most of the time, we have to pay for value. The more valuable something is, the higher it costs. But many of the most satisfying things in life can’t be bought. They are freely available to anyone who is wise enough to seek them out.

Take away: Don’t get caught up in chasing material possessions.

2. The more choices we have, the more paralyzed we become.

In today’s world, we often think that having everything at our fingertips makes life easier. In some ways it does. However, when faced with a multitude of choices we often become stressed and unable to make a decision.

Take away: Don’t drive yourself crazy with what-ifs. Just do what you think is best.

3. Stop looking for happiness if you want to find it.

Often referred to as the Paradox of Hedonism, the idea is that we tend to find happiness when we aren’t actively searching. Happiness is elusive, and we don’t always find it in the places we’d expect. Happiness isn’t a place, but rather a state.

Take away: Let happiness come to you when it’s ready.

4. The best ideas come when you’re thinking about something else.

Inventor Philo T. Farnsworth purportedly came up with the idea for television while plowing a potato field. Among smart and successful people, these peculiar stories are common. Great thinkers think abstractly, leading their minds to connect seemingly unrelated things.

Take away: If you’re ever running dry of ideas, try doing something completely unrelated to the task.

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5. We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

It is an unfortunate tendency, but sometimes we can’t recognize the value of something until we notice its absence. You probably wouldn’t be thankful for your roof unless it collapsed one day. It takes effort to appreciate what you already have because it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Take away: Consciously keeping track of what you’re grateful for is a great way to stay humble.

6. The more you multitask, the less you get done.

Research has shown that the human ability to multitask is technically nonexistent. Well…that’s embarrassing. All this time we thought we were being more productive, but our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. So if you are multitasking, you may just be doing lots of things poorly or partially.

Take away: Put your individual focus and effort into important projects.

7. You get what you give.

When people are generous, they naturally attract the generosity of others. People who are selfish and always looking out for themselves repel generosity. Kindness and selfishness doesn’t go unnoticed.

Take away: Be generous. Give to others and you won’t have to worry about receiving.

8. The more you try to control a situation, the less control you have.

Everyone knows a control freak or two, and you may have even seen firsthand how ultra planning can backfire. Most things in life are uncontrollable, and when we try too hard we can actually make things worse. The only thing we can definitely control is ourselves.

Take away: The best way to handle situations is to accept change and adapt to it.

9. The things that deeply move us don’t exist.

Philosophers call it the Paradox of Fiction. Humans have always been affected by stories, art, and literature. We can be influenced and inspired by characters that aren’t real and events that never occurred. Why is it that some of our strongest and most profound emotional reactions are driven by things that never existed?

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Take away: Fiction has the power to change reality. Now go read a book!

10. Insanity is rational.

A study showed that certain mental illnesses may allow people to be more logical than the average person. When given a quiz full of logic questions, schizophrenic participants performed far better than participants without the illness.

Take away: Never underestimate someone just because they’re different from you.

11. The longer you sleep, the more tired you are when you wake up.

Why is it that sometimes we sleep 5 hours and wake up refreshed, while other times we sleep 10 hours and wake up feeling like a plane hit us? This is a common problem, particularly for people who get little sleep on weekdays and too much sleep on weekends. This happens when your circadian rhythm is thrown off.

Take away: Adopt a steady sleep routine to feel more energetic.

12. We can only change when we accept who we are.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” -Carl Rogers

When we spend our time and energy hating ourselves and wishing we could change, it uses up the energy that we could be using to change.

Take away: Accept yourself and work hard. Change will come naturally.

13. The faster you run from your problems, the quicker they catch up.

Sure you can run away, travel across the world, or backpack through Europe. But if your main goal for leaving is to solve problems, you will end up disappointed. Most problems arise from who we are, not where we are.  If you run, your “baggage” will be right there with you- at the baggage claim.

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Take away: Face your problems head on so they don’t become worse.

14. The institutions that teach us equip us to question those institutions.

“The paradox of education is that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”- James Baldwin.

While we need institutions to teach us, they often teach us best about the things we reject or want to change about them.

Take away: Learn all you can from others, but think for yourself.

15. We can eat more and lose weight?

If you are overweight and consistently dieting with a piece of lettuce for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you may actually be contributing to the problem. Under-eating can slow your metabolism, meaning less energy consumed and less burned. As long as your diet is clean and healthy, frequent meals are the way to go.

Take away: Eat often and eat real food to stay healthy.

16. If you want a faster commute, shut down a traffic route.

Named after the mathematician who discovered it, Braess’ Paradox refers to the odd phenomenon that occurs when towns block off a main road. One would think that this would worsen traffic, but it often improves it. Since faster routes become more attractive to drivers, this can increase commute times for everyone, even those on other routes. Check out the full explanation here.

Take away: Don’t rely on shortcuts, they aren’t always what they seem.

17. If you want to find love, stop looking.

“I walked into the coffee shop, expecting to meet my true love, and there he was!” Have you ever heard someone say this? Didn’t think so. That’s because we tend to fall for people when we don’t expect it. Although difficult for lonely people, it is smarter to be patient rather than desperately search for soulmate.

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Take away: Be yourself, do what you do, and the right person will naturally come along.

18. The more you wait the longer things take.

Who hasn’t sat in math class, staring painfully at the clock as it slowly ticks forward? Although it’s only a perception, the more conscious waiting we do, the longer things often seem to take. Time flies when you’re having fun, so you are better off trying to make the best of long division while you’re stuck doing it.

Take away: Try to make the most out of things you dislike. It will only make them pass quicker.

19. People who talk the most say the least.

There is a longstanding suspicion that chatterboxes talk a lot and say little, which is sometimes true. While packed with verbiage, their speech is often devoid of substance. Meanwhile, people who hold their tongue are often lauded for their profound speech. 

Take away: Speak to be understood, not to impress or gain attention.

20. Cats and toast don’t mix.

The infamous Buttered Cat Paradox is perhaps the most mind-boggling of all.

The premise: Buttered toast is known to fall face down when dropped (Yes, it was determined by physicists.) Cats are known to land right side up, as long as the fall is far enough from the ground. So the question arises: What would happen if we strapped toast (butter side up) to a cat’s back, and the poor cat was dropped from several feet up? Some speculate that just before reaching the ground, the kitty would begin spinning indefinitely. However, no one is willing to endanger their cat to find out.

Take away: Nothing. This one can’t help you at all.

Featured photo credit: Nickwheeleroz via compfight.com

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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