We confuse activity with achievement.
Leidy Klotz in his book “Subtract, The Untapped Science of Less” focuses on this fascinating question: “In designing our worlds, why do we always seem to add, but not subtract?” He writes that we often start with “What should I do more off?”
A better approach is to ask ourselves: “What should I do less of?”
We are predisposed to add more — money, ideas, possessions, complexity, rules — but the route to well-being is to take away the inessential. Leidy’s research describes how when we try to improve things, our first thought is nearly always about what we can add. The problem is that jumping right to “more” means we fail to consider “less.” Even when less would be a far better choice.
Our failure to subtract is a root cause; our cluttered calendars, closets and inboxes are just symptoms. One of the reasons we tend to overlook subtraction as a solution for problems is that there are biological, cultural and economic forces encouraging us to do more, not less.
Our physical health depends on us eating less. Our emotional health would improve if we decluttered our minds. We are overwhelmed by the firehose of information that we need to deal with daily. We don’t sleep enough. People are overburdened and suffer mental fatigue.
What will help me to make the most progress?
When we subtract information from our mental storerooms our processing power speeds up, much like a computer where you close a memory intensive program running in the background that does not contribute to solving what needs your attention. It is better to lower your cognitive load in decision making. You will have mental clarity and focus.
Better awareness leads to better decisions. Better decisions lead to better outcomes.
Klotz suggests that we should make a “not-to-do list”. We should rid ourselves of the obstacles to good behaviour. When you are less busy you become more creative.
- What should I stop doing?
- What will truly matter in 10 years?
- What are my strategic priorities today?
You need to be clear on your values.
As far as investing activity goes, doing less is hard, especially when you’re overwhelmed. When the markets go through normal periods of correction we tend to prefer action over inaction. Doing nothing is very difficult, but a “not-to-do list” adhered to here also is the wise choice.
A long-term investor with a diversified multi-asset class portfolio should take comfort from the fact that “rainy days” have been baked into the process from inception. Market corrections are normal and expected, and the solution was structured with this in mind. Activity in the face of market headwinds usually leads to financial self-sabotage.
If you have a long-term plan that is aligned with your values, history teaches us that less is more. Your actions must be consistent with your values.
“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” – Loa Tzu
The above article was written by Marius Kilian.
* Klotz, L. (2021). Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, Flatiron books.
*“People systematically overlook subtractive changes” , Gabrielle S. Adams, Benjamin A. Converse, et al, Nature 592, 258–261 (2021), https://doi.org
* “Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less”, L. Klotz, nextbigideaclub.com, 14 July 2021
* “Why You Should Read ‘Subtract’”, L Klotz, medium.com, 9 Feb 2022