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September 26, 2017

Reflections: Think less and do something

Woman lost in thoughts
Woman lost in thoughts

One afternoon many years ago, back when I was in high school, we found ourselves in the physics laboratory. It was a double period of physics, immediately after lunch, and so naturally, I was bored to tears and sleepy.

Now the lab tables in our school, in addition to the faucets and the sink, had electricity power sockets on top of the table (not sure whether this is common or it was particular to our school). In any case, bored and distracted, I took a mathematical compass, metal, of course, and put it in the socket. Luckily, the switch was off. But then I started fiddling with the switch without paying any attention to what I was doing, on, off, on, off, on... you get the picture. I zoned out for a second. Then I decided to remove the compass from the socket. So I reached for the compass, and touched it.

When I came to, I was lying on a bed in the nurse’s office. The physics teacher was there, too, bemused. ‘You (expletive) idiot,’ he said. ‘What were you thinking?’ It took me a second to get my bearings, and then I said to him, ‘I wasn’t thinking.’

Let’s put aside the folly of touching metal compasses plugged into live sockets and focus instead on what’s important: the amazing ability to not think.

You see, I believe we think too much, overanalyse everything.

There are people, for example, with big dreams who find themselves in jobs they absolutely hate; jobs that aren’t taking them where they want to go in life. These people know exactly what they should do, and they know it starts with ditching the current hamster wheel they are on. But then they start thinking.

They think about bills, rent, the unemployment rate. They think about how start-ups fail, recession, inflation, deflation, and on and on they think some more, all the while staying put exactly where they are. These people end up frustrated. Often, they are the meanest, rudest, angriest souls you’ll ever meet. Eventually they get depressed. They are hospitalised with high blood pressure, which eventually kills them. And if it’s not the blood pressure that gets them, it’s topping themselves.

It’s not their fault; none of us is at fault for all this thinking we do before acting. The blame lies elsewhere.

Think back to when you were a little tyke, in primary school, when a teacher singled you out to answer a question. She’d walk over to your desk and hover, tapping a ruler against her palm as she waited for you to answer.

The whole class would be looking at you, and just as you were about to give an answer, the teacher would say, ‘Think very hard before you answer.’

That right there is where we were trained to overthink, and as much as we extol the virtues of thinking before acting, sometimes you can think too much that you end up convincing yourself not to do anything, and so you end up going nowhere.

Many inventions and ideas wouldn’t be with us today if the people who came up with them had overanalysed and thought about the idea for too long. They didn’t think very hard before going ahead with their ideas. Gut feeling and instinct is what they went with instead, and they got things done.

I’d suggest we do the same. Think less, and like the Nike ad says, Just Do It!

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