I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, aka Sherlock Holmes
Whatever you choose to call it – your brain attic, your mind palace, your cerebral black box… our brains are amazing processing machines that get us through everyday life. They also happens to work like most other machines – what you put in tends to determine what comes out.
There is a lot of information out there. Like, a lot. And even if we cut this down just to our work, our hobbies, our interests and our general sphere of stimuli (for example, social media), there still an overwhelming amount.
In the case of information, more does not mean better. In fact, I would propose that most content and information today is not produced to provide value – it is produced to further a commercial interest.
Take for example, posts forwarded on WhatsApp or WeChat – most of these are created to promote some business’ product or to “engage their following” – not to provide deep lessons into life.
And because of this, one of the most useful skills in today’s world is the ability to filter. More specifically, to filter on inputs.
Why This Is Important – Quality Of Thought
The reason filtering is important is because our quality of thought (and any related output) is important to our successful functioning in an already complex world. And that quality of thought is dependent on what we put in our brains.
It is for this reason that it just makes sense to filter on inputs.
To borrow an analogy from health – what food you put in your body largely determines your body composition.
This quality of thought is why the most common trait amongst successful people is that they all read. It is why Bill Gates does a Think Week twice a year – he is trying to improve his quality of thought by introducing high quality inputs.
What Most People Do – Filter On Outputs
Most people filter on outputs, not inputs. They cram their brains with junk information1The true meaning of #nofilter I suppose. and then decide which pieces of that junk they decide to regurgitate on social media.
This is obviously a problem. They end up with a mind full of low-quality, if not outright bad or incorrect information, and because there is too much information, they become scattered and unable to focus. They end up creating semantic links between things that do not exist.
For example, you’ve probably seen this passed around on social media:
Not that frugality or learning from the past is a bad thing, but Bill Gates’ father was a successful attorney and philanthropist.
And frankly, when you broadcast information like this and tell people to “learn from their past”, it just looks… stupid.
Aside: This broadcast behaviour is part of a bigger issue in today’s world, where people have changed their modality of communication from connecting and relating with other human beings, to broadcasting and commenting/liking on their phones.
How to Filter On Inputs
So how do we actually filter on inputs?
It’s actually simple.
Go minimalist on information, and selectively consume media and information.
Limit yourself – there’s no need to binge on information. Just cut down on what you take in… and nothing bad will happen, I promise.
Don’t worry about being “out of the loop” on “uninformed” – if something Earth-shattering really does happen… someone will let you know.
And in the meantime, you can enjoy the clarity and quality of thought that comes with high quality information input.
- The true meaning of #nofilter I suppose.