Why It’s So Hard To Change Someone’s Mind

I like thinking of time in a week as 80–20. 80% of my week is spent on stable activities. So my job is 80% of my time. The remaining 20% is spent on activities which have absolutely no immediate short-term value, but only ‘potential’ long-term value. So reading, learning something new, photography, traveling, etc. fall in the remaining 20%.

The problem is that there’s usually no real time left to chill. Which is completely fine. In a lifetime, you have about 4000 weeks to live. Of these, thirty percent are gone by the age of twenty-five. That means there’s only so much time left to do all the things you really want to. A TED talk by Wait But Why hit this point really well. It says that if you imagine your lifetime in years, you lose sight of the big picture and procrastinate away. But if you imagine them as weeks flying by — reality hits you in the face.

So when someone asks me why I can’t just “take it easy” for a bit — it’s one of those few times when I truly lose my patience. It’s like telling an anxious person to calm down, or asking a depressed person why they can’t just be — you know — happy! It just doesn’t work. And trying to convince them otherwise is equally hard. David McRaney (author of ‘You Are Not So Smart’) explains this really well. He says that our mind is like an Army General. As it grows up, it uses small pieces of information to map together the lay of the land. For some, the ‘Map’ tells them to prioritize relaxation because there’s only so much time to live. To others, it tells them to prioritize work because there’s only so much time to live. Neither are wrong per se — but if both these Generals met, it’s insane to think that they would overturn their own ‘Maps’ and blindly accept a new one. It just wouldn’t happen.

On the other hand — you can change someone’s mind by debating over smaller pieces of information instead. Just like ‘Map’ formation takes into account tiny little pieces of information, so does the mind. So if you’re trying to convince someone close to you to change their viewpoint on a hugely important ideal, you don’t start by telling them that their ‘Map’ is wrong. You start by asking them to question a tiny little portion of it instead.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? I’m really not sure — but I wrote this out of sheer frustration at having been questioned why I spend my weekends sitting on my laptop when I could just be chilling instead. A heated debate ensued — at the end of which neither of us really changed our minds, but successfully wasted each other’s time, which we could have used to work and relax instead.

Oh well, YOLO.

(In other news, Guinness helped publish Humans of Singapore’s first book called ‘Men of Singapore’, so one of the 20% projects finally came to life! Next up: Women of Singapore)