Loss does not always equate to reduced quality. In fact, the opposite has actually been proven to be true.
Engineer Leidy Klutz’s new book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less extols the benefits of subtracting from your life in order to add to the overall quality. And, this will not surprise you in the least if you are familiar with the mission of living simply luxuriously: I agree.
The boy in high school or college who you thought would go the distance and be your lifelong partner, but one thing or another concluded the relationship and you went your separate ways and began living your own lives apart from each other. The woman you crossed paths with and had a wonderful conversation, even exchanging phone numbers, but she never returned your calls or texts. The former colleagues or friends from previous chapters in your life that you had hoped you would stay in touch with, but over time, your lives went different directions and contact evaporated. The loss of responsibilities due to children leaving the nest or the changing of career paths or retirement. Even the loss of a loved one or a life path you thought would be yours for many years to come, or even simply the loss of a plant you invested much money and effort to nourish, but it just would not thrive where you planted it.
Every single one of the examples above of loss and so many more, whether we choose to subtract tasks from our to-do lists or the universe decides for us, when such subtraction occurs, there is in fact a gift to be found and appreciated. However, due to psychology and societal conditioning, the idea of ‘more’ and adding and gaining being viewed as a positive indirectly suggests that the opposite – less, loss, decline – is negative, but such an assumption would be faulty and prevent awesome discoveries from being experienced.
“People systematically overlook opportunities to change the world through subtraction,” —Gabrielle Adams, professor at University of Virginia’s Darden and Batten Schools who conducted research on the power of subtraction
In fact, the perception of “addition = good :: subtraction = bad” closes our mind from being open to unknown and unimagined possibilities and holds us in expectations and assumption thus limiting the possibilities for growth and discovery.
In a recent episode of Gardeners’ World, Monty Don was speaking about a particular plant he had planted in his pond/wildlife sanctuary at Longmeadow, and he explained that during his first few attempts at planting this certain plant, he thought it would complement the other variety of chosen plants. When in fact it didn’t grow as he had imagined, he attempted something new – planted it somewhere else. Upon sharing this, he said, and I paraphrase, it’s not a problem where he had originally imagined it would thrive; it’s just part of the process of figuring out what works.
Such is the case with our individual life journey.
Over the past weekend, I undertook a task I had been wanting to tend to for weeks, and if I’m being honest, a task I wanted to have tended to seven years ago, but my life journey had other plans. Waiting until I found a house I owned, then waiting for storage shelves to be built and then waiting for my contractors’ supplies and project supplies for the remodel to be cleared out, it was until this spring that i could fully tend to this particular project. It may seem a quotidian task, but the act of thoroughly cleaning my garage which included examining all of the boxes packed away and ascertaining what I really needed to keep – from holiday decorations to past young adult and childhood memorabilia – this act of conscientious subtraction was life lifting.
Knowing what I needed to keep with me for the next chapter as I moved ahead, knowing what I had and what my journey had been, gave me both clarity and a refreshing deep breath of peace. And upon reflection, I would not have been able to make the decision clearly of what to let go without the passage of time and the experiences that occurred during that time.
However, that is not why I shared my garage-clearing-out task. With the unnecessary now having been edited out, donated or cleaned away (i.e. put into the trash or recycling bin), I made my way through each box. and as i did, I saw the different attempts at trying certain directions for my life journey and remembering how and why they didn’t work out, and as well, how I had responded to them. As you probably have guessed, when they didn’t work out, I tried something new, and/or tried something different. Sometimes in a similar direction, just a different route, and sometimes in an entirely new direction, but I took the knowledge of the experience given, and carried it forward with me as knowledge about myself – what brought me calm and in what scenarios I remained calm without hesitation, what riled me up and what excited me, what spoke to my temperament, what rattled me but didn’t others, etc.. All of these experiences were part of the process, and, keeping Monty Don’s words in my mind, not problems. Such information gained helped me find success elsewhere, doing something different than originally imagined which only happened due the route I had attempted not being the path for me.
Sometimes we want a particular relationship, job interview, long-awaited trip, special event, etc. to unfold a certain way. In such cases, we’ve already consciously or unconsciously placed expectations as to how it must unfold in order for us to feel happy with the result; however, by having such expectations, we get in our own way of how often happiness occurs and is experienced. What if that man you had hoped a relationship would have worked out with gave you the best gift of your adult life by not calling back because if he had, the relationship would have held you back, limited your growth, caused you unnecessary pain? Now, we can never know for sure, but oh my goodness, if that was to be the case, all of the negative outcomes happening and unknowingly avoided is definitely something to celebrate. We don’t know what we would have gained when we lose something we thought we wanted. We may have gained a huge headache. So in such cases, the loss was a tremendous positive gain due to the subtraction.
“When people automatically default to adding, they may be selecting suboptimal solutions without considering superior ones.”
Subtracting from our lives gives us space, more white space (as discussed in episode #316 – How to Create a Life Full of Vitality), and such space gives us time to be more mindful about the choices we make, to think with clarity, to respond rather than react and during this transition from a life full of fewer to-dos, we begin to take stock of what is actually nourishing us and what merely has superficial value to appease someone or something (institution, society, etc.) else.
The thought I ask you to ponder today upon reading is the truth in this irony: that there is immense value to be gained when you apply subtraction to your life.
Areas of your life to consider subtracting from in order to add value:
- Daily to-dos
- Wardrobe and Home Décor, i.e. closets and storage — Marie Kondo is referenced in both sources included in today’s post as evidence that subtraction adds value
- Meetings called — if you are in a position who organizes meetings
- Steps taken to complete a task — simplify to the point that retains what is vital and necessary, but no less
- Habits and routines — instead of adding or learning a new habit, why not first see which habits to relinquish
- Diet — instead of complicating your daily menu with new items, why not eliminate what is not positively contributing first and see how your health benefits?
- Budget and net income — instead of trying to figure out ways to make more money, why not figure out ways to reduce spending so you don’t have to work more hours or more jobs?
- Words spoken or written — Speak, email or text when it is necessary, thoughtfully choose your words; refrain from speaking out of habit.
- Content shared — similar to the above, if you are a writer, composer or anyone who creates, subtracting words, ideas, stories, sentences (the power of a good edit!), can create a polish that enables the entire piece of work to shine.
- Goals — Look at the root of your goal – what do you think you will achieve by attaining it – deeper connections, more love, acceptance, peace, time, [fill in the blank]. Only you know why you are pursuing your goals. But be honest and let go of goals chosen that divide your attention and prevent you from being successful at the most important ones that will enhance the quality of your life
Subtraction lightens our days and our minds and gives us the opportunity to explore, connect and discover what truly speaks to us. Let yourself be free of distraction that muddles your ability to clearly know how to live a life of contentment, and discover that indeed a quality life involves consciously letting go of what no longer or never did support the life you most value.
For me, as I shared in The Road to Le Papillon: Daily Meditations on True Contentment, a few of the many gifts I gained by letting go of one of the two jobs I had for twelve years were more moments to savor with my pups without distraction or exhaustion, more moments to catch my breath, and the space to know how important doing so was. May you too discover even more moments to savor in your everydays when you apply the tool of subtracting to illuminate the awesome that does indeed exist.
~Psst! There’s a new addition to TSLL: Now you can explore two new categories to help you find exactly the posts you are looking for here on TSLL blog. Now in TSLL’s Archives, explore Contentment and Mindfulness. I will be writing a detailed post about this news soon (I am still adding past posts to each of the categories, but once all are updated, the post sharing the change will go live), but as today’s post is categorized in both, I wanted to share with you the news. ☺️
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