“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein
I love this sentiment. Partly because someone so widely hailed as a genius said it, and partly
because it is precisely what today’s world is missing. It’s certainly something to strive for.
I want the ability to look at a problem longer and deeper than the average person. I want the ability to dig in and ask more meaningful questions, and to think critically about a subject. It’s something we should all want for ourselves, really.
Our average attention span has dwindled down to 8 seconds. Thanks, social media. It’s why we can’t read a book, let alone bring a long-term approach to a problem that takes longer than 8 seconds to solve – like a pandemic, for example. Or racism. Or any number of larger societal issues.
We want simple solutions to complicated problems, and then we’re disappointed when none exist. These are problems that don’t dissipate during our fleeting few seconds of attention. They require long-term systemic change that can only be accomplished with an Einstein-like focus.
It’s possible when we:
- Get curious about everything.
- Read a book instead of sub-par social media posts and articles. Spend more time thinking about its message.
- Resist impulses like checking your social media accounts for the hundredth time in an hour.
- Talk to people. Connect more. Starting with the people in your house.
- Focus on the quality of the media you take in, instead of the quantity. There’s far too much information to be able to process it all.
- The same goes for the quality of your output. Make sure it’s of value.
- Prioritize interests, problems, and subject matters that we give our attention to.
If we can’t learn how to do these things, we’ll remain stuck. We’ll remain floating in the problems of the moment, with no ability to think of others instead of our own emotionally-charged feelings.
We’ll ignore problems like Covid, and pretend they don’t exist. We’ll give in to our desire to go out with friends, eat in crowded restaurants, or attend crowded concerts, rallies, and sporting events. All of this because instant gratification is better than a long-term approach to a long-term problem.
We’ll dismiss an entire race of people when they tell us that they need our help. I mean, it’s been a problem for hundreds of years, so what can we be bothered to do about it right now?
We’ll leave societal problems to the next generation, because we lacked the will to address them ourselves.
Or we can learn how to stick with the problem. We may not have the ability to solve them all by ourselves, but we can have a sustained impact and be part of the long-term solution when we take back our focus.