Escaping Solomon's Paradox
Today at a Glance
- Humans are notoriously good at delivering sound, rational perspectives to others, but notoriously bad at delivering those same sound, rational perspectives to themselves. This psychological phenomenon is known as Solomon's Paradox.
- Solomon's Paradox is named after King Solomon, the King of Israel who was known for his divine wisdom and also for his complete inability to live by it.
- To escape Solomon's Paradox: (1) Create space to remove yourself from the emotional reaction, and (2) Zoom out to force new perspective.
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Have you ever noticed that there is a striking disparity between your ability to give advice and your ability to take your own advice?
It turns out this is a well-researched phenomenon.
Humans are notoriously good at delivering sound, rational perspectives to others, but notoriously bad at delivering those same sound, rational perspectives to themselves.
The phenomenon even has a name: Solomon's Paradox.
Today, we'll talk about Solomon's Paradox (and how to escape it)...
King Solomon's Paradox
In the Old Testament, King Solomon was the monarch of ancient Israel, who rose to the throne as successor to his father, King David.
King Solomon was known for his incredible wisdom.
In one infamous story, two women are brought before him to settle their conflict over a baby that they both claim as their own. King Solomon asks for a sword and says that he will "divide the baby," at which point one woman pleads that the other can have the child, but to do it no harm. By this reaction, King Solomon knows that this woman is the real mother, and gives the baby to her.
King Solomon's reputation for providing wise counsel and advice was central to his persona. He was considered one of the wisest men who ever lived. He seemed to be endowed with a divine ability in this regard.
Unfortunately, the divine ability did not extend to heeding his own counsel.
King Solomon's personal life was quite a mess:
- Hundreds of wives and partners
- Obsession with money and wealth
- Absent relationship with son and children
In short, King Solomon was great at giving advice, but terrible at taking that same advice into account in his own life.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo used his story to give a name to the psychological phenomenon they had observed in their experiments:
When we provide clear, rational perspectives and advice to others, but are unable to provide those same quality perspectives to ourselves, we are falling victim to Solomon's Paradox.
Escaping the Paradox
We've all been stuck in Solomon's Paradox at one point or another.
Why? Well, it's quite simple, really:
- When you're considering someone else's problems, you are objective, rational, and balanced.
- When you're considering your own problems, you are emotional, irrational, and volatile.
It's not your fault—you're human, after all!
Here are two core strategies for escaping the paradox...
Strategy 1: Create Space
Our emotional connection to a situation clouds our better judgement. Creating space from the situation, through time or emotional distancing, is key to escaping the paradox.
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian philosopher and Holocaust survivor renowned for his contributions to existential psychology, has a brilliant framing for the power of space:
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response."
Our power is in the space that we can create between stimulus and response. Creating that space is the key.
To create the space:
- Pause: Our immediate reactions are almost always emotional, and we make bad decisions in the heat of emotion. Force a pause (whether it's seconds, minutes, hours, or days) before reacting.
- Reset: Allow yourself to feel the emotional response, but remind yourself that you are in control of what comes next. Give yourself that power.
- Engage: With a more balanced perspective, engage with the situation.
When you create space, you win.
Strategy 2: Zoom Out
A rule for life: When in doubt, zoom out.
You live your entire life zoomed in. This can create challenges, as struggle feels bigger than it really is and growth feels smaller than it really is.
Forced zoom outs provide perspective, on the true nature of your struggles and the impressive nature of your growth.
Mental Time Travel is a useful tool for zooming out:
- Imagine yourself in the past and consider yourself in the present.
- Imagine yourself in the future and consider yourself in the present.
My friend Alex Hormozi once wrote about having a coaching call with his older self:
From 10,000 feet, you can see the entire map—not just your immediate surroundings.
This zoom out forces perspective that breathes new life into a situation.
Always remember: When in doubt, zoom out.
Focus on Questions, Not Answers
I recently shared the letter I wrote to my future self ten years ago.
In that piece, I offered one specific realization:
The answers are within you—you just haven't asked the right questions yet.
This is an important reminder for the next time you find yourself trapped in Solomon's Paradox:
You have the answers, you just need to ask the right questions.
Create space, force new perspective, and the right questions will come to you.