For many people, a good life is about more.
More stuff. More things to do. More friends. More of everything.
For me, a good life is about less.
I moved from a big house into a small apartment. In the process, I donated or threw away many of the things I owned. I even donated my car – my wife and I just share one together.
I’ve cut out a lot of media. Other than a few shows, I don’t watch any cable TV. I’ve tried to cut time spent on my smartphone, especially to check Twitter and email. I deleted my Facebook app completely so I rarely check it.
This year I’ve even experimented with cutting out alcohol; I haven’t had a single drop since the beginning of the year – I actually really love it and I’m considering making this a permanent change.
But it’s more than that.
I’ve cleared my mind of negative thinking and excuses (I’m working on complaining).
I’ve also cut toxic friends out of my life. Some have been friends for years which made it quite a difficult decision despite their negativity and destructive behavior.
Each step of the way, I made a conscious effort to cut out something that no longer fit what I wanted my life to be about.
The funny thing is that as I’ve continued to make these cuts, I’ve noticed quite the paradox:
The more things I cut out of my life, the bigger and grander it becomes.
If Less Is More Than More Is Less
Our lives are essentially built around limitations.
- There are only so many things we can focus our attention on.
- Our mental capacity and information-processing is limited.
- We have a limited amount of tasks we can do every day.
- Our discipline and willpower isn’t endless.
- Then there’s time: we only get 24 hours a day – no matter what.
I’ve started to treat these limitations as they should be: valuable resources. If something is wasting one of them, I want to cut it out.
If it doesn’t improve life and isn’t important in some way, it just takes up valuable energy or time as excess – that’s space you could be using on something that truly matters.
Think of it this way.
Your life is like a cup of water. You can keep filling it up and up as much as you want, but eventually it will start to overflow. Whether it’s time, energy or focus, eventually your limits come into play and you can’t add any more to the cup – something will spill over and get lost in the process.
By trying to fill your cup with more, you’ll actually end up spilling some off the sides and getting less.
The trick is to look at the contents of the cup directly. Is all the water in there necessary?
Some of it might be dirty or tainted (things like negative thinking or toxic friends)
Some of it might be easily taken out to make room (time-wasting activities and tasks)
Some of it might be another liquid other than water (unnecessary distractions like checking email and Facebook or general clutter around the house)
Little by little, the excess water is taken out to make room. The cup can’t get larger, but you can make it seem larger simply by getting rid of the excess.
A Life Weighed Down With Excess
Some of the most successful people on the planet have already been adopting this idea of getting rid of excess to get more out of life.
For example, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Einstein all cut down their wardrobe to one or two outfits so they had one less decision to make every day. Einstein argued that his brainpower and focus would be better spent elsewhere.
As it turns out, our decision-making ability can be weakened in a process known as “decision fatigue”. We may start off making good decisions, but if you make too many, you start to get bad at it. By cutting out excess decisions such as what to wear, you increase your ability to make better ones elsewhere..
It’s for this same reason that successful lawyers and businessmen delegate tasks to junior associates. They want to get rid of the excess tasks so they can focus their valuable time and energy on the things that matter most.
You Decide What Excess Is
Don’t get me wrong about this post. I’m not advocating that you should move out of your home or eliminate alcohol or TV. Just because these are things that I don’t want anymore, doesn’t mean that you don’t want them.
The point of this post is to get you thinking about what you’re filling your life with and deciding if it’s excess that could be eliminated. Start asking these questions:
Are there some things I can cut out to make room for the life I want?
What low-value tasks or activities are taking up my time that I can eliminate?
Are there toxic friends or thoughts I could get rid of?
What you decide is excess is up to you.
But by filling our lives with unnecessary busy-ness, distractions, tasks and clutter, we’re expending too much of our personal resources. That’s space we could be using to live the lives we actually want.
The best part about it is that by getting rid of the excess, you’ll find a renewed focus to your life. There will be more time and energy to spend on the things that matter most to you.
Many of us are already living a good life, but it’s covered up with a lot of unnecessary junk. By getting rid of the excess, you allow the life you want to expand.
photo credit: Chechi Peinado