Boundless Potential: The Compounding Nature of Understanding
4 min read

Boundless Potential: The Compounding Nature of Understanding

A young man looking at a giant stone structure assembling and growing in front of him.

Understanding compounds on itself.

The more you understand something, especially yourself, the easier it gets to understand more of it and the more opportunities you have to increase your understanding.

Let's look at an example to make this idea more concrete.

A Concrete Example of Understanding Compounding

Say you want to understand why you avoid writing a paper at work or university.

If you're serious about this, you'd pick a pen and start writing about it. You'd ask yourself questions like "Why am I avoiding writing this paper?" "Am I scared about writing it? Why?" "Did I have similar problems when writing papers in the past?" and so on. These questions will yield something like the following answers:

"I am avoiding writing this paper because just thinking about it overwhelms me", "I'm also scared about writing it because I could get a bad grade and this would make me feel like a failure.", "Now that I think about it, I was also afraid of bad grades from my previous papers because I didn't want to feel like a failure."

Those answers then return new questions:

"Why does writing this paper overwhelm me?" "Why do I feel like a failure when I get a bad grade?" "Why do I want to not feel like a failure?"

If you are courageous enough to answer these questions they will spawn new answers and so on. As a result, a potentially endless process of inquiry and insight begins.

A Potential Trap of Understanding

Even though being in an endless process of inquiry and insights sounds amazing, it's important to stop eventually.

You want to get a final answer like: "This is why I avoid writing this paper, this is what I can do about it, and this is what I will experiment with to solve this problem today." If you don't stop at a final answer and transition to an experimentation stage, the compounding nature of understanding can become a trap that you can lose yourself in.

You can always understand more about yourself, a problem, or the world. The potential for learning is infinite. But you aren't. Your time, energy, and competence are capped. You only have so much of it every day. This means that you need to be careful not to spend too much time trying to understand yourself and enough time acting on the insights you gain.

A Rule of Thumb to Avoid This Trap

A good rule of thumb for when to start acting is when you've come up with one that has a chance of 70% or higher chance of solving your problem. The exact percentage doesn't matter. What matters is that you think it might work. That's enough to start acting. If you identify a likely solution, note down your insights in a good note-taking system so you can get back to them later. Then start experimenting with that solution. If it solves your problem, great. If not, reflect on the problem and try other solutions that come to mind.

Continue to follow the path that your new insights opened up to you. Dig deeper into the insights you've already had and combine them into coherent ideas about yourself.

The Power of Compounding Understanding

The potential for understanding yourself is endless.

The more you understand yourself, the easier it gets to understand yourself deeper, too.

Once you've gained insights about yourself, you start to see connections between your behaviors, thoughts, and patterns. You begin to analyze a problem and see how it connects to another. This makes it much easier to solve one or both at the same time.

By understanding yourself you create a web of insights that is interconnected and grows stronger the more you understand yourself. The more problems you identify, analyze, and solve, the more you understand your most likely reasons for having them in the first place.

Further, the more you experiment with solutions, the more you identify commonalities between them which makes it easier for you to identify potentially useful solutions in the future. For example let's say, you know that solutions that require a lot of thinking aren't the best for you. Maybe the solutions that work best for you tend to be ones where you get out there and make things happen immediately. If so, you can filter all new potential solutions through your new understanding about yourself. This makes finding new solutions much easier and the likelihood that they work for you much higher. What's not to love?


So, in conclusion, understanding yourself compounds for multiple reasons:

  1. The more you understand, the more potential to have to increase your understanding further.
  2. The more you understand, the easier it gets to understand more deeply.
  3. The more you understand, the easier it gets to use it to create the life you want.

Once, you've truly realized the immense power of understanding it becomes very attractive to increase your understanding.

But, while understanding yourself better is a power available to anyone, not everyone is courageous, disciplined, or curious enough to start walking down that path. But if you do and never stop, the insights you'll gain along the way will compound almost without any conscious effort on your part. And they'll benefit you for years and decades.

That's the power of using the compounding nature of understanding to your advantage.

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