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What I'm reading #19: Guard your brain attic

By Sam Instone - May 12, 2022

When I start questioning my abilities...

I take a break and turn to my favourite books.

One of my favourite characters is Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective brought to life by Arthur Conan Doyle. 

A Study in Scarlet, the first ever appearance of Sherlock Holmes, helped me understand that it's not how much you know, but rather how skilled you are about acquiring the right knowledge, and keeping it inside your head.

Holmes's friend and assistant Dr. Watson wrote something that took me by surprise.

He said, Holmes’s “ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge”

According to Watson, Holmes knew “next to nothing” of literature, philosophy, and politics.

And was also “ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the solar system".

In other words, Holmes was unaware that the Earth travelled around the sun.

Holmes replied, “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it".

He then told Watson something important about how he treated his brain and why he was so particular about what got into it:

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it."

Food for your mind

Think about the world we live in today.

There is so much negative news and useless information through social media and television.  

What do you think that does to your mind?

Whatever you are consuming is food for your mind.

Whatever you feed it today, will affect your tomorrow.

No matter how smart you are...

If you don't protect your mind, you're allowing the noise to take over. 

Just like firewalls are used to keep computers safe - work on strengthening your mind’s defences. 

Spend your time with good books and not social media.

Focus on the knowledge that's eternal, not ephemeral.

Like Holmes’ advises, keep all useful items and throw out all the ‘lumber'.

Make sure it doesn't take up that precious ‘little room’ you carry on top of your head.


“Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these, he has a large assortment, an all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depending upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out useful ones.”

- Sherlock Holmes

Further reading

How should affluent investors understand and deal with risk?

How to safeguard your family’s financial future

What I'm reading #15: A secret to solving the most difficult problems

Goals vs. capital: Are yours aligned?

Retirement planning for affluent expats: The right balance between spending and saving


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