Recently, I had two exchanges with family members that did not go particularly well. Both were spurred on by trying to refute or debate claims fueled by divisive media outlets. Since the election, I have largely tuned out of political shows, but like Michael Corleone says in the Godfather, “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in!”
I called one of them the following day and posed this simple question: “Does watching political shows bring you any joy?” The answer to which was a quick no. I replied with, “Does it bring you any happiness?” Again, a quick no. Finally I asked, “Then why do you spend so much time each week watching it?”
It is a question we could ask ourselves about various parts of our lives.
When confronted with a problem, our natural solution tendency is to add something. If we’re feeling disorganized, we go to the container store to buy some sought-after organizing product. If we’re not feeling productive, we add a productivity app to our phone. Don’t like the clothes in our closets, we buy new ones. If we’re frustrated with our politics, we watch shows that make us more frustrated
This plays out not just individually but societally. We start new organizations to address old problems. Draft new legislation or regulation to solve social issues.
In short, in private and public, we have what Leidy Klotz calls an Addition Bias.
His new book, Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, makes a compelling case that we often leave an important tool for change in the tool box.
Bringing more subtraction into your life, means improving productivity by focusing on fewer things on your to-do list or getting rid of clothes you don’t like in your closet so you can see the ones you do more easily. It is looking to remove policies that do harm before adding more to contend with. And it is reducing the time we spend doing things that make us frustrated or angry.
We can all feel at times like we are weighed down – the load we are carrying is simply too much. The responsibilities, the activities, the cognitive load of trying to manage it all can be overwhelming. We feel this weight in our shoulders and in our psyche. This weight keeps us from rising up to enjoy what life has to offer.
Often we are the beasts that create our own burdens.
I’m not trying to be glib and suggest we should just subtract everything we don’t like out of our lives. Responsibilities are real. We all have things we just need to do – for ourselves or for our families. What I am suggesting is that our natural tendency to add means that we often leave a simpler solution – to subtract – on the sidelines.
So next time you’re confronted with a problem, pause and just ask yourself if maybe less can lead to more.