Intuition: Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Enough with all the advice

I misplace stuff a lot.

When I was younger, my grandfather used to tell me to always triple check the place I first thought my things should be. “It’s almost always there!” he would say. Most of the time, he was right. I’ve gotten into the habit, but I’m not perfect.

I misplaced my wallet yesterday, and I turned my whole apartment upside down. Predictably, the wallet was in the drawer, where I expected, tucked under a package of markers I recently ordered so I could write on my walls.

Man, what a waste of time.

I often think about how I mistrust my own intuition. I know what I need to do, just like I knew the location of my wallet, and yet I search for all the other places it might be or all the other things I might do.

Searching is particularly problematic when you have access to tools like Google. My apartment is small (I live in New York), but the internet’s enormous. I’ve wasted a lot of time in there, searching for answers I already Know.

And that’s just outbound. I’m inundated by inbound advice telling me what I should do and who I should be. I should be fit; I should meditate, I should read ten pages a day, I should eat kale, I should adopt this leadership style or that one, I should build my startup this way, I should get married before 30.

That’s a lot of Shoulds.

I’m worried the Shoulds may drown out the Knowings. It’s hard to listen to the voice telling me the wallet’s in the drawer if I have a hundred other voices in my apartment telling me otherwise.

It’s easy to forget how much Knowing is programmed into our DNA. You do not have to teach a golden retriever how they should drink water, eat food, or play with their friends. It’s innate.

So much of our brilliance is innate. It’s the Shoulds that dumb us down.

I often forget I have a subconscious. When the little voice in my head tells me something; it’s not random, it’s coming from a whole deep sea of context that just wasn’t surfaced alongside it.

When some random voice on the internet tells me I should do something, it’s coming from a whole bunch of context that isn’t applicable to me.

Advice is dangerous for this reason; it’s inherently susceptible to survivorship bias and almost always relevant only given a set of conditions that don’t hold true for everyone.

The map is not the territory. Shoulds are abstractions of Knowings, and they are abstracted from territories different than your own.

For a long time, people told me I Should quit cigarettes.

It wasn’t until I observed closely the way that cigarettes actually make me feel that I was able to quit. Close monitoring of the bullshit stories I told myself (it’s for digestion, stress, pleasure!) and the visceral reality of the sickness I felt every time I finished one were what ultimately led me to stop.

Change happens from a place of Knowing.

When I think about the best work I’ve done in my life, it was always a result of Flow. There’s no room for chatter when you’re fully immersed in an activity. There are no Shoulds, only Knowings. 

All of the most valuable things I’ve learned I’ve taught myself.

To this day I still have the instinct that the treasure, what one needs to know for a profession, is necessarily what lies outside the corpus, as far away from the center as possible. But there is something central in following one’s own direction in the selection of readings: what I was given to study in school I have forgotten; what I decided to read on my own, I still remember.” - Nassim Taleb

I’m not sure if all Shoulds are faulty, or only most of them. People who know you and your context may occasionally dish some good advice. Perhaps Shoulds can trigger or reinforce preexisting Knowings.

Either way, after years of trying lots of Shoulds with no luck, I feel compelled to approach them differently. I declare Shoulds guilty until proven innocent, and Knowings innocent until proven guilty.

Of course, you should do whatever you want! Or maybe, whatever you Know.


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