Why the right kind of ignorance can be a good thing

Aug 31, 2020 /

There are seemingly infinite options in the world today.

And with increased options come increased choices. This may seem like a good thing, but for most people it is not. More choices mean more decisions, and decision fatigue can lead to you getting stuck in negative cycles.

A lot of the choices you encounter on a daily basis are endless rabbit holes to nowhere. Instead of keeping the door open to more choices, you need the discernment and confidence to close most doors so you’re entirely unaware of them.

It’s too costly for your mind to be focused on the wrong things. In his book The Paradox of Choice (watch his TED Talk on the subject), psychologist Barry Schwartz explains:

• We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction.
• However, choice overload makes you question the decisions you make before you even make them.
• Choice overload leaves you in a perpetual state of FOMO (the fear of missing out), always looking over your shoulder and questioning the decisions you’ve made.
• This puts you in a constant state of stress, where you feel like you’re constantly falling short and questioning the decisions you’ve made and wondering what could have been.

Having options is a good thing, but the best decision-makers purposefully avoid almost all of the options available. Jason Fried, the founder of Basecamp, once said, “I’m pretty oblivious to a lot of things intentionally. I don’t want to be influenced that much.”

It takes confidence and boldness to say, “I’m going with this decision. This is what I’m committed to. This is what I’m serious about. Consequently, I’m closing the door on everything else right now. I need to focus. I can’t be distracted by everyone else’s noise and agendas.”

If you’re serious about achieving goals and intentionally moving forward, you must create an environment that shields you from most of the world.

Strategic ignorance is not about being closed-minded. It’s about knowing what you want and knowing that, as a person, you can be easily swayed or derailed. Rather than putting yourself in stupid situations and being forced to rely on willpower, you simply avoid stupid situations. You even avoid amazing situations that you know are ultimately a distraction. You create boundaries. You live your priorities and values and dreams.

Peter Diamandis, one of the world’s foremost experts on entrepreneurship and the future of innovation, has said, “I’ve stopped watching TV news. They couldn’t pay me enough money.”

Diamandis is strategically ignorant. He’s created an environment to shield himself from the distractions and negativity of the news media, while staying informed on the topics he cares about through careful and deliberate research.

Being a successful, creative person requires selective ignorance.

Another example is Seth Godin, who doesn’t read the comments on Amazon about his books. He used to do so, but it only left him feeling horrible and questioning himself. So now he has stopped.

Godin is selectively ignorant to what the trolls say, and he’s better off as a result. He doesn’t need that coming into his psyche, confusing his identity and purpose.

Selective ignorance is not the avoidance of learning. It’s also not the avoidance of getting feedback. It’s simply the intelligence of knowing that with certain things and people, the juice will never be worth the squeeze. It’s knowing what to avoid.

Without question, Godin gets feedback — but he gets feedback from sources that help him create better work, not feedback intended to destroy him.

Diamandis knows about current events; it’s essential to the work he does as a futurist and someone trying to create global change. But he gets his information from valued sources. He has designed an environment where only the best information gets to him. He’s strategically unaware of everything else.

Psychologically, if you don’t know about something, you probably won’t be tempted by it. If you see a plate of cookies on the counter, you’re no longer ignorant of them. If you haven’t made the decision beforehand, that situation will beat you.

If, on the other hand, you simply keep cookies out of your environment, then you won’t have to deal with decision fatigue and willpower depletion. You won’t have to waste your time thinking about something you already know you don’t want.

As it relates to opportunities, it is effective to have systems in place so you don’t have to weigh every decision. For example, my assistant and I created rules for opportunities that are presented to her. If they don’t meet my criteria, she doesn’t show them to me, but instead emails back, telling the sender I can’t focus on that right now.

Of course, you want exposure to new and different ways of living. Growth and transformation require becoming conscious of things that you’re currently unconscious of. Strategic ignorance is about purposefully ignoring or shielding yourself from what you already know is a distraction or an enemy to your future self. It’s your filter for ensuring that only the right new things reach you.

To create an environment that shields you from the distractions in this world, you need to know what you want. You need to know what you stand for. You need to have rules and systems that stop you from finding yourself in a mire of filth or the daze of endless opportunity.

Think about all of the inputs you’re currently getting that are sabotaging who you’d like to be and what you want to accomplish. Rather than relying on willpower, how could you become ignorant of these things? In what areas of your life do you need to apply strategic ignorance? What are you currently aware of or overly informed about that you shouldn’t be? (Think distractions— for me, sports analysis or the latest updates of various celebrities.) What distractions or unwanted temptations remain in your world that need to be removed?

Excerpted with permission from the new book Personality Isn’t Permanent: Break Free from Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story by Benjamin Hardy. Published by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. © 2020 by Benjamin Hardy.

Watch his TEDxKlagenfurt Talk here: