Probably you’ll laugh at me. But maybe, just maybe, you secretly do the same thing I’m about to describe, and then as you read this we’ll have a certain kinship in our shared idiocy. Here goes…
When I want to cross a road, there’s no way I’m pressing the button that tells the traffic lights to change just once. Can’t do it. I’ll press it five, ten, maybe twenty times. Now, I know how the button works – it’s either on or it’s off, and any press over and above the first one makes literally no difference to how quickly the lights change – but that doesn’t stop the way I feel when I’m jabbing at it compulsively with my index finger.
It feels as though I’m stopping the traffic sooner if I press it more times. I’m okay with that kind of cognitive dissonance. I laugh at it.
And when you stop to think about it, there are a hell of a lot of these moments in life. Times when, no matter how irrational or nonsensical – or how little evidence there is that what you’re doing is having any effect whatsoever – doing something feels better than doing nothing.
Why is this? Well, Robert Greene sums it up pretty succinctly in the opening paragraph of The 48 Laws of Power:
The feeling of having no power over people and events is generally unbearable to us – when we feel helpless we feel miserable.
We all want more power and agency over our world. It’s human nature. The trick – and the hardest part of all this – is to separate the things we do into what actually makes the difference we’re aiming for, and what just gives us the illusion of that difference.
Because most of our actions don’t have the effect on reality we wish they would. Think about it – if they did, we’d all be living our dream lives 24/7. And most of us are not. But this isn’t a bad thing. It means we’ve got space to grow. It means we’ve got things left to learn.
Take your finger off the button. This isn’t about adding more things to your to-do list. This is about subtracting the things that do not, have not, and will not ever move the needle for you, until you are left with only that which does.
And then, just for a laugh, you can add back in a few silly little games like pressing the pedestrian crossing button dozens of times and pretending you’re the King of the traffic lights.