People learn through trial and error. By throwing shit at the wall we figure out where the walls are, or how the world around us works.
Over time we develop mental models and frameworks for understanding the world around us. We use these frameworks to predict what will happen when another thing happens.
For example, if a child puts his hand on a stove that’s turned off, he’ll think it’s okay to touch a stove.
He’ll keep touching the stove until one day he gets burnt. The kid will be confused, and will probably try touching it again eventually.
Only until he understands that 1. stoves get hot, 2. stoves only get hot when they’re turned on, and 3. the stove is on when the dial is turned to a number that isn’t “off” will he be able to accurately predict what will happen when he touches the stove.
This is basically how everyone learns everything, except for shortcuts like “well this is my mom so I’ll just believe her when she tells me to look both ways when crossing the street” or “my physics teacher says this about gravity so he’s probably right.”
Shortcuts like these have pros and cons. They make learning quick and easy while helping you avoid trying something that will likely kill you immediately (like jumping off a building trying to fly like Peter Pan).
The problem is that sometimes who you trust for these frameworks are wrong––or at least not entirely right. Your mom is probably never going to tell you something that ends up being so wrong you end up getting killed, but she might lead you to believe that “our family isn’t artistic so you shouldn’t spend time learning how to paint.”
The only surefire way to know exactly what you can and can’t do in this life––and what exactly happens when you do XYZ––is to throw shit at the wall.
A simple guideline for doing this is to “do everything you shouldn’t obviously not do.”
Kind of a mouthful, I know, but fuck it. What I mean is if, for example, you want to become president, you should do all the things you can think of that could positively impact that goal, and stay far away from the things that will obviously hurt your chances.
You should kiss that baby, help that old lady cross the street, go on a podcast. You should not stab some guy that looked at you funny on the street, or commit any crimes.
These are exaggerated examples, so it’s obvious what you shouldn’t do.
The problem is there are many meaningful areas of life where what we shouldn’t do isn’t obvious. Should we not tell someone we love them on a first date? Probably not, but it’s way more complicated than that. There are thousands of conditions that we don’t notice at first glance (like the child not noticing the stove dial before getting burnt).
Going on a thousand dates would make you more aware of these conditions, give you more ideas for things you could do that would have a positive impact, and likely help you stumble upon clear things you should *obviously* not do next time.
The more you do this throughout your life, the more you’ll be able to understand, control, and predict the world around you; and the easier it will be to create and live the life you want.
Knowing what not to do means you don’t have to worry about making a mistake or becoming so anxious that you don’t do anything. If nothing goes wrong you’ve made a ton of progress. If something does goes wrong, you’ve discovered something new about how the world works you were blind to before, and it’ll go better next time.
Learning for yourself what not to do is how you become wise.