Smoother Operators

The forces of mediocrity prevail because we let our lives get overwhelmed with stuff and inane tasks that keep us so busy that we never spend enough time doing the important work.

We allow the Lizard Brain to keep us from taking risks because we’re too stressed and tired to beat it into submission so that we may be free to invest in big, difficult changes.

We get suffocated by the weight of our responsibilities and the urgency of our time-consuming engagements. Too much information; too many demands; too little time.

Yet we already possess the skill we need to free ourselves: repeated subtraction.

It’s a most powerful tool but it is rarely used because, unlike her permissive sister addition, she embodies definite and often painful choices.

Addition creates the illusion of choice and change by seducing us into seeking more: more friends, more variety, more stuff. But instead of leaving us happy in the realisation of our choices’ benefits, it leaves us bloated, unsatisfied and almost immediately seeking our next fix.

Subtraction is real choice.

Subtraction gets rid of dead wood so that energy may flow to flourishing, productive branches. Subtraction creates visual beauty as unnecessary elements disappear and important ones get emphasised.

Subtraction makes things easier to use as confusing features get removed. It creates more time for good relationships at the expense of poisonous ones. It makes teams work better together as counterproductive roles or negative people are removed from the equation. It helps us lose weight, waste less time, save money, feel healthier and — ironically given its literal meaning — it helps us do more with less.

But subtraction gets neglected because the perception is that it causes pain. It’s about looking someone in the eye to say: “sorry, this is no longer working out”, or it means giving up a comfortable habit or that Thing that we think increases our status. It means making an effort to organise and prioritise.

It asks as to choose.

Subtraction requires immediate change, but its most important benefits aren’t instant. And since we’re not great at delayed gratification, it often gets ignored.

The secret to unlocking its power is simple: start with small, easy subtractions and allow some time to experience the benefits. Then repeat and gradually get more ambitious.

It’s a long process, but the prize is a vastly improved, simplified quality of life.