Learning Is Forgetting

I hit the delete key and he was gone forever.

The last piece of a past that’d haunted me. But more than just removing a toxic person from my life, I’d put aside another hurdle. That’s a concept that’s been percolating awhile for me, and have been putting into focus more over the last year or so.

Remove hurdles. The “right” goal isn’t always to be so strong you can overcome any obstacle or to be so cunning you never have any obstacles. Both of those are fiction. You will have obstacles and drama sprout up, and whether you can swiftly push them aside or not is often times where the real hangups occur.

Two weeks ago I pressed delete on an old friend. We’d had a falling out several years ago, and then eventually a lukewarm reconnection of sorts. But it was never the same — not even close. He became one of those friends we have on Facebook that I didn’t ever talk to but for whatever reason was reluctant to unfriend. The finality of that is irrationally intimidating.

We may not really talk, but there isn’t a good reason to disconnect.

But in this case it was baggage. Every time I saw one of his posts it reminded me of how little we knew each other anymore, standing as stark contrast to memories I had swirling around. I’d comment occasionally to things he shared in a simple attempt to maintain some kind of connection. Always fruitless. And anything I ever shared of import? Ignored. It’s not the kind of negativity that ruined my day or anything, but from a purely logical standpoint there was nothing to be gained, so even the smallest loss was more than it was worth.

As much as I knew rationally that our friendship would never really repair — and thus never be worthwhile — nostalgia kept me hanging on. I don’t have his phone number anymore. I clicked unfriend and it was done. I felt a mix of regret and release. The regret passed.

Why am I telling you this?

I think it speaks to something larger that goes on with all of us. Something a good friend said in a recent discussion of learning and consciousness applies here. He said, “Learning is as much about choosing what to forget as what to remember.”

Each time we learn our brains make decisions about which facts are needed, discarding the rest for efficiency. Bogging your mind down with loads of useless data dilutes the real meat we’re after.

Think of that with anything in life: our jobs, our businesses, our personal relationships, etc. We can liken our growth to a runner going around a track. The simple go-to answer for improving our lap time is usually “run faster” or “build stamina”. I used the word hurdles above, and I think it’s apt here. Imagine being that runner and tripping and falling on your butt trying to leap hurdles each lap. Maybe you clear some of them, but others always get you.

No matter how fast you learn to run, your lap times will always suffer from falling over those hurdles. You can commit a major effort to building speed and maybe improve your time subtly, or you can remove some of those hurdles from your track and improve your time far more.

Negativity and fluff affects our creativity and problem-solving skills. Every time we remove a stressor from our day, cut a toxic person out, fire a terrible client that wastes our time, we remove a hurdle from our path and maintain momentum.

Conventional wisdom tells us to make specific goals. You can’t hold yourself reasonably accountable if you don’t get specific or quantify your goals. But as James Altucher points out in I’m Afraid All The Time:

“The more expectations you have the more you will be disappointed. A goal (make a million, lose 100lbs, get someone to love me, etc.) is an expectation. A theme (eat healthy, make friends) is a way to live.”

It’s simply about building habits that make you better — piece by piece with consistency.

Example? Remove something that dampens your spirit even 5% — big deal, right? But find a dozen of those things and you’ve avoided a 60% detriment, which is the same as +60% efficiency. Numbers are of course for illustration and were never the goal itself.

For me, hitting the delete key was a small win. One less subtle bit of negativity each day. I’ve also cut loose a few business contacts and a client or two in the last few months. Good things. There will be other things that drain my happiness or creativity in the future, but at least it won’t be any of those again.


4 Responses to Learning Is Forgetting

  1. Mom Winters February 11, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    Thanks Brian for a great article! I too have a few facebook friends I can delete as I never hear from them. No big deal. I think I’ll just do that today. Thanks again for the reality check!

    • Brian Watkins February 12, 2016 at 8:23 am #

      Glad you enjoyed the post! Here’s to cutting dead weight from our lives!

  2. Marty February 6, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    Very interesting article Brian. I have a few people that I should cut out of my life, as I never hear from them, yet I keep hoping that someday they will call and re kindle our friendship. Funny thing is One person who I never thought would be a friend has become a good friend. We stay in touch, I go to visit him. He calls occasionally.
    Those others, family as a matter of fact that I never hear from, that is what really hurts. Family can’t be bothered staying in touch with me. I can’t help but wonder ” Did I do something wrong?” They say no when questioned, yet there is this silence between us that goes on year after year. Two of them cam to my 60th birthday party, yet haven’t heard a damn thing form them since. Even my brother who was in Buffalo last summer, and when I went to visit him, he said” we should stay in touch, before it gets too late” Well, I called him once, got brushed off because he was busy. Said he’d call back that weekend. Never heard form him.

    • Brian Watkins February 7, 2016 at 9:12 am #

      A belief I’ve come to hold on relationships is that everyone’s presence in your life needs to be adequately justified somehow — family or not. If someone is no good for you, no matter who they are, you’re usually doing yourself a favor to remove them.

      In the case of people that inexplicably avoid talking it usually comes down to one of two things, and neither makes them worthwhile. Maybe you did do something years ago that ticked them off that they haven’t told you. But if that’s true they’ve both held a shallow grudge for all these years and won’t be an adult and discuss it, making them both petty and a coward. Or you’ve done nothing wrong and they’re simply just that self-centered and unreliable. You don’t need either of those people in your life.

      Fear often grips us in the face of removing people we’ve had in our lives for some time. We feel guilty in advance for being the one that ends such a relationship, but the reality is the other party ended the relationship long before. We’re simply choosing not to allow their callousness to affect us anymore.

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