The Art of Selective Ignorance – Deleting Barriers to Success

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” – Confucius

Strange as it may seem, in some cases, ignorance can be a blessing. Most of the world’s greatest achievements came to be because someone simply did not know that it could not be done. That’s when it would be appropriate to invoke the proverb that says, “Ignorance is bliss.”

The extent of what we can accomplish is only limited by the scope of our determination. Most of our limits are self-imposed. For thousands of years, people held the belief that it was impossible for a human being to run the mile in less than four minutes. But in 1954 Roger Bannister broke this imposing belief barrier.

In the whole history of the human race, no one had ever been able to break the four-minute mile, yet within one year of Bannister’s breaking the barrier, 37 other runners also broke it. And the year after that, 300 other runners did the same thing! Today, high school kids run the four minutes mile. All that because Roger did not know that it could not be done.

Most of man’s greatest achievements were thought to be impossible at one point. Someone did not know that it was impossible, went ahead and did it. Now it is seen as self-evident.

If we ever hope to do anything worthwhile with our life, the Art of Selective Ignorance has to be learned and mastered. That is, we have to learn to ignore all the reasons why it’s impossible to do something that has never been done before. We need to learn to ignore limitations, lacks and shortages.

One of the most important words in the vocabulary of great achievers is the adverb: how. They want to know “how” something can be done and they choose to ignore the reasons why it cannot be done. That is the Art of Selective Ignorance at its finest.

Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania has introduced us to the world of “learned helplessness.” He has demonstrated how one single failed attempt at something that we tried to accomplish can create the belief that it meant that we could never accomplish that objective.

He also showed that this “one attempt” could create the belief that since we’ve failed in this particular project it also meant that we would fail in something that is totally unrelated. And, as if that was not enough, this one failure can also be seen as a personal flaw or personal ineptitude.

In 1895, Albert Einstein sat the entrance examinations to get into the prestigious Federal Polytechnic School (or Academy) in Zurich, Switzerland and failed. What a great mind the world would have lost if Einstein had taken that failure as a sign that he was not intelligent enough to pursue a life of research.

We can always learn from our failures. However, we must be selective on what we choose to learn. Instead of learning that failures are signs of personal ineptitude, we should learn from what went wrong and how it can be changed in future attempts.

The brain is a wonderful tool but it does need someone at the helm to direct it. Allowed to run free, it can create havoc; well guided it can produce wonders. That is why we should learn to master the Art of Selective Ignorance.