Four Sentences That Lead to Wisdom

I love to read mysteries. Perhaps that is why I like being a psychologist so much. I think of each person as a puzzle with one or two pieces missing and try to figure out how to help each client find the right pieces to become happier, more productive, have better relationships, feel less anxious, or be better at what they do.

Recently, I was reading a mystery by Louise Penny and found a few sentences that really got to me. Here they are.

“Four statements that lead to wisdom.”
“I was wrong.”
“I am sorry.”
“I don’t know.”
“I need help.”

Wisdom Why you might ask, would a few words from a mystery apply to psychology? Well, I think that not only can those four phrases above lead to wisdom, but they can be powerful in other ways as well.

Many people cannot admit they are wrong or say they’re sorry because they fear being weak, or showing that they are not perfect. Sometimes they can’t apologize because they are stubborn, or scared, or afraid of losing the person they are apologizing to.

When we say “I was wrong” or “I am sorry” we are making ourselves vulnerable to the other person and letting him or her see that we are flawed. But studies show that being vulnerable can enhance friendships and make them closer. And by saying you were wrong, you are also putting value in the relationship, where it belongs, instead of in your pride. Both statements also reflect who we are ethically. It is hard to admit you were wrong and to apologize, but by doing so we also acknowledge the other person’s right to feel hurt. We are then able to learn from our mistakes and feel motivated to do better.

When you say ” I don’t know “ or ” I need help” you may originally feel you are admitting a deficit in your knowledge. But without that admission, we cannot grow, and learn, and change. Sometimes we try to hide the things we do not know; when we do that, we are prone to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. But when we admit not knowing something or needing help, even to ourselves, it puts us on a path to improve and enhance our lives.

One thing I am always aware of is that when a person starts therapy, they are essentially saying “ I don’t know how to do it myself” and “I need help.” That is such a courageous thing to do. It is not only being vulnerable; it is a sign of humility. Instead of it making them feel “less than,” most people feel better after their first therapy session because admitting that they need help is really a sign of strength and openness, and is the first step on the path to getting better.

So, thank you to Louise Penny and her character Inspector Gamache. Whenever we read, we learn, and we never know where what we learn make take us. For me, these four phrases are important pieces of the puzzle that we must solve to achieve better mental health.