Don’t be an ass!

Jean Buridan was a 14th century French philosopher who spent an entire career focusing on logic and the works of Aristotle. He’s most famous for this thought experiment known as ‘Buridan’s ass,’ the conclusions of which satirizes his own philosophy of moral detrminism.

The experiment basically illustrates the paradox in the conception of free will by way of the hypothetical situation:

  1. A donkey that is equally hungry and thirsty finds itself bang in the middle of a haystack and a pail of water.
  2. The paradox assumes that it will go to the closest option.
  3. Since, the ass is right in the middle, it can’t help but look to the right then the left, right, left, right, left, and can’t make a rational decision.
  4. It keeps looking to the right and left before dropping dead of both hunger and thirst.

This is typical among folks who’re trying to pursue many things at once. And I’ve been an ass myself until I realized it was doing more harm than good. You see, I was thinking short-term for things that were meant to be fulfilled over the long-term.

The question is how do we refrain ourselves from now wanting everything right now. Life’s short, no? That’s precisely why thinking short-term will only get you frustrated, faster. The solution is to think about the long haul and focus on doing one thing at a time. That could mean you’re focusing on just one of the things that you want to do for the next few years before transitioning into doing something else for the new few, so on and so forth.

The ass in the story above can’t decide because it lacks forethought (except, maybe, in Disney movies) else the priority would have been water followed by hay. (Clearly, right?) Thankfully, human beings are capable of thinking about the future and acting accordingly. And we can do everything we want to be, do, and have with just a little foresight and patience.

Derek Sivers says it the best:

If you’re thirty now and have six different directions you want to pursue, then you can do each one for ten years, and have done all of them by the time you’re ninety. It seems ridiculous to plan to age ninety when you’re thirty, right? But it’s probably coming, so you might as well take advantage of it.

Derek Sivers

I think the above mindset is much needed to smash all your goals — one at a time. It’s odd that we grossly underestimate what we can achieve in ten years while overestimating what we can in one year. Trust the process and flip the focus on the long-term, it’s not only deliberate but confidence inspiring.

Think long, work like an ass instead of thinking short and dying like one. There’s a difference.

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