Daily Archives: May 4, 2005

The Importance of Ignoring

I used a gerund instead of a noun for a reason: I’m talking about the act of ignoring, not the uninformed state of ignorance. I’m beginning to think that part of success hinges upon the ability to skillfully discard unnecessary information.

Ironically, the way I’m going to explain this is through roundabout reasoning. I’ll start with what I can think of, and we’ll see if I eventually get back to my argument.

There is something I like to call The Opposites Game. Ever chase someone in looping-type path (like around a house) and then pause at a corner? Begin to wonder which side they’ll come from next? Take that kind of feeling, and now pretend you’re playing poker. Your opponent is over-acting, as if he has bad cards. Now, he could be doing the obvious and actually have bad cards, but he’s got to be more crafty than that. He probably actually has bad cards and wants the overacting to trick you. Or, he’s planning on you thinking that, and he actually has good cards. Or… you’re too busy playing The Opposites Game to know what’s really going on anymore. Round and round the corner, which way will he come from next?

There’s a paralyzing effect when you get into that infinite spiral of reasoning. Too many choices, too much information prevents us from thinking efficiently. Just look at a menu with lots of choices. Often, I’ll spend a lot of time just looking at it, but never registering any of the information. There’s just too much there. I don’t know what I want. Thank goodness for headings. I gravitate towards the bold print and decide if I want pasta or beef, or something else. One should cultivate the ability to narrow choices down.

Don’t believe that too many choices are bad? Do you think too few choices are bad? Look at In-n-Out’s menu. The menu is so small, yet it’s still successful. Sure, one may chide the lack of choices before ordering, but rarely does one say so after eating. The truth is, who really needs an endless array of variation-burgers?

A glut of information is unnecessary. Let’s think about memorization. You have a test where there are multiple equations to memorize. First of all, the amount of information is paralyzing. Next, it’s hard to recall which equation to use when you have too many of them. Too many because let’s say, hypothetically, that you can easily derive some equations from other ones. Why memorize two equations and the combined equation? What use is that combined equation when you can just solve for things logically?

There’s an advantage in concept-based learning. You learn how to solve variations on problems, rather than problems specific to a certain method. Application v. memorization. Sure, there’s always need for some memorization, but one should learn how to minimize memorization. You can memorize lots of parts and figure out the whole, or you can memorize the whole and derive the parts. Think hard every time about which steps you’ve memorized in a progression, or think about the end product and work backwards using logic? Life becomes easier when you figure out which information is useless and which information is useful. Some people tend to overthink things and read too much into things, and that hurts them.

Let’s go back to the card game, where you’re playing The Opposites Game. Simplify things. You’re not trying to figure out what crazy logic the person is using. You don’t have to completely read his mind and his reasoning. The question is simple: Does he have good cards or bad cards? Overthinking it makes it impossible to answer. When you’re trying to read the person, just take the overall initial impression. Decide whether they have the cards or not, not what they’re thinking about doing. Extra things they do often throw you off. And believe it or not, if they’re playing The Opposites Game too, they probably don’t even know what they’re thinking themselves. How can you read the mind of a person who doesn’t know what he’s thinking? Concentrate on the issue at hand rather than trying playing The Opposites Game.

Could you have done without all my roundabout musings? Yes, of course. And is there more that I should have said? Yes. Could I have clarified things better? Yes. But I’ll leave it to you to do the proper sifting to receive the proper message. Good luck.