Do More, Care Less

September 21, 2023


We love meaning: religion, books, Netflix, cinema. Meaningful stories act as cultural touch points and aid in communication. The importance of meaning has little need for argument. However there is a pitfall where meaning becomes too heavy and spreads too widely. Some things genuinely don’t matter – or more precisely – become over-weighted in our minds. In such scenarios, we would do well to care less. There’s a term for a related notion: analysis paralysis. But this phrase evokes a heady notion that one becomes consumed by an intellectual need for de-risking, planning, strategizing and maneuvering. But oftentimes, paralysis comes not from an overestimation of complexity, but of meaning. As an example, the first-time gym-goer may feel apprehensive about what others will think of them. In reality, the others are not judging and even if they are it doesn’t matter. To put weight on the hypothetical thoughts of a vague group of “others'' is a misplacement of care. In this situation, and in many others, meaning matters little, it is the doing that matters.

Modulating Meaning

Meaning exists in our head. We can modulate it, up or down. When feeling paralyzed by an overwhelming feeling of meaningfulness and importance, a good mantra to remember is the question: “how does this affect Lebron’s legacy?” Unless you are in a very select group, chances are whatever you do will, in fact, not affect Lebron’s legacy. And if that doesn’t resonate, there are many other perspectives one can take to increase an attitude of levity and whimsy toward oneself.

Quantity has a Quality All its Own

When we care less, we often do more. Ancillary thoughts concerning the consequences or particulars of a task are like ballast on a hot air balloon. They help keep us low, slow, grounded. Good for when the stakes are high. But the stakes are rarely high.

In the beginning stage of learning a new skill or developing a new habit there are no stakes. The goal is quantity not quality. Say you’re trying to build a heap of rocks. At first there are no rocks, and each new rock is a great contribution. But when compared to the end product, an individual rock is tiny. The view that each rock is but a trifling addition is not so obvious when a heap has not yet become a heap.

Low Stakes Losses are Golden

Of all the note-taking strategies, the most effective one is low-stakes testing, done frequently. When we care a lot about a test, the pressure is high. Thoughts abound. Will I fail this class? Will I get held back a grade? Will I get into a good college? What about my future? These questions are so important and so heavy, but so irrelevant with the task at hand. What a mismatch. However, when stakes are low, focus comes back to what counts. With low stakes, failures are golden and to be cherished not dreaded. They point to the fertile grounds in which one can improve, directions on where to proceed.

Care Less - Do More - Repeat

The trouble with new endeavors is that one must suffer through a period of mediocrity. One solution to this hurdle is to care less. When we care less about failing we can do more, each time finding new ways to reflect, change, and do better.