There is a line from the Greek poet Archilochus, which is generally translated as:
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
While foxes might be cunning and able to devise hundreds of strategies for catching unsuspecting hedgehogs off guard and eating them for dinner, the hedgehog has only one defensive strategy: to curl up in a ball, spiky spines exposed, and wait until the fox (or other predator) gives up and goes away.
When it comes to making decisions, it seems to me that we have the same choice – to devise a thousand strategies for happiness and success, or to find one thing that really works and do it a thousand times.
The obvious question is this:
What’s the one thing?
After nearly 30 years of coaching individuals and groups from nearly every walk of life, I can say with confidence that the people who do really well over time are often not the smartest, or best-read. They can be introvert or extrovert, seemingly self-assured or apparently neurotic and insecure. What they all have in common is that they have an unusually high degree of trust in their own sense of knowing, and a willingness to follow that sense right up to (and occasionally) over the edge of an apparent cliff if that’s what it’s guiding them to do. In other words, they have a deep relationship with and abiding faith in the wisdom within.
The fact that so many of us are so out of touch with that inner knowing is simply the result of a lifetime of ‘fox training.’ We’ve been innocently taught from the time we were born that the ‘right’ answers to our most important questions are out in the world around us, waiting to be found. So we search and we seek, and sure enough, there are thousands of people only too willing to share their best advice on how to find happiness, get everything we want, and outfox the other foxes to make our way in the world.
But meanwhile, the deeper mind – our inner knowing – is quietly whispering (and occasionally shouting) words of guidance, common sense, and direction in our ear. Sometimes that guidance takes the form of a ‘no-brainer yes’ or a ‘no-brainer no’ that makes decision-making effortless. More often than not, people experience it as a simple feeling of ‘on track’ or ‘off track’ that lets them know when to hold back and when to jump in with both feet, even if what they’re jumping into seems way over their head at the time.
Ironically, the more we think about this inner knowing, the harder it is to feel, which is why most of us intuitively know that when the outcome seems to really matter, it’s worthwhile pausing for breath and letting things settle before pulling back or moving forward.
But even when we lose our way, wisdom never leaves us. And when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our relationship with and faith in wisdom is all we need to live a life rich with meaning, purpose, and joy, it gets easier to hear its words. Then the fox of our cleverness doesn’t need to be fed quite so often, and we begin to spend more and more of our time attending to the hedgehog of wisdom. The more we look within, the more we see; the more we see, the easier it is to do. And life gets better, moment by moment, one lovely day at a time.
This kind of common sense/innate wisdom approach to life is always available to us, but we spend so much of our time preoccupied, caught up in the whirlwind of our thoughts, that we don’t notice it. And on the rare occasions when we do notice it, we often ignore it, hoping that our intellect can find an answer more in keeping with what we hope will turn out to be true.
I was explaining this idea in a meeting with a potential corporate client one day when one of the women in the room asked for an example. I went with the first one that popped into my head – that nearly every woman I’ve talked to who has come out the other side of a bad marriage has told me that she knew not to marry the guy at some point before getting far enough down the aisle to say ‘I do.’
Before I could even finish my example, another of the women in the room burst into tears. It turned out that she was engaged to be married and was doing her best to ignore her wisdom because she didn’t want to ‘let anyone down.’
‘Besides,’ she asked me, ‘how do I know whether that’s some kind of inner knowing or just fear?’
I was tempted to say, ‘Ask your wisdom,’ but I offered her the following guidelines…
- Wisdom is ever-present and always kind.
- Wisdom is sometimes soft but always clear.
- Wisdom has an obviousness to it when you hear it, even if it’s completely invisible to you until you do
- Wisdom often comes disguised as ‘common sense,’ but in reality is extremely uncommon in usage.
With all my love,