I’ve been thinking a lot about subtraction recently.
It started a few weeks ago when I noticed, for the first time in years, a slight sense of overwhelm in my life. I’d swapped a few shifts at work that meant I was working for 12 days in a row, I’d just hired a new team member to help with content stuff, and I’d taken on a new role as a physiology supervisor at one of the Cambridge colleges.
Usually I float through life in a fairly tranquil state, but I noticed that for the first time I can remember, I felt the number of hours in the day were a genuine limiting factor. For example, there were a few days where I wanted to go to the gym, but between relearning physiology and working towards deadlines for sponsored videos, I actually felt “damn I physically don’t have enough time for this”. This wasn’t a nice feeling, especially given my hatred of the phrase I don’t have time and general disdain for the word “busy” being used as a badge of honour.
As I was thinking ‘hmm maybe I should start saying no to more things’, I stumbled across these two gems.
By a stroke of luck, Tim Ferriss shared this in his email newsletter
and after reading I felt my chakras align. Here are some quotes from it:
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.
More people die from eating too much than from eating too little. Most of us have too much baggage, too many commitments, and too many priorities.
(2) A passage from Antifragile by Nassim Taleb
If true wealth consists in worries sleeping, clear conscience, reciprocal gratitude, absence of envy, good appetite, muscle strength, physical energy, frequent laughs, no meals alone, no gym class, some physical labour (or hobby), good bowel movements, no meeting rooms, and periodic surprises, then it is largely subtractive (elimination of iatrogenics).
I’m now making a more concerted effort to say no to things. Again, I like Derek Sivers’ thinking on the topic - he writes that the choice shouldn’t be between yes
, it should be between hell yeah or no.
When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” — then say “no.”
I still think there’s a lot of value in saying yes to everything
, and trying to seize every opportunity that comes our way (at least early on). But when we notice the 'internal aargh’, it’s a sign that we’ve taken on too much, and the way forward is to subtract rather than to add. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Have a great week!