“It looks like you’ve matured,” he said.
“I hope so,” I smiled.
He was one of the most knowledgeable people back then. He knew about everything happening around us. And since my friends and I knew nothing, we would listen to him wide-eyed. When he spoke, we were like kids who surround their grandmother when she tells them stories.
Today, we were catching up after seven years. But he seemed different. Or maybe I was more observant. I don’t know. Seven years is a long time.
He started talking about a subject which I know thoroughly. I could find loopholes in his theories. I asked questions which highlighted them. But he turned defensive quickly.
Not keen to offend him, I changed the topic. But a similar pattern emerged. This continued for a few other topics. His final diagnosis of me? “You’ve changed, Vishal.”
I have. But that’s not the point.
Have you ever looked outside the window while sipping coffee, and wondered, “what do my thoughts and opinions do to me?” Your answer mostly is “they make me more informed and educated.” But do they really?
Seven years ago, my friend was a one-eyed king among the blind. We didn’t know better, so we revered him. But the need to harbor shallow but diverse opinions meant he couldn’t develop deeper perspectives about a single subject. He had opinions about everything, but none of them were worth mention.
The internet (specifically social media) has brought us to the point where we’ve become one-eyed kings too. As the adage goes, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Everyone is the king, but nobody has loyal followers. You can count the number of true experts on your fingertips.
Why are we full of opinions?
Loneliness is one reason. We feel lonely despite being surrounded by people prepared to love us the way we are.
Or, we’re conditioned by years of emotional torment. This has built in us the desire to fight, a latent urge to prove that we weren’t wrong when we were targeted during childhood.
Or, we want to be right at all times. It doesn’t matter how we make others feel in the process.
Or, we’ve tasted some success and have let to zoom to our heads. (There are more ‘ors’. Leave a comment add to the list.)
Until last year, I was the same. I’d get mad at people with different opinions. People would pick fights with me. I’m an Aries. Not one to back down from a fight. So I would get into the mud and wrestle with pigs.
But the laws of the universe apply to me also. The more you wrestle with pigs, the dirtier the mud makes you, and the happier this makes the pigs. Why should you care about pigs’ happiness?
How do your opinions make you feel in today’s circumstances? Do they make you feel empowered? Or do they burden you? Have you ever promised yourself to not share your thoughts? Or not to care about subjects which cause you tremendous stress? Why do you feel like this if opinions make you ‘empowered and educated’?
James Altucher describes what happens when you form an opinion, and feel internally compelled to share it with everyone:
- You spend time thinking imaginary arguments with others about how bad they are.
- You may actually engage in those arguments, wasting more time.
- You go back to those arguments to check who responded.
- More people feel bad. They either feel more angry at you, or themselves feel offended about what you say.
Thus, your personal goal drifts further. That is, unless your goal is to outrage and have half-cooked opinions.
Inner turmoil is another consequence of shallow thoughts. When superficial knowledge is all you have, the bubble eventually bursts. But you don’t want to accept facts contrary to your opinion. You fight. You scratch and bite. You claw their hair. And you may emerge victorious. But your insides still feel like a virus is feeding on them. This is because your mind is tugging at you, imploring you to consider the other perspective. But ego makes you want to stick to your guns. This turmoil eventually turns into stress, and emerges in regrettable ways.
Is this how you want to live? If yes, this post is no longer useful for you. But if you want to live a life at least ten percent better, read on.
To save yourself the pain that accompanies entitled opinions, fix the root cause. Eliminate pointless opinions themselves by asking yourself three questions:
1. Is This Useful?
Is the subject worth your time? Is it related to what you do, or what interests you? You might feel it interests you. But if fifty varied topics interest you, do you truly have time to pursue any of them in depth?
The more you focus on the useless, the less headspace you give yourself to dig deeper into the useful. And the less value you add to your own life.
The H1B visa issue? I’m not a software developer, nor do I work for an IT conglomerate. The outcome will not impact my life. Hence, I don’t read about the subject. A politician makes an irresponsible comment? No amount of my chest beating on social media will change him. But Mahendra Singh Dhoni? I carefully read news about him, and form opinions about everything he does. Studying him makes me a better human being. It is useful.
2. Will This Matter In 3 Weeks?
Outrage over ghastly events is ephemeral today. Even tragic events lie forgotten within a week. So, if something won’t matter in three weeks, why let it run around in your head? And if does matter, don’t be satisfied with what everyone says. Scrape the surface.
Understand why it functions the way it does. You will discover perspectives to look at it differently… enough to make you want to dig even deeper.
The resulting opinion will be an educated one. Instead of inner turmoil, it will offer you peace. Your opinion won’t be based on emotion, but logic and facts. Emotions are easy to counter. Facts are not.
Listen to this beautifully articulated two-and-a-half minute talk by Jesse Springer about the importance of not having an opinion.
3. What Can I Do Now to Stop Focusing on It?
In the past, you have made promises to yourself about not pondering on a subject. But you break it over and over again. The topic makes you lose your cool each time you indulge in it. But the feeling that you keep breaking your promises burdens you too. “Can I not keep my word on anything?” you ask yourself.
It’s painful not to focus on something useless which made you feel it was important. As painful as removing a splinter from yourself. In the beginning, I found it difficult to stop my mind from forming opinions. Slowly, I overcame the temptation of giving in again and again. I pulled myself away from topics which didn’t matter. Instead, I focused on what I truly cared about. I worked on becoming a better (and productive) content marketer. I started reading more books. I started working on scaling Aryatra up. Although there is nothing significant to write about currently, the initial steps have been taken. It’s interesting to see where I will be six months hence.
Gradually, I found peace within and developed deeper focus. I realized that the world will do just fine without my opinions. This made me feel invisible. But strangely, it made me feel liberated too.
Distancing yourself from unimportant subjects will help you live a healthier and happier life. You won’t lose valuable energy over events which don’t impact you. Instead, you will channelize the energy on what gives your life meaning, making you contribute in your area of interest more constructively.
You know this is possible. You can feel it in your gut. Your heart has been screaming about it since long. You tried to silence it. But it kept getting louder. It’s now time to listen to your heart. All you have to do is practice not having opinions about everything. Try it. It’s bitter medicine. But the patient (you) needs it.