Here’s what’s wrong with the seemingly endless and yet so fascinating lists of things that are either good for you or bad for you: They give me anxiety. Here’s this list about the 7 most compelling books I should read. And then there’s the one with the 10 most delicious dessert recipes without sugar. Even news organization now publish a daily list of “5 things to know for your new day”, covering everything from winter weather to the fighting in Ukraine.
Every day I am bombarded with – probably even quite useful – information about all the things I am supposed to do better. The problem is: it’s too much.
Don’t get me wrong: I too am frequently drawn to articles headlined “5 Ways To Increase your Mental Strength” or “6 Breathing Techniques That Help You Fall Asleep”. I have read many fine articles by equally fine writers that contain helpful information about anything from healthy foods to why smiling is good for you. I even wrote an article some years ago about “5 Dating Tips for Introverts”.
The problem is: it doesn’t stick. I love reading what I could do to lose those five pounds or to make my brain stop forgetting random pieces of information. I go down the lists, thinking: yep, I know that already. Oh, that’s actually interesting. Wait, I haven’t thought of that one before.
But as soon as I click on another article I have already forgotten what 5-item-list I just read. The lists are a great seduction to lure us into the kind of bite-size infotainment that makes us believe we learn something new. But the brain doesn’t learn from reading 50 different things in as short a time as possible. It learns by repeating the same things over and over.
Some people say it takes 17 repetitions – for example to learn a new word in a foreign language, or get the hang of a new habit. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery, and how even geniuses like the Beatles had to practice in order to become really good musicians.
How many hours you need exactly, I don’t know. But I do know that the people in my psychotherapy practice need to address their issues over and over in order to change their behavior or how they feel about a certain situation. I know that changing your mind means changing your beliefs about yourself – and that may be a job of a lifetime.