Cultivate Selective Ignorance

#14. Forget the issues so you can affect the issues

I became engrossed in last year’s American election. (but don’t worry this is not a post about politics). From the moment that some of trump’s more outrageous claims grabbed my attention to the moment he was elected, I consumed a huge amount of information. Over the course of 9 months I spent an awful lot of time keeping up to date. I found it hard not to as I wanted to see how this potentially generation-defining election would turn out. This is despite the fact that I am unable to vote in America and have no political influence.

But what did I gain from it? Honestly… not much. I am better positioned to have a debate on the subject and I may be able to tell my children about it.

What about if I had invested that time in another way? Developed a new skill? Invested time thinking about the solution to a problem in my line of work? Caught up with a friend or relative?

We waste huge amounts of time on things that don’t matter at the expense of things that do.

Tim Ferriss suggests a solution in his book ‘4 hour workweek’: cultivate selective ignorance. He argues that in order to achieve anything substantial you must consciously decide to be ignorant on certain matters.

The rapper David Bird reinforces this in his song ‘Oh well’:

Oh well… I’m ignorant

but not to the fact that I’m ignorant — I know that that

I don’t care to know what I don’t

Had David Bird been overly concerned with preventing his own ignorance, I doubt that he would have been able to cultivate his ability to rap as well as he can now. And that can make the difference between having an impact or not.

Learning from these notable individuals, I am actively reducing my consumption of information that is not of benefit to me. I rarely log into facebook because I think it is subtly poisonous for your mind. I used to impulsively check news and sports websites but I have blocked them on my computer and avoid doing so where possible. I used to watch a lot of youtube, but have decided I would rather live my own life well than watch other people live their lives.

By deliberately not engaging with current issues, my hope is that in the long-term I will be better placed to make a positive impact on these exact issues — issues which I currently feel powerless to do anything about.

I’m not doing it because I don’t care — in fact I’m doing it for the exact opposite reason. I want to be a player in the game rather than a vocal bystander.

The next question is HOW to have an impact — I have attempted to address this before but it’s an ongoing challenge.

Data Scientist + Junior Doctor in London, Cambridge medicine grad, striving to improve healthcare through technology and education.

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