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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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Last Updated on October 14, 2020

The Art of Humble Confidence

The Art of Humble Confidence

To be confident or not to be confident, that is the question. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve been a bit confused about all this discussion about the subject of confidence. Do you really need to be more confident or should you try to be more humble? I think the answer is both – you just have to know where to use it.

East VS West – Confidence, It’s a Cultural Thing

In typical Western countries, the answer to the confidence debate is obvious – more is better. Our heros are rebellious, independent and shoot first, ask questions later. I think this snippet of dialog from The Matrix sums it up best:

Agent Smith – “We’re willing to wipe the slate clean, give you a fresh start. All that we’re asking in return is your cooperation in bringing a known terrorist to justice.”
Neo – “Yeah. Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal. But I think I may have a better one. How about, I give you the finger”
[He does]
Neo -“ …and you give me my phone call.”

In Eastern countries, the tone is often considerably different. Elders are supposed to be revered not dismissed. The words ‘guru,’ meaning a teacher, and the philosophy of dharma, loosely translated to mean ‘duty,’ come from here. In Eastern cultures humility and respect are more important than confidence.

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These perspectives are generalizations, but it shows how the confidence debate goes back deep into our culture. I think that both extremes of pure confidence or pure humility are misguided. Instead of rectifying this situation by simply blending the two: becoming somewhat humble, somewhat confident all the time, I believe the answer is to know when to be confident and when to be humble.

Humble Confidence – Know When to Use It

I’m going to make another broad generalization. I believe that virtually every relationship you are going to have is going to fit into one of two major archetypes, either master or student. In peer relationships this master/student role may switch frequently, but it is extremely rare that the relationship never leans to one side.

In the master role, you are displaying confidence to get what you want. This is public speaker, leader or seducer. Being the master has advantages. You have more control and ability to influence from this role.

The student role is the opposite. You are intentionally displaying humility. This is the student, disciple or follower. Being the student has advantages too. You can learn a lot more in this role and are more likely to win the trust of the other person.

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Know When to Shut Up and Learn

If you are a typical Westerner, you are probably already thinking about which role you prefer. Being the leader is great. You get respect and a higher status. Most of all you get a greater degree of control.

But the problem is that you can’t and shouldn’t always try to be the leader. Trying to assume that role without the skills, resources or status to back it up will lead to conflict. More importantly, there are many times when you purposely want to display humility. Some of the benefits to the student role include:

  • You learn more.
  • Smooths relationships.
  • Makes others more willing to lend a helping hand.

Knowing when taking the humble route is to your advantage. It is far easier to get mentors and advisors if you use humility rather than arrogance. A small sacrifice to your ego can open up the potential to learn a lot.

Confidence to Persuade, Humility to Learn

In reality almost no relationship is as clearly defined as master/student. Within our connections, people have overlapping areas of expertise. I might be an expert in blogging to a non-blogger, but they might be an expert in finance. In each area there are different roles to take.

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Before any interaction ask yourself what the purpose is. Are you trying to learn or persuade?

Persuasion requires confidence. If you are trying to sell, instruct or lead you need to display the confidence to match your message. But learning requires humility. You won’t learn anything if you are constantly arguing with your professors, mentors or employers. Taking a dose of humility and temporarily making yourself a student gives you the opportunity to absorb.

Persuade Less, Learn More

Persuasion is great for immediate effect, but learning matters over the long-haul. Instead of washing over all your communication with pure confidence, look for opportunities to learn. Persuading someone to follow you may give you an immediate boost of satisfaction, but it doesn’t last. Learning, however, is an investment for the future.

Whenever I make a connection with someone and realize they have a skill or understanding I want, I am careful to express humility in that area. That means listening with what they say even if I don’t immediately agree and being patient with their response. This method often drastically cuts down the time I need to spend on trial and error to learn by myself.

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Confidence/Humility Doesn’t Replace Communication Skills

This approach of selectively using confidence and humility for different purposes doesn’t replace communication skills. Humility isn’t going to work if the other person thinks you’re an irritating whiner. Confidence won’t work if the entire room thinks you are an arrogant jerk. Knowing how to display these two qualities takes practice.

The next time you are about to enter into an interaction ask yourself why you are doing it. Are you trying to persuade or learn? Depending on which you can take a completely different tact for far better results.

Featured photo credit: BBH Singapore via unsplash.com

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