To Think Better, Subtract - THINKERS Notebook

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To Think Better, Subtract

Today, I fell into a rabbit hole reading about a topic that seemed to find me at just the right time.

(Isn't it great when the internet meets you where you are like that?)

After experiencing a feeling of overwhelm yesterday, I spent some time reassessing my many commitments and responsibilities.
  • What was getting too much of my time and attention?
  • What was getting too little?
  • What do I need to do to bring my priorities back into a purposeful balance?

It's a useful mental exercise to go through on a regular basis.

I never schedule it or plan for it because I know that when my balance gets out of whack, the feeling of overwhelm will hit me like a bright red warning signal. Then I heed the warning and commence the reassessment.

And do you know what solution I've never chosen? That I need more things to do or think about.

Not once.


Instead, my mind always immediately goes to what I need to take away because, inevitably, during the time period between feelings of overwhelm, I've either consciously or subconsciously added items to my Interest and Attention List. It's just so easy to do.

Our minds are hard-wired for it, and we live in a society ever-willing to provide more, more, MORE.

But instead of the solution being to add, we're usually so much better off deciding to subtract instead.
  • Subtracting things.
  • Subtracting sources of information and entertainment.
  • Subtracting commitments and responsibilities.

Removing things/sources/commitments from our lives can seem scary ... until we remember that the result is more time to devote to the things/sources/commitments that we truly care about.

That's always a major win.

This is the rabbit hole I went down today: learning about the power of subtraction. And I'm excited to share with you the three best links I found on the topic. 

Stop letting the world push you to add.

"The least successful people I know run in conflicting directions, are drawn to distractions, say yes to almost everything, and are chained to emotional obstacles.

The most successful people I know have a narrow focus, protect themselves against time-wasters, say no to almost everything, and have let go of old limiting beliefs."

Read: Subtract (Derek Sivers)

We neglect subtraction by default.

"Neglecting subtraction is harmful in our households, which now commonly contain more than a quarter of a million items. Someone has to organize and keep track of all those juicers, ill-fitting clothes, Legos, and everything else we’ve accumulated. That’s a lot to pay for and to think about, and it represents a lot of our time, time that is only getting scarcer, especially when we overlook subtraction as a way to relieve our obviously overbooked schedules."

Read: Subtract: Why Getting to Less Can Mean Thinking More (Behavioral Scientist)

We can't receive the gifts of abundance if we're overwhelmed by it.

"That said, it is also essential to embrace the law of subtraction. This principle holds that we can ask for all of this abundance, but if we don’t make room for this to be received, the gifts will keep rolling right by us. If we think of this in an everyday, regular-life sort of way, it makes perfect sense."

Read: The Law of Subtraction (Psychology Today)

Quote of the week

"The soul grows by subtraction, not addition.” 

-- Henry David Thoreau