Earlier this month, I was holed up in a friend’s house as an ever-changing group of us listened to the radio and answered trivia questions for 50 (yes, five zero) hours. All across a college town in central Minnesota, hundreds of people did the same. It’s an annual bit of insanity that really is more than just a way to fight off cabin fever. My daughter grew up with these people, back when our team was hosted by her step (read: second) mom. I met my current beau there four years ago. I have been to weddings, funerals, birthday parties and fireworks displays with these people. Which all of which is made a little more insane by the fact that I don’t really like trivia that much.
I don’t think I am good at trivia and frankly it kind of bores me. But I enjoy the company and I am fascinated by how the questions have changed as the internet has become a bigger deal. How, when seemingly any bit of information can be accesses by your phone, do you make the game “internet proof,” (i.e.: about more than a team’s ability to type words into a search engine)?
This year, I became very aware of how many of the questions were front loaded with useless information. Instead of asking “Whose was nicknamed Old Blue Eyes?” they would ask “Fifty years after starring in a 1956 Charles Walters remake of Philadelphia Story, the actor known as Old Blue Eyes went on to perform in HBO’s award-winner gangster series, a role for which he did not receive credit. What was his name?”
When a question like that is read out loud, and you’re under a time crunch, it’s hard to sort through the information — and the lack of information. Someone on the team is frantically pulling up Charles Walters’ resume. Someone else has found a list of The Soprano‘s uncredited roles. And a third person is watching High Society on YouTube. But we don’t need to know any of those things. We need to know who was called Old Blue Eyes. Everything else is useless.
I earlier this month, I reviewed Switch: How to change things when change is hard. One of the concepts in the book that really hit home was True But Useless (TBU). The Heath brothers say that when we are faced with change, we often get bogged down in too much information. We need information to figure what and how to change, but we can get overwhelmed with information that while true, is not helpful to finding the answer. As someone who lives in her head, who can get mired in endless information collection and analysis, I say the Heaths lead charmed lives if times of change are the only times they are plagued with True But Useless information.
Some days, it seems as if most of what I say to myself is TBU: You screwed that up last time; Remember that one time you tried this an it didn’t work; You aren’t going to be to do it all; This is not going to fix everything. Some people are not going to be happy about this.
All of this is true. I have screwed up in the past, sometimes royally. I have tried new things only to have them not work. I won’t be able to do it all. Whatever I can do won’t fix it all. And there is a good change if I am doing something worth doing, I will upset some people.
All true. All useless.
If I listen to those voices, if I take that information on as something to be figured into my day or my plan for my life, I will never do anything. I know this from personal experience. Too often I treat that information as vital and I end up doing nothing. The other end of the spectrum is getting caught, arguing with myself about the truth of those statements, justifying and making excuses and trying to convince myself it wasn’t that bad last time. Both of those are the equivalent of pouring over cast lists for The Sopranos or pulling up Philadelphia Story clips. Yes, they seem to be about the matter at hand, but they don’t get me any closer to Frank Sinatra.
True But Useless helps me cut through the Resistance
. Yep, you’re right, brain. I did screw that up once before. What’s your point? Yes, this won’t fix everything; good thing it doesn’t need to. By naming things True But Useless I can free my energy to find out what is useful and to use it to get the job done, whether the job is tackling a tricky project at work, dealing with my finances or just getting out of bed in the morning.
And if today I stumble or choke yet again, tomorrow, that information, while true, will be useless.