If you can’t define it, or act upon it, forget it!

Upon revisiting Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek, I came across a paragraph that piqued my interest in relation to eliminating distractions, thereby sharpening your focus. He says, “If you take just this point from this book, it will put you in the top 1% of performers in the world and keep most philosophical distress out of your life”. That’s a pretty bold statement to make, so let’s examine what he’s talking about shall we?

“If you can’t define it, or act upon it, forget it.”

There it is, that’s the statement. So how does this work out. Well let’s preface this exposition by acknowledging that far too many of us are worry warts, and as a result, we think about too many things that are outside of our sphere of influence. Agreed? Good. Ferriss explains that people ask questions – some positive, but mostly negative (because of our innate fear of loss) – however if an answer to the question(s) posed cannot be acted upon to improve things, then it should be ignored! And rightly so. Remember, many of us spend too much time negative questions like, “what if there’s traffic this evening?” or “what if the train is late tomorrow?” These are questions about topics that are outside of a person’s direct influence.

So what comes of worrying about it? Nothing. Chances are you will run into more of what you didn’t want. Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you bought a car, or got a wrist watch as a gift, or purchased a new pair of running shoes; and then all of a sudden, as if by magic, you started noticing how many other people have the same thing that you just received or purchased? You may not have ever wondered why that happens, but I know of at least one person who has wondered, and went out there to find the answer. He is one of my brain-mentors – John Assaraf – and he has found that there is a particular part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) that increases the amount of attention paid to things that you are constantly thinking about.

For example: that new watch looks great on your wrist; you sneak a glance at it every couple of minutes, and then you check the face for any scratches on the glass surface, etc. All this attention paid to the watch heightens the attention that the RAS gives this item, so your conscious brain ‘sees’ it more and more. Soon it seems like everyone has one of those watches because your brain is at such a heightened level to spot that watch.

I can almost hear what you’re saying, “wow Ryan, this is a long winded story, where are we going with this?” My point is precisely this: understanding how your brain works enables you to use it as a strategic muscle. If you don’t want traffic, don’t think about it; don’t think about how you may have to spend 3 hours stuck in gridlock. Instead, think about your next vacation destination, what you will see, what you will do, plan that out in your head. You will notice that when you replace a negative thought that is outside of your direct sphere of influence with a future pleasure oriented thought, your brain loses track of the latter, and this is when traffic doesn’t seem so bad, because times seems to ‘fly’. There’s nothing you can do about traffic, so why bother giving yourself a headache? If you have to think about something, think about something that will give you joy.

In other words, “if you can’t define it, or act upon it, forget it”. Your brain is paying attention. Are you?

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