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September 22nd, 2018
It’s one thing to go about achieving your goal in the wrong way. It’s quite another problem to have the wrong goal and not even know it.
Imagine having the wrong goal and going about achieving it in the wrong way. Now we’re really screwed. It’d be like using a hammer on a screw and expecting the piece of wood to become cleanly cut in half.
Using such literal visual images makes it sound ridiculous and silly, but when we extrapolate the analogy up the ladder of abstraction so that it fits with our all-too-human endeavors and mis-endeavors, we do not react with the same amusement, though that would be the best response. The sunk-cost fallacy is one psychological phenomenon that keeps our crosshairs trained on some outcome even when we realize that our crosshairs might be crooked. We would be best to laugh it off and head in a new and better direction, but instead we think “But I’ve come so far!” So we keep banging away at the screw with our hammer.
Identifying the correct problems to tackle is perhaps the most important skill to acquire in order to live a good and productive life.
Obsessing over sales and cutting coupons when there’s half a million in the bank and limited free time might not be the best use of time. It might be a vestige of earlier times when spending some free time cutting coupons and hunting for sales was actually a useful and helpful endeavor.
When it comes to the crosshairs on our zoom, we might realize that even if they are a little crooked, zooming out makes this misalignment less of a problem. Crooked crosshairs becomes more and more of a problem the more we zoom-in. We must adjust these crosshairs at every level of zoom to ensure that when we are most zoomed-in, when we are most concentrated on the nitty-gritty aspects of a project with a focus so narrow we might as well have horse-blinders on, we can be confident that we are focused on the right thing.
One way to help align these crosshairs is to zoom out to the big picture of one’s life and ask, does this seem like a useful direction in a productive area, and then zoom in and ask the question again, and then repeat this process until we are at a single task.
This is part of the reason why we must keep our zoom well-oiled, because we might find that we have zoomed in and found the answer to the question is ‘no’. At that point we need to zoom back out and look around to see what other options curiosity has waiting for us to pursue. We test each by zooming into them, investigating them, interacting with them and then asking if they are useful while keeping in mind what we know about the big picture.
If our crosshairs are misaligned from the start, all of our questions may be misdirected, and we may be misidentifying the problem as though we mistake a nail for a screw or vice-versa.
We should always be on the look-out for such a possibility, and when we sense and suspect that such might be the case, its best to zoom-out again, take stock of where we are and start the process over again.
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