Editor’s Note: This is a guest article from Kyle Eschenroeder. 

Recall a moment of clarity.

A moment where tension untangled as insight suddenly appeared. The tension caused by the stress of not knowing what you feel you must. The release by an apparent answer. Few things feel better. 

These moments have mostly eluded me, especially over the course of the last year. As traditional sources of clarity have waned, I’ve broadened my search. 

Normally, we attempt to achieve clarity through gathering more information or creating a shared definition. We gather information through research, taking action, observing, and reflection. Time creates space for these approaches to compound or interact, allowing an image to emerge. 

Yet there are categories of dilemmas for which no amount of information or special knowledge will provide clarity. These are the topics that drive some of us into extended existential crises. Am I spending my life well? Am I giving my time to the right people? Am I supporting the right group? Do I need to update my political beliefs?

Clarity on these types of questions is rarely accessible through study, contemplation, or experimentation alone. Sometimes external shocks — like a near-death experience or the birth of a child — provide the necessary illumination. More often, however, the clarity we need seems to come through the development of certain qualities — traits like self-reliance, faith, and courage. 

These and other perception-enhancing attributes can enable you to see with a clear lens. One that doesn’t distort or block your view. 

The more we understand clarity and where it comes from, the better chance we have at experiencing it outside of rare flashes of insight.

The Importance of Clarity

Clarity Provides Focus

Clarity is a powerful sorting mechanism. It allows us to quickly dismiss that which is irrelevant or harmful.

It’s difficult to become addicted to your social feed when you’re clear about your intentions. It’s difficult to become overwhelmed by media and options when you’re clear about what you’re looking for.

Yuval Harari, the author of Sapiens, a book that distilled hundreds of thousands of years of human history into a few hundred pages, has said, “In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.” He says his ability to stay clear about the ultimate goal while writing a book is the only way he can achieve that level of clear synthesis. And he’s dedicated to cultivating this ability: he not only meditates two hours daily, but also spends one to two months on a silent retreat each year.

In an interview, Francis Ford Coppola explained that the way he maintains the clarity needed to make the myriad decisions required in directing a movie is by keeping a one-word theme in mind for each of his films: 

when I made The Conversation, the theme was privacy. When I made The Godfather, the theme was succession. And I taught my children to try to know what that big theme is because . . . you have to answer so many questions every day, like should she have long hair or short hair; should she wear a dress or a skirt; should he have a car, or should it be a bicycle? And you know the answer, so you just fire them off. But once in a while, you don’t know the answer. And that’s when you say, well, what is the theme? 

So [the] theme — in the case of The Godfather