Sherlock Holmes is one of my heroes. I ‘m fascinated by stories with idiosyncratic characters. When I first read A Study in Scarlet, a previously unformed notion became crystallised in my mind, specifically, from Dr Watson ‘s first impressions of the world ‘s greatest detective.

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found out accidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory of the composite of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
You appear to be astonished, he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. Now that I know it I shall do my best to forget it.
To forget it!
You see, he explained, 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 eh comes across, so that the knowledge that might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at least get jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has difficulty laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools that may help him doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and 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. Depend 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.
But the Solar System! I protested.
What the deuce is it to me? he interrupted impatiently; you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.

The first use I made of this text in my training career was to do with the subject of memory improvement. I loved Holmes ‘ view of memory as an attic with limited space. This is one of the main metaphors psychologists have employed to try and understand what the memory is like. (In addition, memory has been likened to a muscle or a computer.)

In fact, one of the standard memory techniques is based on this picture. It ‘s called the loci or ‘place ‘ method. It requires you to put memories into familiar places or rooms in your mind. So, first you commit several familiar locations to memory, and then you imagine objects in each location.

That aside, it is Holmes ‘ attitude that I ‘ve adopted. It has become a war-cry in various situations:

What is that to me or my work?

When demands are made on my memory, it serves as a failsafe filter:

ÔÇß the names of famous footballers ‘ children
ÔÇß the wedding plans of the latest Z-lister (no, don ‘t tell me)
ÔÇß gossip about far distant acquaintances I neither know nor care about
ÔÇß how colleagues spent their drunken weekends
ÔÇß about 90% of what they told me in school
ÔÇß the careers of my neighbours ‘ (inevitably genius) offspring
ÔÇß the plight of whales, dolphins and foxes
ÔÇß what politicians look like or who they are married to

The list could go on. You get the idea.

It ‘s a criterion to save you from ‘information overload ‘ and ‘decision stress ‘. I thoroughly recommend The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz.

These days we ‘re told that everything is interconnected and so we must know about and care for everything and everyone. This is impossible unless you are God or Bono. The mental mess and emotional stress is too much for mere mortals. I ‘d rather learn about things that matter in my area of concern or influence and then do something about it.

And the rest? Take the advice of Sherlock Holmes.