The (dark?) powers of lists according Brilliant Me, Smart Me and Lazy Me

Can we benefit from listing posts, avoiding traps?

Lazy Me

“Listing posts” are very popular. From 10-rules-for to 5-step-guide-to, passing from 7-reasons-for.

Why? Are lists useful for readers or useful for writers? Are there traps for both?

We have some little friends, in our mind, who loves lists and may help to clarify.

Brilliant Me

Brilliant Me likes well done things. And likes to shine.

Lists have always been a powerful tool, both for learning and for communication. Here’s a list of the main reasons why Brilliant Me loves lists. Yes, a list on lists.

  1. Lists induce Brillant Me to explicit distinctions. It’s easier for him to distinguish and recognize redundancies.
  2. Lists induce Brillant Me to complete his knowledge or presentation. It’s easier for him to detect missing items.
  3. Lists are a summary. They allow to see more easily the big picture.
  4. Lists free the mind of Brillant Me. Once they are written, the need to remember decreases.
  5. Lists are practical. They can be easily handled and shared. They can have operative benefits too, as to-do lists.

We all know these benefits and, together with Brilliant Me, find listing useful when appropriate. And the powers of lists do not finish here…

Smart Me

Along with these clear advantages, lists come with other grey powers, more related to psychology than to knowledge. Smart Me is at ease with this zone.

  1. Lists are easy to read (and fast read), and often easy to write. This facilitates Smart Me approach to them.
  2. Lists are neat and structured. They fit the Smart Me need for organization, either reading them or creating them.
  3. Lists promise precision and completeness. Seems that most of the value is in them, with no complications or surprises. Smart Me knows the list, Smart Me knows all that matters.
  4. Lists show authority. If you can clearly list items, they suppose you know what you are speaking about.
  5. Lists can hide details. Lists are attractive, and your attention can be shifted away from details.
  6. Lists are easier to memorize.

The above powers float between facilitating and manipulating. Smart Me likes these extra powers. When he writes, by them, he can help his friends, can distract someone, can lead some customers. When reading, he can go faster than his friends. But, most of all, he loves to use these powers making jokes at…

Lazy Me

There’s also a little Lazy Me in all of us. Mine is not little, so I suppose there are exceptions. Lazy Me is attracted by easy things, that promise great benefits with little effort. He loves lists. He would have invented them himself, if someone would have offered a 5-step guide to inventing lists. How do lists relate with Lazy Me, by means of the above powers?

  1. Lists offer little effort of attention on a clearly distilled and pre-packaged knowledge, easy and organized. Lazy Me can swallow the blocks, even casually, without disturbing too much his lazy brain. It’s useful, when someone do him the favour of packing concepts like this. He himself prefer to express with lists. Less work.
  2. Lists offer zero complications. Clear and available knowledge. No need to remodel, no need to elaborate, deduce or lucubrate. There are no surprises. All is written there, clearly enumerated. Like insurance policies, or, well, maybe this is not the best example… In form of a guide, it’s clear behaviour. Lazy Me has just to follow.
  3. Lists offer a concrete return. Handy knowledge for memorizing and sharing. Or handy guide toward the reward by clear steps. Lazy Me likes free cookies.
  4. Lists magnetize Lazy Me opinions. He finds much better expressing himself on clear statements. Many Smart Me on the web know how to attach profit to his passion.
  5. Lazy Me feels safe to follow someone who is able to throw out a neat list.

Lazy Me is not the right guy to match Smart Me. Some Smart Me, out there, are really smart.

Luckily, there is…

Doc Me

Let’s say it right away: Doc Me is boring and pedantic. That’s why we snort and move on when he speaks. I did not put him in the title, otherwise you would have run away. Here is his thought about lists, in a nutshell.

First, knowledge is not a list

Knowing a list of mental disorders does not make a psychiatrist out of you. Like knowing a list of healthy foods does not make you a nutritionist. Lists are usually a summary, not a book, nor a course, nor sharpness of thought, nor experience, nor life. It’s obvious, yet lists give Smart Me and Lazy Me the impression to understand something. Brilliant Me too, sometimes, falls in the trap.

Lists can be the result of our deeper considerations or can be a useful summary of somebody else’s knowledge. If it’s our stuff, we have to pay attention that Smart Me and Lazy Me are not taking the easy way for the sake of recipes. Synthesis is ok, shortcuts are not. If it’s someone else’s stuff, we should be critical. We should always read behind lists and listen to Doc Me.

What Doc Me ask himself, when reading a list?

  • Is the list complete? Do I come up with examples outside?
  • What are the concepts behind the list? Is the list redundant? Is it oversimplified?
  • Is it the prospective I need? Do I need a different point of view?
  • Do I need more knowledge to consciously use that list, or more experience?
  • Are they omitting antecedents or assumptions I should know, for the list to make sense? Are there clues of untold facts?
  • What are the interests of those who propose me the list? Maybe they want to sell me something and maybe that’s fair for me. However, if they want to lead me somewhere, I prefer to know, especially if I have no connection with the author.
  • Is what is written true? Can I do a cross-check?
  • Is the list distracting me?
  • Are Brilliant Me, Smart Me and Lazy Me in here? If yes, I’m out. (ok, Doc Me is overly selective, in his friendships).

Even Doc Me feels smarter, when reviewing this list. He follows a similar list for writing too.

In short, we have to think. If you go easy on the list, rewind and make sure it’s not some speedy Me who profits. No list can replace our own knowledge.

Second, lists are a single perspective

Lists are so attractive that any speedy Me tend to focus on them. Instead, we should look at the big picture too, out of the possible narrow scope of the specific list. If I’ve in my hands a promising 8-step guide to build the perfect body, is that list ok for me, does that fit with my 10 hours/day job? Has it connections with my other knowledge and experience on the matter? Lists are always a specific portion of something, under told or untold assumptions, limitations, simplifications.

Lazy Me, in particular, is happy, when he can reduce the scope of his attention, when he can think less. But a comfortable list, which does not relate to your knowledge and your life, will give you nothing.

Third, effort

A friend of mine stopped smoking with a 1-step method. Simply, he stopped. My Doc Me surely remembers him because my friend has a huge Doc Me. Maybe this 1-step guide is a bit excessive, but you have to remember that behind every guide, your effort is required. The success is based on your sense of purpose, effort, perseverance. No guide will make you rich, or beautiful, or healthy, or qualified, without your effort, your sacrifices, your neurons, your experience. All the life-hacking will not change you in a better you. Self-improvement is understanding, setting goals, put in consistent effort. Also applies to small changes. You cannot change habits without your will power.

The same applies to knowledge. No understanding will come from lists without your critic attention, your effort in processing, your connections, your going deep.


Doc Me speaks too much, but let him say a word, when writing and reading lists. You probably do not remember the lists above, but he knows them. Brilliant Me wants to shine, and that’s ok, if it does not exaggerate. Smart Me tends to simplify and take profit of what he does. He’s often in good faith, but keep an eye on him.

Lists can be useful and are practical. Some guides are really good, others are good suggestions. I read a lot of useful list posts. But I always make Lazy Me go to sleep before picking them.

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