Jan
07

Subtraction—The Best Way to Change?

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In a recent post I wrote about how I’ve dubbed this year, when I’m 66, “the year to fix—or nix.”

By “nix” I mean: subtract.

Most of us, when we think of changes we want to make in our lives, go directly to addition. We buy a new course that promises the result we desire. We add new routines, new rules.

How often do we even think of subtracting?

A fascinating article by Leidy Klotz, author of Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, explores how we naturally tend to add when we’re trying to solve a problem. He even conducted experiments to prove this.

Taking things away, Klotz’s experiments show, just doesn’t occur to people naturally.

Why is this? One of his experiments points to a possible answer: cognitive overload. We have too many things to deal with at once, and this cuts into our ability to think of a wide range of solutions—including subtraction.

(Sound familiar, fellow Highly Sensitive Person?)

Our minds tend to add before taking away, and this is holding us back.

We pile on “to-dos” but don’t consider “stop-doings.” We create incentives for good behavior, but don’t get rid of obstacles to it. We collect new-and-improved ideas, but don’t prune the outdated ones. Every day, across challenges big and small, we neglect a basic way to make things better: we don’t subtract.

Thus we get houses with more stuff than we can manage (and studies have shown that clutter increases cortisol levels—bad for our health). We get institutions bogged down by more and more rules and regulations. Children get more rules, grown-ups deal with federal regulations that are 20 times as long as they were in 1950. (And what about all the rules added since the pandemic? Time to subtract—yes, yes and YES!)

Whatever you’re hoping to change in 2023, consider how subtraction plays in. Apparently it’s not as natural to think of (or implement) than adding, but could that be due more to culture than nature? Leidy Klotz’s two-year-old son solved a Lego problem by taking something away; Leidy only thought of adding.

Could it be our culture of “fast, more, be productive” is what keeps our brains from considering subtraction?

(I see the inclination to add in myself a lot. For instance, in thinking about this topic, I’m tempted to get minimalist expert Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered course. But—would that be adding something that would take more time, when I could be using that time to do the actual decluttering—the subtracting? There’s proof right there that my natural tendency is to add….)

At least now I’m aware that I automatically think of adding, and it often doesn’t occur to me to subtract. Awareness leads to new options, to choice.

Perhaps we shut off the idea of subtraction because we unconsciously equate it with loss. But is it loss if we consciously choose it? It doesn’t feel like loss to me when I choose to let something go. At least, there’s a counter-balancing reason to let it go that’s greater than the urge to keep it.

As I’ve pondered this in the dead of winter, I realize: subtracting should not be any big insight, nor does it have to be seen as loss. Every fall, much in nature is subtracted: the leaves on the trees, green grass, flowers. Every year, at least those of us with four seasons get a reminder that in order to replenish, we must subtract and allow things to lie fallow for a while.

If you’re a gardener, you know it’s important to prune, to deadhead, if you want fruit and blooms.

Nature renews itself through subtraction.

And so can we. We can choose nature over culture. We can prune to promote growth and renewal.

If you are longing for renewal, for a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment in 2023, contact me (diane at healingcodescoaching.com) and we’ll set up an appointment to explore how you can heal your heart issues and Align with Your Divine DesignTM for a sense of purpose, connection, and better overall health.

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