Ignoring the Bad Ideas

Today was another one of my exercise days, and I had a nice, long, almost-five-mile jaunt through some of the dirt roads and farms around my home. It wasn’t that hard of a run; hard, yes, but not unbearable, which is surprising given that, a week ago, this distance in the 85-degree, 100% humidity heat I ran in today would have made me question everything.

I was happy, until my mind started to wander.

I usually like it when my mind wanders. It usually pulls together ideas from lots of different places, and sometimes it comes up with something interesting.

Today, though, it started asking me, “Hey, don’t you think this run will suck when it’s freezing out and there’s no snow on the ground so you can’t go cross-country skiing?”

I’m planning on skiing most of the winter, provided that there’s snow, which is how I’m planning on dealing with it being freezing out. But, of course, my brain found a loophole in that: if there’s not enough snow, I’ve got to exercise somehow.

Pushing this thought away — it’s utterly useless to worry about this in August — took so much energy (I literally went from sailing along to huffing and puffing), which got me thinking: why on earth does it burn energy just to challenge a random idea that popped into my head?

It shouldn’t; I understand that ideas are little free-flowing specks of nothing unless you attach value to them. I know that this particular idea is similar to ones that often get me: the ones where I’m thinking 50 moves ahead without bothering to know what the other 49 moves would be to get you there. It’s why I’m trying to focus on just doing one small step at a time; I’m always looking at something as how it would be if it were already done.

So why does it take so much effort to squelch a bad one?

Maybe it’s because, by trying to kill it at all, I’m assigning it value. What I should really be doing is just letting it fly by me, paying it no more mind than the swarm of gnats that encircled my head during a lot of today’s run. I know I can’t do anything about the gnats, and so I just run through them.

Just because it’s my idea doesn’t make it a good one. I already know this is true; now I just need to work on believing it.

Or, maybe, I just need to run a little bit farther so that I don’t have the energy for self-defeating thoughts to get into my head in the first place. I think I can hit six miles later this week.

Jon has been published in Time, Inc., Forbes, The Huffington Post, and many, many other publications. He’s written novels, run a couple of start-ups, been a venture capitalist, a consultant, and has spent most of the last ten years climbing the corporate ladder. The Cold Shower Diet is a blog about finding motivation.