The Wrong Thing

Sometimes “right” and “wrong” aren’t binary. If you have a button and pushing it shocks you, then sure – there’s a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do.

Most of the time though, you don’t have a binary choice between two options, one obviously right and one obviously wrong. You have a choice between twenty different things, one of which is “most right” and the rest of which are “neutral.”

Here’s an example: You’re looking for some item that you stored in a shoebox in your garage years ago. When you turn on the light, you see that the shelves are lined with about twenty shoeboxes. One of them has the object you’re looking for, so that’s the “right” box. But there’s no “wrong” box!

Why aren’t the other boxes “wrong?” Because they don’t have poisonous snakes in them, for one. They just have other junk you don’t care about. And it’s not like you only get to look in one box – you look in boxes until you find the thing you’re looking for.

Now imagine it’s hours later, and your friend comes over and finds you sitting on the garage floor, staring intently at the wall covered in shoeboxes. He asks what you’re doing, and you say “I put an old photo album in one of these boxes years ago, and I’m trying to remember which one. I’m wracking my brain trying to remember when exactly I put the album away, and what shoes I wore at the time, and stuff like that.”

Your friend would think you were insane. He would – rightly – ask you why you don’t just start opening the boxes until you find what you want.

“That could take a long time! I might open the wrong box!”

Sure, but… how long have you been sitting here, exactly?

Look, in a lot of cases, there is no wrong thing. There’s just some variable amount of time between you and the (inevitable) right thing. Identifying those situations when you’re in them is crucial because, in those situations, it is paramount that you stop thinking and just start doing. Just start opening boxes. You’ll open a few that don’t have what you want. So what? You’ll find what you want much faster than sitting on the floor staring at the wall.

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