The importance of letting go of ideas


On May 29 2015, I made my first entry into a fancy notebook I had bought. This was going to be it, I was never again going to struggle in vain to remember that killer idea I had earlier. Everything was getting written down from here on out.

Despite a decent start, by July the entries had started to get less frequent and at the start of August they had dried up completely. As with the vast majority of things that I start, this logbook concept hadn't got very far at all.

Admittedly, some aspects were useful whilst it lasted. Thanks to this little book, I now have a complete record of my trip to Barcelona to a level of detail that photographs and memories could just never fill on their own. It was also great for keeping track of tasks that I had to do. Just to be clear, it didn't increase the speed with which I did them, just kept a record of them.

The obvious question from here is, "Why did I stop writing in the notebook if it was useful?". I still have the notebook, and it still sits most of the time within easy reach, so it's not as if I lost it or anything. The answer to this I feel lies in the concept of value and the exchange of time for value. People, as a rule, only do things if they view the value of doing said thing to be greater than or equal to the value of the resources they use to do the thing. In this case, the only resource to be used was time, but I still didn't view the benefits I would gain from writing down an idea, or a task to be done as worth the time it would take.

At this point, you may be calling me lazy. The time it takes to write a bullet point down is basically negligible, and all this hot air about value is just covering up a fundamental attitude of "can't be bothered". But that's the thing, "can't be bothered" stems from a lack of perceived value. I used to hate piano lessons. I would rarely practise, and would only do the minimum to get by due to what we would usually call not being bothered. In other terms, not seeing the value in doing the practice.

When we don't do something that should be regular for a while, we fall out of the habit. This, I believe, is what happened with my notebook. I didn't see sufficient value in writing things down, despite forcing myself to do so for a time, and after a while just forgot all about the exercise. The question from here is: Even if I didn't see sufficient value in writing all my ideas down, was there sufficient value anyway?

And here's where we get to the crux of the article. I would say no simply because the vast majority of ideas are absolute rubbish. Even the ones that we think are great (just look the failure rate of startups or the save-the-world ideas so often generated down the pub). As manner of example, one shamefully representative entry from July 2 in my notebook was as follows.

Peckish Rice Crackers

Not overly enlightening stuff.

No matter whether you are an extraordinary genius or you struggle with the puzzles on the backs of cereal boxes, you will give too much value to your own ideas. This narcissism is a fundamental and necessary component of human nature. If people weren't to have ideas that they believed in, then we wouldn't have any of the innovations that we have today. More than that, a lack of self-confidence in our ideas would lead to a lack of leaders, and society itself may not have developed - certainly not to the same extent it has.

Beyond the cheapness of ideas, is there really any harm in scratching the itch of putting them somewhere? Not necessarily, but there is a freedom in learning to let them go. An idea that you are doing your best to remember is a bit of your mind that could be assigned to other things. Not only that, but good ideas tend to be remembered through their own virtue as opposed to needing to be explicitly remembered.

Everyone goes through a diary phase or buys a notebook at some point, it's a natural thing to do. But don't beat yourself up for stopping, that much is logical.

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