It’s easy to dismiss things.
It’s a virtue, really. The number of articles, videos, products, and services vying for your attention is limitless.
So being able to drop things from your list is an essential life skill.
But not just any random things, of course.
This article is about dropping the right things.
We’re often tempted to ditch an idea at the first hint of criticism or resistance.
Here’s my favourite example.
This happened during a corporate lecture on nutrition. Fancy Bay Street financial types sat around the edge of a conference table, firing questions away.
Here’s the one that really stood out.
“I was trying to eat more carrots but then I heard they have a lot of sugar.”
Most stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Not this one. That’s as far as it got.
Project Carrot ended just as swiftly as it had begun.
As you probably suspect, if carrots are the worst thing you’re eating, you’re doing ok.
But carrots were not the worst thing this person was eating. She was struggling with more basic challenges, including lots of hunger, and cravings, and not so good choices.
Carrots would have been good. Great, actually. More fibre. Greater satiety. Increased nutrient density. All that jazz.
Carrots are not the enemy
On paper, this feels pretty obvious. But we’re not always able to see the obvious.
Especially when the subject matter is new or confusing.
Ramp that up an order of magnitude that when it’s an emotionally fraught subject. And eating often is.
You might be a genius in your own area of expertise. But there’s no guarantee that your wisdom to transfer to other domains. Trust me on this one.
But we’re getting away from the real issue:
An intelligent person dismissed a totally valid choice for not being perfect.
By saying no to that imperfection, they passively said yes to the status quo. Yes to not changing.
“That guy’s an asshole.”
On the subject of imperfections, I often hear people describe certain artists or celebrities dismissively. The gossip is that they’re not a nice person. And even if it’s true, it’s an amazingly efficient way to chop down an entire body of work.
I once heard a similar thing — that a famous recording artist was a heinous jerk. I shared that rumour with my wife, Stephanie, who immediately put things into perspective (which is one of her special things). She spoke plainly.
“Lots of people are assholes who contribute nothing. If you want to complain about anyone, start with them.”
Of all the imperfect things to worry about, the ones with value come later.
Or often not at all.
What do carrots have to do with assholes?
Bad phrasing on my part. Don’t answer that.
The point is that things don’t need to be perfect; they just need to be better.
People. Veggies. Whatever. File this under “progress, not perfection.”
When you’re faced with two imperfect choices, choose the better of the two.
Mistakes . . . are the portals of discovery.
But there are risks:
- You haven’t done all of your homework yet. There may be an even better choice out there.
- You don’t yet have enough expertise to tell the difference. In fact, one of the choices may be flat-out wrong.
To deal with #1, budget some time for due diligence. But not that much, really. You don’t need PhD-quality research if you’re at a beginner level. You can always refine things later.
To deal with #2, there’s a simple decision to make:
Choose the better mistake.
Much has been said about the value of mistakes. Let me offer a qualifier to that.
Mistakes are invaluable when you can learn and get actionable information from them.
So when you’re looking at something that may not work, there are a couple of important questions to ask:
- Could any of these mistakes be catastrophic? Could the potential time, expense, or physical/emotional toll turn this into a disaster?
- Will any of these mistakes provide me with the tools for better future decision-making?
Pro-tip: you’re looking for a no and yes (in that order).
Make the kind of mistakes that illuminate things.
For example, you have heard that Exercise Program X is the ultimate for athleticism. You want to be athletic so you get after it.
Except that it hurts your knees and shoulders. And elbows. And your left big toe.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Exercise Program X is bunk. It’s just not a fit for you for now.
And while you might point out that Program X sounded like a terrible idea, maybe it was the only choice available. Or it was less bad than the status quo. Or maybe you just didn’t have the expertise to know what you were getting yourself into.
But this isn’t just a binary issue of “good” and “bad” programs.
You’ve also learned about seven different physical challenges. Program X directly highlighted them for you! So that’s a win! Without Program X, you might never have discovered these. As long as you are responsive to new information, you are winning.
Now you can begin to ask why those physical challenges are there, and how to deal with them. And with the right process (and likely the right support network), you can address all of them.
That might be specific mobility work. That might starting with some more accessible movements. It might just be the right coaching style. Or something else.
Point is, you’ve learned and taken meaningful action to get better… because of Program X’s “mistake”.
Let’s say you deal with all of these things, return to Program X and feel great. Except for that stubborn big toe.
Then you know exactly what interventions worked and what did not. At this point, you can continue to make informed decisions.
Just like anything else, you need to test and iterate until you have reached the appropriate level of performance.
Thanks, Program X!
Mistakes aren’t a problem; they’re a gift.
The question is whether they provide important information.
And, of course, how you respond to it.
Let’s sum up.
- If you want to jettison something from your life, choose something without value.
- Try to do that often.
- If something does have value, don’t be so quick to dismiss it. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be better than the alternative.
- Understand what kinds of mistakes can provide value. Knowing what types of exercise, nutrition program, job, relationship, etc. don’t work for you is gold. Solid freaking gold.
- Don’t put yourself in positions for catastrophic failure.
- Understand ahead of time what kinds of mistakes you might make and how to respond to that information. And then respond to that information.
Now get out there and try some new things, you scamp.
Life is waiting for you.