Subtracting Your Way to Success?
Derek Sivers, in his book Hell Yeah or No, talks about the following mental model for making decisions.
Imagine, for a minute, that your life is on a number line. 0 is on the left. 10 is on the right. You are currently at a 7. And you want to get to a 5. How do you get to the 5 if you are a 7? Can you add 10? 100? No, you end up farther away from the 5 than where you started.
No matter what you add, you can never get to a 5. Instead, you have to find ways to subtract to get to the 5.
Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash
The ‘adding’ mindset
He uses this metaphor to show how a lot of people think about their lives. For example:
- You feel an empty hole in your life from breaking up with your boyfriend. So you do some retail therapy, buying clothing, jewelry, nice electronics, and more, trying to fill that void.
- You are overextended, living on credit card debt, and trying to keep up your extravagant lifestyle. You work hard because you think the solution is to work and earn more.
- You feel overwhelmed at work with tasks, projects, and more on your plate. Rather than trying to step back, say no, or to get help, you decide that you will put everything on your shoulders and plow through it. You work long hours. You develop different systems consisting of notebooks, to-do apps, and project management software to try to handle the chaos.
Do any of those situations sound familiar to you?
What happens if you have a ‘subtract’ or ‘less’ mindset?
The solution often is not to ‘add’ to what you already have, instead, the solution and mindset shift you need is to ‘subtract’:
- You break up with your boyfriend. Rather than try to fill the void with retail therapy, you examine your own life and realize that you had several bad habits, traits, and character flaws that led to the break-up. Instead of trying to ‘buy’ your way to happiness, you take stock of what you have in your life to try to cut out the negatives.
- You lead an extravagant lifestyle where you have high costs every month. Rather than working and earning more (which is still an option), you cut out any costs you can that you feel are not adding to your life. Do you really need to fly first class everywhere? Do you really need that expensive gym membership that you rarely use? Do you need the latest and greatest TV when your current one is perfectly fine? Rather than thinking about ‘adding’ to your income (your lifestyle will adjust to the new level and you will have to work more and more to keep up), subtract your costs.
- You feel overwhelmed at work. You take a look at everything on your plate and decide you don’t have enough time or energy to manage everything. So rather than adding more hours, or adding management systems, you prioritize the projects and tasks, and you negotiate with your customers or your boss to cut out or delay projects that aren’t important now.
What I liked about this idea from Derek is that my (and I suspect many others) default mindset is to add. If I have a problem, I think about what tool I can get to solve the problem. If you feel like you are missing something in your life, no problem, just add it to your life. The ‘subtract’ mindset gives you another way of thinking about these problems. And quite frankly, maybe superior to ‘adding’ your way out of a problem or situation.