Hang Loose: A Thinking Skill with Hidden Power

Hang Loose is the name I give to a skill that can help us manage — and make the most of — large volumes of information. Let’s say we have the task of selecting a charity for a company to donate to. From what we know about the company, there could be dozens of charities that might fit the bill.

At this stage, we want to open our mental funnel wide: the more information, the better. From the charities we’ve listed, we want to learn about their management, their track records, the problems they address, and their future plans. And from the company we’re advising, we want to know its values, history of giving, brand focus, and so on… Our mindset needs to be fearless: “Tell us everything.”

Deliberate Inaction

But what do we do with all this stuff? We naturally long to tame the data and get a feeling of being in control. The temptation is to quickly organize the information, or even begin making decisions — but this isn’t usually the best place to start.

We’re often better off doing nothing with the information except look at it. The goal is simply to become familiar with what’s there. Be present with the data and adopt a completely neutral mindset.

A Tip from Freud

There’s a phrase Freud used when instructing psychoanalysts on how to listen to their patients: “Evenly suspended attention.”  That phrase describes the best way of scanning large amounts of data. We hover over it like a hawk hovering over a meadow—except we have no intention to pounce. We’re just observing.

Scanning data with evenly suspended attention requires some discipline. As we look at it, the information will “speak” to us. It will start telling us what’s important and what is not.  It will suggest to us how it should be structured.  It will indicate which parts we can throw away. We listen politely to all these prompts — and ignore them.  We simply observe the data without reacting to it. Our sole objective is to know what’s there.

The Hidden Think Tank

What happens when we take this approach is that we’re briefing the subconscious mind. We each of us have a “hidden think tank” that will go to work on any question we give it. Our subconscious may take time to come back with an answer, but the value of using this part of our brains makes the wait worthwhile.  We’ll often come up with decisions or solutions that would never have appeared if we attacked a problem too fast.

Hang Loose is especially valuable at the beginning of a project, when we first encounter all the information that’s piled up for our review.  But it’s a skill we can apply during the entire thinking process. We can use Hang Loose whenever we reach a new stage of organization, or a new range of ideas. We hover, scan, and refuse to react.

For example, let’s say in our search for a charity we’ve set our criteria and we’re ready to create a short list. This is another good moment to Hang Loose, simply observing the options without reaction.

Building Information Tolerance

Hang Loose doesn’t take much time, but it does require intention and effort. There’s always an internal pressure to move on, to get the job done, to make decisions and come to conclusions. Hang Loose inserts a willful pause in the flow of thought. It can be hard to do, but the rewards are exponential.

Repeated practice of Hang Loose builds information tolerance. It empowers you to accept volumes of input that most people would find overwhelming. Just as important, it helps you brief your subconscious mind, which can go to work on a whole mass of information while your attention is elsewhere. This can give your thinking unusual power.

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