Last night I emerged from the gym to witness a man standing on the edge of a sidewalk with his bike and backpack. His backpack was obviously filled with gym clothes as I could see his yoga mat. And as he stood there, he flipped a coin, lightly shrugged and walked past me into the gym. Odd, I thought, so I asked. He said that the yoga instructor wasn’t his favorite and that he couldn’t seem to decide to whether to go to yoga or simply go for a bike ride instead.
Genius. This man had done something most people these days die over. He had accepted his inability to weigh alternatives and instead of being paralyzed or stressed by indecision, recognized that there was a way he could choose to put himself out of his misery.
In this age of information overload, I think there is an enormous amount to be said for consciously shielding ourselves from useless information. Especially when that information takes us away from our long term goals.
Consider some other interesting scenarios; when you’re crossing the street, do you watch the count-down on the crossing signals so you’ll know exactly when the walk light will turn on? Or do you enjoy the moment and simply watch for the little white man to tell you it’s safe to cross? When you break up with your partner, do you watch their every move on facebook? When I write these blog posts, do I watch for how many people read them? Or do I write them as best satisfies myself and not worry which are most popular?
We all know how hard it is not to do some of these things. But we also know that gathering this information is completely useless and, I argue, detrimental.
If I’m standing at the light. Will watching the other lights count down, so I know how long it will be before my light goes green, help me at all? Does it make the light come faster? No, not in the least bit. Gathering those other pieces of information is useless. After you leave your partner and you have no intention of getting back together with them, does it benefit you at all to know what they’re doing socially? How does that knowledge contribute to your end goal? It doesn’t and yet as humans we have such a hard time shielding our selves from useless information that, in the end, actually harms us by distracting us from goals and using up the mind’s precious time and energy.
Not only is it harmful because it’s a waste of time, but the more you allow your mind to feed off this irrational want, the more your mind will crave these irrational satisfactions. Remember, every time you have a thought, your brain strengthens it’s ability and likelihood to have that thought. But forcefully stop thinking about something enough and your mind will stop wanting to think about it. Neural plasticity axiom: Don’t use it and you’ll lose it.
The idea of spending mental energy thinking about something logically useless is harmful. Will he or she call me? Won’t she? How about “Does thinking about it help one way or the other…?” No? Than why waste the mental energy on it. Let go. Enjoy the sun on your face.
We know humans are irrational beings with irrational wants and urges. And knowing is half the battle, because now that we know, we can use tricks to get us out of it all. Like flipping a coin.