Big Things and Little Things. Addition and Subtraction. (Weekly Review 28)

In her most recent book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin writes that she likes to take care of “first things first.” By that she means, figure out what’s most important and do that. This sound good in practice but much harder to implement.

Rubin outlines four areas (sleep, food, exercise, clutter). James Altucher has a list (physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health). Billionaire Simon Schulich writes about the importance of both your physical and mental health. Tynan observed this on a recent cruise he took, noting that there seemed to be a connection between physical health and mental sharpness as people get older.

First things seem to be your body and your mind. But how do we do things for those things?

Maybe we do nothing.

Nassim Taleb has a strategy, via negativa – removal for gain. About this Taleb writes:

“we know a lot more what is wrong than what is right… so knowledge grows by subtraction much more than by addition-given that what we know today might turn out to be wrong but what we know to be wrong cannot turn out to be right, at least not easily. If I spot a black swan, I can be quite certain that the statement ‘all swans are white’ is wrong.”

The essence of Taleb’s instruction is this; it can be just as helpful to remove negative things than to add positive ones. We often know that negative things will always be negative, but we can’t be as certain that positive things will be always be positive. And where better to apply this idea than with the big things?

If it’s true that mental and physical health are important, and it’s true that removal is more valuable than addition, then what can we remove that makes our lives better?

Generally speaking my guess is this:

  • Sitting
  • Smoking
  • Pre-packaged food
  • Atheism
  • Non-meditation
  • Impatience

Those are all good places to start to have a better physical and mental existence right? No one would argue with that list. But what a list of things you should do?

  • Crossfit
  • Medicinal marijuana
  • Gluten free energy bars
  • Methodism
  • Negative visualization
  • Hurrying

That parallel list of things has supporters for each of them. I’ve advocated for some of those things. But it’s a list of things that are very specific and may turn out to be wrong. It’s much clearer that walking more and sitting less in incredibly healthy. There’s no such evidence for Crossfit. Ditto for gluten free energy bars, which sound like the epitome of health but are more likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In her book, Rubin writes about how she got started learning about habits; “her question buzzed in my head with the special energy that tells me I’ve stumbled onto something important.”

For me a similar thing happened listening to an interview with Chris Hadfield, who said:

“If you’re not studying something at all times to improve your ability to do things, then why not? What’s the other thing you’re doing that’s more important than getting better at life?”

Sometimes it’s a better course to get rid of things to get better at life. To not do some things is multitudes better than doing others.

What I’ve been reading.

I’m actually unplugged from everything this week, (doing a lot of reading). Per usual, sign up for my newsletter to see the full list.

What I’ve been writing.

See above, though my Twitter account more often shares what I’ve been working on – @MikeDariano.


One thought on “Big Things and Little Things. Addition and Subtraction. (Weekly Review 28)

  1. These ideas make a lot of sense to me. My current experience of the food experiment, aka -whole 30, is making me think more about keeping things simple in areas outside of eating.

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