The Power of Knowing What Not To Do

You do not always know what to do, but great power comes with knowing what not to do.

What Not To Do

How to navigate in life: Stop thinking about doing "the right thing", and just pay attention to the tiny mistakes you are making all the time. Then quit doing the wrong things. If you're headed in the wrong direction, simply readjust and continue. At any moment when you are going the wrong way, just make a correction like a pilot and carry on. Do this, and sometimes, the benefit will be instant, but most often the reward will be delayed (but then worth the wait).

18. July 2024 by Click insider / Blog

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What is the best path forward?

What is the optimal next step for progress and prosperity... in your life, in your career, at home, with the kids, with your spouse, or anything else?

The point is you do not always know.

Acutally, we cannot possibly know what is the best path forward.

But what can we know?

Your Internal Lane Departure Warning System

If you know that you currently are not going the right way, or moving into the wrong direction, that is no cause for procrastinating.

Or even better: If you are procrastinating, it's time to celebrate, because now you know with absolute certainty that you are going the wrong way.

An Analogy: Lane Departure Warning Systems

Your car might have a lane departure warning system installed. If you depart from your lane, you will get instant feedback.

The driver will usually be able to adjust the sensitivity of the feedback, from highly sensitive to lane departures and warnings are given long before you actually depart from the lane, to the less sensitive where you will only be given a warning once you have departed from the lane and thus are in very dangerous territory.

This lane departure can be extremely useful and save your life. It can also be highly annoying: Sometimes we purposly move into different lanes, and the warning will only be an annoyance.

The function of the lane departure system is to avoid fatal errors, by giving information to the driver:

WARNING: You are about to commit a deadly mistake, pay attention to the road ahead and adjust your direction immediately.

The lane departure system will not let you know if you have chosen the best route to your destination, and it won't help you with determining if there is any point in going to that destination either.

But this system is there to help you to avoid deadly mistakes.

If your lane departure system is configured at the highest sensitivity level, it will produce a warning even when you do a minor mistake:

Car says: Hey driver! No big deal, but you are still in your lane, and that's great, but but you might want to adjust your direction just a little bit.

If this warning system was perfect, it would produce a mild notice to correct smaller mistakes, and make a loud SHTF-RED-FLAG-HELL-IS-COMING!!!-WARNING if you depart from the lane and are about to make a fatal mistake.

Some cars have well functioning security systems, while others produce the same huge warnings that scream end-of-the-world for all kind of mistakes. As a result the driver might eventually ignore all warnings, as the warnings become less useful and more of an annoyance and less of a life-saver.

Configure Your Personal Lane Departure System

Some people have warning systems like these:

WARNING: If you eat that cookie, you will DIE!!!

If the cookie contains cyanide, your internal warning system is a great detector of possible fatal mistakes.

If it's just an ordinary cookie, your warning system sucks.

The key is to embrace all tiny errors. Become aware of all the tiny mistakes you do, and you are probably doing small mistakes all the time - and become obsessed about identifying these mistakes. They are small mistakes, and just a piece of information.

Small mistakes only becomes a problem when you allow them to excalate and grow into huge mistakes, turning into fatal accidents.

Just make sure to configure your internal error detection system properly, or else it will just become an annoyance, and with the possibility that you will ignore these tiny mistakes.

The point is that you already know what NOT to do.

A pilot is rarely moving straight towards the destination. Most of the time, is is more like this:

WARNING!!! You're moving too far north. WARNING!!! Too far east!!! WARNING!!! Lower altitude!!! WARNING!!! Too far north, again. WARNING...

The pilot pays attention to these warnings, knowing that if he does, he will eventually get safely to his destination.

But your life is not a destination. Neither are your career, your spouse, your kids or most things.

We don't always know what is the best thing to do in life. Actually, we don't know at all. And this is perfectly normal. Knowing the best path forward in life, implies knowing something about the future. There is only one thing we can know for sure about the future, and that is that we just don't know. And that's all there is to say about the future.

If we are clueless about the ideal path forward, and if we cannot possibly know the optimal solutions to the problems in our life, then what should we do?

We can't just do the best thing, or the next best thing. Because we do not even know what these things are.

The best we can hope for is to know what not to do.

How do we learn what not to do?

Pay attention, learn every day, all those things you've heard before. We don't have to repeat those here.

You probably already know what not to do.

All those tiny errors quickly add up

If you ate ten cookies, you knew at number five that eating the sixth was a mistake. Grabbing number seven was dumb. Still, you continued with eight and nine, ignoring your warning system. It's not like you're going to DIE. No, but these are the tiny mistakes. You knew all along that these were mistakes. Now you're guilt trippin' and you know that is a mistake too. You ate the cookies, and feeling guilty won't make things better.

Next time, cookies or anything else, just make sure you listen to your internal warning system, because all those tiny errors quickly add up.

Warnings are great. Your first error was not that you ate the first cookie. Your first error was allowing the temptation to begin with.

Making small mistakes is no huge mistake. Making small mistakes is no big deal, if you deal with those mistakes.

This isn't about cookies (you'll survive another cookie) or your car's lane departure assist system.

A Fatal Chain Of Small Mistakes?

  • You probably already know when you are doing something wrong.
  • So just stop doing the wrong things.
  • Sometimes, we do the wrong things even without knowing (or just because we did not pay attention). In such cases, exploit the mistake by using the feedback to navigate better in the future.
  • What is the best thing to do in life? You just don't know.
  • Unless you are a chess player, and good at it, forget thinking about the next optimal move. Life isn't chess. It's a waste of cognitive resources.
  • Pay attention to all the tiny mistakes you make, embrace small errors as they are correction mechanisms which give you pieces of information and feedback about what not to do.
  • Small mistakes are not deadly. Only fatal errors can be fatal.
  • Beware mistakes that appear to be innocent, but in fact are potentially fatal.
  • A chain of small mistakes leading to a fatal error is not a chain of small mistakes.

Knowing what to do is hard. Knowing what not to do is easy.

Life can be dull, or not. If you try to make life predicable, it will only become boring and still unpredictable.

Your life can be better than that: Fun, purposeful, every day filled with random pleasures, feeling the significance of your being.

We're all equally uncapable of finding the best path forward, but most of us just know when we are doing something not quite right. The difference is perhaps mostly in that some people ignore those tiny warning signals, while others have learned to embrace and learn from even the most minuscule mistake, and then take the appropiate action.

This Will Make Your Life Better

You don't have to read self help material for guidance (actually, it'll probably make everything worse). Look inside for direction, and use feedback from the real world as navigation. That's all.

Who would have thought it would be as simple as this:

  1. Stop thinking about doing "the right thing".
  2. Quit doing the wrong thing.

Whatever Remains, Must Be The Right Thing

To paraphrase the famous Sherlock Holmes quote:

Once you eliminate the wrong things, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the the right thing.

(Guest post)

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