As he explores the subject of mental health, Chris Guillebau also brings up the idea of advice. And I’m glad he decided to challenge conventional wisdom, I guess it helps me to have a more nuanced reading of his work.
He kicked this idea off with a list of “Unhelpful Life Advice.” Reading through that list I was reminded of how difficult it can be to make sense of advice, and how it’s necessary simplification can go too far or simply be wrong in too many cases.
One of these advice on this list was “To focus on important work, avoid distractions.” Something meditation has taught me is that being too focused on what it is one wants to achieve invites distraction in itself. The mind starts controlling what it does. That is why, sometimes in meditation, to focus on the breath, it can be useful to assist that focus by counting the number of breaths repeatedly from one to ten. In a way, what it does is include a small distraction to avoid being distracted by the desire to do the task well if not perfectly.
Thus, what this advice might try to teach us is to avoid distractions that distract us, not those that help us find the focus we need.
Another advice Guillebeau described as unhelpful is “Simplify your life and do less.” There is a lot to be said about this idea as it feels true in many ways, but certainly not under all circumstances. Consider that whenever someone is overwhelmed in their life, the chore of deciding what it is that can be simplified usually will be overwhelming itself. It might help to look at this advice as one that advertises a result that could very well be beneficial for that person. That simplifying also means less might even not be the case. It may even mean to do more by diversifying and including things that help reduce overwhelm. Often it is about giving the mind time to rest, and rarely to keep it busy with something that captivates the mind and focuses it or loses it in a flow of constant distractions. A mind that has had the time to rest may even start simplifying things on its own.