Where does Wisdom fit in Positive Psychology Coaching?

Cloud gazing by the pond

Knowing where Wisdom fits in Positive Psychology Coaching may be Wisdom in itself!

I wanted to talk to you about Wisdom for many reasons:

  1. Wisdom is not always recognised and valued. I’d like to change that.
  2. Wisdom is often associated with aging yet we don’t always value people as they age. I’d like to change that.
  3. I am curious about how you can develop Wisdom.
  4. I am also curious about how some people seem to be born with Wisdom.

How about you, have you ever wondered about Wisdom?

Maybe it would help to start by sharing some definitions on Wisdom. And here we run into a problem. The literature on this subject varies and the only thing agreed upon is that Wisdom is hard to define and there are also Cultural aspects to how we view it. The definitions fall under three broad categories:

  1. As a stage of human development.
  2. As an example of advanced thinking abilities.
  3. As an expanded form of intelligence.

None of these definition categories really hit the mark for me, what do you think?

Have you ever met someone and thought them “wise beyond their years”? What does that mean to you?

Understanding and recognising wisdom may need to be something more personal. It is certainly more than knowledge, thinking and logic. Wisdom may be the ability to apply learning, knowledge and experience to life by making “good” choices and decisions but is that all?

One form of wisdom that many people report is a change in how you relate to others as you get older. You may notice that you make changes in the people you spend time with. It has been suggested that many people start to prioritise who they spend time with and let go of fears of upsetting others. You are more likely to want to spend time with people that enrich your life and let go of people who drain you. Has that happened to you?

You may also become more accepting of yourself as your wisdom grows and extend this acceptance to others. You may give up the need for anyone to change.


Bringing Wisdom into your Coaching Practice

I love the fact that one of the best definitions of Wisdom I have found is ancient and comes from Confucius:

“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.”

As a Coach you will encourage your clients to reflect on experiences in order to learn. As a professional Coach you will probably keep a reflective diary to help you learn and gain more wisdom. You will spend time reflecting with your Supervisor deepening this reflection.

If you do not already keep a reflective diary start one today. The easiest way to do this is to reflect on three questions directly after each coaching session.

  1. What went well?
  2. What could I have done differently?
  3. What did I learn?

Remember the reflective diary is about you rather than the client, the diary allows you to focus on your own development and is a form of self-supervision.

Imitation is also present in Coaching. You will model or imitate the Coaching practice of others to keep your coaching skills fresh and developing. This may happen as a result of attending a training course, watching a demonstration or even reading a book. As you reflect on your imitation you will internalise it and by an innate process of wisdom adapt what you imitate to your own style.

You may encourage your clients to identify role models for their development. Thus you bring imitation to your Coaching practice too.

For those who find the concept of imitating uncomfortable remember as a child you will have imitated those around you in order to learn to speak, walk and know how to be part of a family or community. This is one of the most natural ways to learn.

The bitterest learning according to Confucius comes from experience. As a Coach you will expand your knowledge and skill by experience and yet the most wisdom often comes from sessions that didn’t go well. This I think is what Confucius meant when he said it was the bitterest. When we reflect on an experience that was challenging we have the opportunity to understand how we could have done things differently. Wisdom involves allowing yourself permission to accept what happened and learn from it.


As you work with your Clients you will often be helping them reflect and learn from their experiences too.


Studying Wisdom with Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology explores the concept of Wisdom in many ways and perhaps the most structured comes from the Strengths work of Peterson and Seligman.

Wisdom is one of the “Virtues” of the VIA model and includes the Character Strengths of Creativity, Curiosity, Judgement, Love of Learning and Perspective. This is something we actively explore during the Association for Coaching Diploma modules I teach on Positive Psychology.

According to this model Wisdom is something we all have to varying degrees. This is based on the Character Strengths listed above and how easily you can access or express them.

It could be argued that if Wisdom is really a stage in development we would all access the Character Strengths of Wisdom as we develop. This does not really play out in the model.

I am curious to know what you think about Wisdom and how it develops. Is it something that naturally develops? Do some people have it (like a Strength/Virtue) and some people don’t? Is Wisdom really about age and life experience?

For me there are more questions than answers, what about you?

Melody Cheal MSc MAPP
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