What Unimportant Things Do You Focus On Too Much?

Do you find that you spend your time worrying about unimportant things, while ignoring big ones?

If so, you’re not alone. Focusing on trivial things is such a part of the human condition, there are even adages warning against it.

For example, take the phrase, “Penny wise, pound foolish.” Saving money on little things is meaningless if you waste money on big-ticket items.

Also, consider the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If we can only focus on the important things in life, it will save us time and even health in the end.

And yet, we often obsess over tiny details. Why would a person may behave this way?

For one, you may not know how to attack a big problem, but you can solve a small one. Thus, you turn your attention to what you know how to do. I can’t fix climate change, so I’m going to obsess on cleaning my house.

Alternately, you may not even realize there is a bigger issue. For example, you may be promoting one political opponent over another, without realizing that money in politics is a corrupting influence on both parties.

Sometimes, a smaller concern is simply more appealing. Ultimately, watching a TV show may not be important, but it’s more fun than doing your taxes.

Whatever the reason, every one of does this to some extent.

To combat this, we need to accurately determine the relative importance of things. In addition, we need to have the determination to tackle the big problems or issues as they come up.

Are there specific minor things that you find yourself obsessing over, at the expense of more significant issues? What unimportant things do you focus on too much?

Related questions: What is important? Is our attention fractured? What deserves your attention?

What Do We Owe The Future?

There are many problems facing us as a species. Some, like racism, have to do with how we treat each other now. Others, like climate change or fossil fuel use, are problems we can predict for the future.

The most immediate problems that we see are the problems facing us right now. For instance, do I need a haircut? Am I dressed appropriately for today’s weather? Is my stomach growling? Which bills are due this week?

We do some planning for the future. For example, when possible we create retirement accounts so that we have enough money to last us into our old age.

However, we aren’t all that good at looking far ahead. Most people do not save enough money for a comfortable retirement. Some of that, no doubt, has to do with the lack of extra income to put toward retirement. But some of it comes from our inability to imagine the future.

As difficult as it might be for an individual — rarely do we actually have our lives mapped out in advance — but it becomes almost impossible in aggregate. Our society has a difficult time sacrificing our present for a better future.

As an example, let’s consider fossil fuel use. We’ve known for decades that the supply of fossil fuels is limited. There is only so much oil and coal in the ground. However, this stored energy has allowed us to build our modern day society, from the grandiose, like the ability to travel around the world quickly, to the mundane like having a light to read during the night time.

However, knowing that we have a limited supply of fossil fuels, fuels that power our present-day life, we continue to increase our usage year after year. It is only recently, after decades, that we have started to develop renewable fuel technologies. Even now, decades later, they still only make up a tiny fraction of our overall energy usage. We have concentrated instead on more efficient ways of extracting these fossil fuels, rather than transitioning to alternate sources.

Why is it so hard to plan, collectively, for the future? Individually, we might be able to sacrifice present-day luxuries for a better future. Why not as a species?

Or is the question itself the wrong one to ask? Should we not be making decisions for the future? As airplane safety teaches us, it is important to secure our own oxygen mask before assisting others. If we don’t survive in the present day, preparing for the future won’t matter.

To summarize, how much of our thought and energy should be thinking about future generations? What do we owe the future?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? How do you set priorities? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? What is your five year prediction? Ten? What are you saving for?