Cultivating Ignorance: Save the World One Misconception at a Time

Here’s an idea: a carefully constructed ignorance is a critical part of doing something extraordinary. Conventional wisdom says you should learn everything you can and plan for every possible scenario before diving into something. I’m a fan of careful planning, but I don’t really believe the perfect plan is key anymore.

I used to, but the more things I try, the more I’ve come to think it’s actually flawed logic. Instead, cultivating a healthy dose of selective ignorance is one of the most important things I’ve done for myself.

If your life is literally on the line, you should probably do a fair bit of planning. Actually, you should probably do more than you think you need to. But, for most other decisions in life, it’s usually over-thinking rather than under-thinking that destroys so many great opportunities.

When it comes to your biggest goals, there’s just too much information out there that you could potentially scour. In fact, there’s enough to last you a lifetime without ever acting.

Needle in the Hay

With a limitless amount of information in front of you and endless possibilities to be acted on, the trick isn’t to digest everything and evaluate every option, it’s to quickly identify the most important and tune out the rest.

This is just like finding a needle in a haystack because the most important aspect of any challenge is almost always buried under mounds of distractions. Distractions can be fun to think about and plan for, but they aren’t important.

I always know I’m starting to focus too much on distractions when I start to get stressed out or feel like I’m doing something I think I have to but don’t want to. When I take a minute to ground myself and find my “needle,” the world starts to make sense again, and I can get back to work, feeling like I’m actually headed somewhere.

At the core of who you are, you already know what your needle is. Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself to focus on it, but that’s more of an issue of discipline than confusion.

To Focus, Embrace Ignorance

Just finishing this article is a struggle. I’ll write a few sentences, then wander off to get a snack, read my email, or play with a piece of rope that’s sitting by my desk.

Writing is the most important thing I can do every day, but even once I get started, it’s not always easy to maintain. Staying on task is a constant struggle, but one I know I need to battle every day if I want any chance of creating something significant.

To create my greatest work, I know that I must tune out and become ignorant to everything that stands in its way. This includes the news, real but unimportant limitations, my own doubts, and the true odds of my success.

The Odds Suck. Do it Anyway.

If you have something important to do, ignoring the odds is one of the most important steps you must take. What’s truly important is also truly hard and incredibly unlikely to succeed. Important doesn’t care about that. Important just wants to get done. It nags at your mind until you’re finally able to become ignorant enough to do it.

Trying to ignore important doesn’t work. You always find your way back because that’s what you’re meant to do. You may turn away once you’re at the door, but you’ll always end up standing on the welcome mat again. One day, you have to walk across the threshold despite the fact that things probably won’t work out.

On that note, “probably” is a worthless word. Probably makes a statement without sticking to it. Probably get’s all the upside and none of the down. Probably says, “I’m right. But if I’m not, you can’t blame me.”

This article will probably be read and forgotten tomorrow, but the only way to be sure is to publish it anyway.

When you’re doing your most important work, the odds are always against you. That’s what makes it important. The faster you can get over that and get on with the task at hand, the better off you’ll be.

Remember, nothing is ever considered remarkable before it’s first considered crazy.

You don’t need to know everything to do your most important work. What you’re meant to do is already inside you. You already know what it is. You don’t need to do any more research. You don’t need to read the newspaper. You don’t need to look for more trends or do more tests. You can do those once you’ve actually got something important to test.

For now, you just need to pick up your needle and start sewing.

So, how’s your quilt coming along? I just made one more stitch in mine.

By the way, I’m co-hosting a free webinar with James Clear of Passive Panda tomorrow evening about how to use your network to take better risks. It’s tomorrow evening at 6:00 PM PDT/9:00 PM EDT. There’s nothing for sale here. We just thought it would be fun to do.

Here’s the link to the free registration page:


Image by: d’n’c