Like many internet users today, I often find myself sucked into reading the endless lists that pop up in my news feed. If I’m not careful, I might even end up reading more lists than actual articles. Lists are fun, quick and easy to read alternatives to traditional forms of news and entertainment, and for the most part are pretty harmless. For example, just look at this list of “The 100 Most Important Dog Photos of All Time” or “7 Ways Frozen Has Taken over Your Life.” Both of these are a great way to kill five to ten minutes and do a great job of getting to the point.
On the other hand, however, there is a danger in how we read certain lists—particularly those that strive to take on more serious matters. While lists such as “30 Things You Need to Know to Be Successful in Life” or “15 Ways to Be More Productive” may be well-intentioned, it can be easy to get the wrong idea about what this means for you. Here are a few reasons to be careful when reading such lists.
1. Lists are rarely if ever exhaustive.
Recently on The Daily Runner, we published a great article about seven scientifically-proven ways to be happy. Will all of the things on this list make you happy? Definitely. Are these the only ways to be happy? Not even close! In this way, we need to be cautious that we don’t view lists as an end-all. Just because there are seven or eight things on a list doesn’t mean there aren’t more out there. Often, lists are great to jumpstart other ideas and inspire the reader, but generally only scratch the surface of all there is.
2. Simple does not always mean better.
There are a ton of lists out there that insist that if you only do x number of things, something else will occur as a result. In truth, we know life is much more complex than that, with any number of different factors coming into play. On top of this, everyone is different. If something on a list of “15 Ways to Be More Productive” isn’t working for you, chances are you’re geared differently and just need to try another approach. Don’t be discouraged just because something you read on a list doesn’t exactly hold up.
3. Nothing beats actually doing.
The one thing no list is going to tell you (except perhaps this one) is that reading them isn’t the key. Want to be happy? Want to be productive? In many cases, reading such lists is the exact opposite of what happy or productive people do. They’re too busy doing things to make themselves happy or productive. It can be all too easy to fool yourself into a sense of accomplishment when really you’ve yet to do anything. Be careful that doesn’t become you.