The Streetlight Parable

Yesterday, I finally started using my company-sponsored Calm subscription. I started with the 10-minute basic meditation and heard this story:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, "this is where the light is". wikipedia

We often try to find solutions in places that are convenient to search rather than where our problems started. If you’ve ever:

  • Yelled at your family because you were stressed at work OR
  • Built unnecessary features for your app before you have users OR
  • Scrolled through social media when you’re stuck on a hairy problem OR
  • Taken the longer route to avoid someone you’ve fought with OR
  • Acted passive-aggressive towards someone you have an issue with OR
  • Made extensive productivity dashboards to avoid doing your work OR
  • Eaten a whole box of cookies because you felt stressed OR
  • Read way too many books and articles about the thing you want to do instead of doing it

then you’ve fallen into the trap of looking where the light is.

We have a tendency to solve our problems in the most convenient way possible—even when it’s not the most efficient. The problem is that we hate uncertainty so much that we’d rather stay where we are even when we know we’re unhappy.

I think meditation gives you an awareness of where you’re trading time and effort for convenience. Sometimes you need a friend to tell you you’re looking in the wrong place and encourage you to head into the darkness. I’m hoping Calm will be that friend for me.