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Here’s how successful people avoid information overwhelm

There are seemingly infinite options in the world today. With increasing options comes increased choices.

This may seem like a good thing. But at a certain point, having more options and choices becomes negative. In the book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, psychologist Barry Schwartz explains:

  • We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction
  • However, choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them
  • Choice overload leaves you in a perpetual state of FOMO — always looking over your shoulder and questioning the decisions you’ve made
  • This puts you in a constant state of stress, ever feeling like you’re falling short, always questioning the decisions you’ve made, always wondering

Having options is a good thing. Without options, you can’t make choices. However, the best decision-makers in the world purposefully avoid almost ALL of the options available. They know that most of the information and choices out there are not only bad but harmful and destructive.

Hence these powerful and important words from Basecamp founder, Jason Fried, “I’m pretty oblivious to a lot of things intentionally. I don’t want to be influenced that much.

The Latin of the word decision means, “to cut off.” Making a decision is about “cutting off” choices — cutting you off from some other course of action.

Removing options is not limiting, it’s liberating. It allows you actually to have a path, a plan, and to get some traction. Most people are tossed to and fro with every new idea. They have no stable footing upon which to stand, and consequently, they are wholly aimless and confused by the complexity of everything going on around them.

You have to choose what you consume consciously. As Zig Ziglar has said, “Your input determines your outlook. Your outlook determines your output, and your output determines your future.

The information you allow yourself to process affects you greatly. You can become confused quickly with all of the conflicting voices, opinions, and options in the world today.

It’s easy to be seduced by the negative and the new. For instance, although the amount of warfare and deaths by human hands are reducing globally, you will not get that message watching the televised news or reading the newspaper.

It’s important to realize that everyone has a different agenda. Most people’s agendas are self-serving. In the case of the news, their focus is on inflating the negative because if they didn’t do so, their viewership would plummet. Which is why Peter Diamandis, one of the world’s experts on entrepreneurship and the future of innovation has said, “I’ve stopped watching TV news. They couldn’t pay me enough money.

Regarding the news, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, said nearly 2,000 years ago, “Are you distracted by breaking news? Then take some leisure time to learn something well, and stop bouncing around.

Are you bouncing around?

The world can be a pretty confusing place. Which is why it’s more important now than ever to have a moral footing. You need to have something you believe in. Something you can stand on. This doesn’t mean you put your blinders on. It merely means you recognize that more information is not better.

Hence the words of T.S. Elliot: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

Wisdom requires making hard choices and firm commitments. It means drawing a line in the sand and standing firm. It involves removing negative options from your life because you only have so much time — and you have important work to do.

Viktor Frankl wisely stated, “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

To experience happiness and success in your life, you need to have something bigger than yourself. You need to have a cause you believe in and other people whom you love and are willing to sacrifice for. It can’t be all about you.

Self-absorption brings confusion. Sitting around thinking in circles brings complexity. Wisdom is discernible and straightforward. As Leonardo da Vinci stated, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Steve Jobs similarly stated, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

You cannot move mountains in your life until you remove the complexity. It takes wisdom to live simple. It takes simplicity to have a clear and compelling vision you are working toward.

Being simple has its drawbacks. Academic-types and “air chair philosophasters” will point the negative finger at you. They’ll call you ignorant and wrong.

And they won’t entirely be wrong in their assessments. But they indeed aren’t entirely right either. You can’t expect everyone to agree with you. Seth Godin has said, “If someone doesn’t like what you’ve made, ignore them. You didn’t make it for them anyways.”

You can’t let the voices of people who disagree with you dissuade you from doing great work. You have to ignore them.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t get advice. Actually, you’re learning all the time. Your worldview is constantly being updated, refined, and improved through transformative experiences and education. You are just highly conscious of who you accept advice from. You don’t take advice from people who don’t inspire you.

Purposefully avoiding information that limits you

Only seek information that enables and empowers you to achieve your goals and to live your highest standards in life.

The best learners in the world proactively seek information and knowledge they can use in the here-and-now to move forward. They are practical learners. They are implementers and movers. They are actually out in the world doing great things. They are helping other people. They aren’t overly academic and stuck in complexity.

They are striving to remove complexity for themselves and others by solving problems. They have too much work to do to get caught up in the confusion of negative and unclear information. They need solutions. Therefore, they’ve developed a powerful filter for eliminating negative and low-level information that doesn’t support their mission.

This is what Jason Fried was talking about. He doesn’t want to be influenced by all of the confusion and noise in the world. Fried understand the words of Viktor Frankl — that you need a cause that drives you to get out of bed in the morning. As Darren Hardy said, “Your life can be measured by the size of the problems you seek to solve.

Are you out trying to solve significant problems?

Do you see needs in the world that are worth your time and attention to attack?

How well is your day spent?

Are you doing stuff, or just sitting around confused in your head?

Will L. Thompson (1847–1909) wrote a beautiful poem: “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed indeed.

You are responsible for how you see and act in the world

What you focus on expands. What you pay attention to becomes your reality — psychologists call this selective attention. Of this, Dr. Stephen Covey said, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it.

Your worldview is under your control. You have to train the garden of your mind. You need to develop a low tolerance for negative and low-level information that is limiting and limited in its scope.

In the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown states, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Almost all choices, options, and information in the world is noise.

Almost all decisions are bad decisions. And you will quickly experience decision-fatigue if you don’t proactively shield yourself from most of that noise. You shield yourself by creating an environment that fosters the type of inputs you desires. Your input shapes your outlook and conditions .you to see and act in the world in a certain way. If you do not proactively shape your environment, then you will become the reactive product of whatever environment finds you.

If you want to live powerfully and move the world forward, you need a filtering system to eliminate the harmful noise from your life. You need to keep things simple, discernible, actionable, and helpful.

The clearer you become on what your life is about, and the problems you seek to solve in the world, the less you will tolerate even “good” information and “good” options. As Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great.” Similarly, Dallin Oaks said, “We should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best.

Australian author, Robyn Davidson, said, “The two important things I learned were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.”

You have to make a decision. And once you make that decision, you simultaneously eliminate 99.99% of other options. This is the smartest thing you can do. As Michael Jordan said, “Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again.” Similarly, Ralph Waldo Emerson has said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.

You must pass your point of no return.

You must embrace the opportunity cost of making powerfully committed decisions. As Napoleon Hill said, “Definiteness of Purpose is that starting point of all achievement.” Until you become definite about what you’re doing, you will continually be tossed to and fro. Life will become increasingly complex. Skepticism and doubt will become your emotional reality. And in that reality, your only goal will be to tear things down, rather than build something new.

Are you building something powerful?

Do you have a filtering system for eliminating irrelevant decisions and information that is more noise than signal?

Do you have a purpose in life that is bigger than yourself?

Have you made a real decision lately, and stuck to that decision?

Are you like most people, who have a fragile relationship with commitment?

Most people lie to themselves every day. They haven’t stuck to a real commitment and haven’t made a firm decision in a long time. They then seek information and opinions that justify their lack of progress.

Make a decision.

Own that decision.

Become better.

Go out into the world and do good of your own accord, not because someone told you to.

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This post first appeared on Medium.

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