In Nassim Taleb’s masterpiece Antifragile I learned about the via negativa, the negative way. This originally was a theological term that means improving life by removing things instead of adding. The learning of life is about what to avoid.
Taleb argues that the best way to become antifragile is to first decrease (or avoid preventively) your downside; things, people, actions, habits or systems that make you vulnerable to volatility and risk. Your life becomes more complicated when you keep adding stuff to it and the solution oftentimes is taking things away instead.
Health is absolute the best example of this, in my opinion. The modern default response to fix illnesses is taking medicines. For high blood pressure we take blood pressure medications. We fix bad sleep with sleeping pills. Having a headache? Let’s take some pain killers.
This is all symptom control that doesn’t fix the root cause and comes with side effects, adding new problems. You can fix most health issues by cutting crap from your diet and finding out what causes inflammation in your body. And reducing stress and coffee intake will improve your sleep.
In many cases, improvement is not about doing more things right, but about doing less things wrong.
— James Clear (@JamesClear) December 29, 2017
Let me give you some more examples:
- If you feel depressed, instead of taking antidepressants, you can cut toxic friends and negative things such as the news and social media out of your life.
- If you want to lose weight, instead of spending hours on the home trainer, you can eat less so your body will use the energy stored as body fat to stay alive.
- If you experience hair loss, instead of buying pills and creams, you can search for the foods that trigger this in your body.
- If you are too busy, instead of start using time management tools, you can stop watching TV, Netflix and social media so you have more time left at the end of the day.
- If you have financial problems, instead of searching to add more income, you can remove all the things that cost you money but you don’t really need. A car, a big house or subscription services for example.
- If you find yourself in a bad relationship, instead of trying relationship therapy, you can end the relationship.
- If you want to start investing, instead of spending a lot of time to search for the best stocks, you can buy index funds and do nothing.
- If you want a better libido, instead of watching pornography in search for arousal, you can abstain from watching it and see what happens with your hormones.
- If you are unhappy with life, instead of buying more things, throw and give away stuff to get more peace of mind.
Your not to do list is more important than your to do list
Eliminating bad habits is often more important than building good habits.
Addition by subtraction.
— Gijs Heerkens (@gijsheerkens) June 20, 2022
If you want to improve your life, do it by taking things away.