Via Negativa: Adding to Your Life By Subtracting

It’s a new year and people all over the world are making resolutions on how they’re going to improve themselves. Usually these goals consist of doing something new or adding a habit to their lives: get back into exercising, start journaling, launch a side hustle, adopt the Paleo diet, earn more money, etc.

But after a few weeks of motivated effort, most folks start to lose steam. They stop going to the gym, never sign up for that woodworking class, and go back to eating Pop Tarts and Doritos. And then they feel like crap because they haven’t made any progress on improving themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with making these types of positive goals, but they’re not the only way to improve your life. Just as effective as adding something to our lives, if not more so, issubtracting the things that might be holding us back. Antifragile: Things Th... Nassim Nicholas Taleb Best Price: $6.00 Buy New $6.00 (as of 03:05 EDT - Details)

In truth, oftentimes the path to becoming a better man is found in following the via negativa — the negative way.

Via Negativa Your Way to a Better Life

Via negativa is a Latin phrase used in Christian theology to explain a way of describing God by focusing on what he is not, rather than what he is; understanding Deity’s positive qualities is a task deemed impossible for the finite minds of humans.

Via negativa can also be used to describe a similarly “negative” way of improving one’s life; instead of concentrating on what you do, the focus turns to what you don’t do. This path has two main thrusts: stripping bad habits and situations out of your life, and avoiding bad habits/situations in the first place.

Getting Rid of Bad Habits/Downside

In his book Antifragile, Nassim Taleb argues that the best way for a person or organization to become antifragile (something that gains from setbacks and chaos rather than just survives) is to first decrease their downside. Downside consists of those things, people, actions, habits, or systems that make you vulnerable to volatility and risk. For example, debt isn’t much of a problem when you have enough money coming in to make your payments, but as soon as you lose your job, that debt becomes a really big problem, really fast.

But downside can create a handicap even when volatility doesn’t exist. Take the debt example again. Money you shunt over to your monthly payment is money that could have been used for more productive purposes like starting a business or taking a class to learn a new skill. Downside limits your options in life. Fire HD 10 Tablet with... Best Price: $73.96 (as of 04:30 EDT - Details)

By focusing your efforts on eliminating that debt, you eliminate the risk of falling behind on payments and you free up money to be spent on increasing your upside in life.

It’s addition through subtraction.

As it goes with money so it goes with everything else.

Smoking is a huge downside to your health; removing the smoking habit from your life provides more benefit than adding more exercise to your daily routine and protein to your diet.

Toxic relationships are a downside to your emotional and psychological well-being. Just ask someone who has been in an abusive relationship how much every area of their life improved once they got rid of that interpersonal albatross.

Not only can eliminating bad habits be a highly effective way to improve your life, it’s also often a lot easier than creating a new, positive habit. Positive habits take a lot of motivation and willpower to cultivate. But not doing something is much simpler. For example, if you’re significantly overweight, switching to a low carb diet is going to shed those lbs for sure, but it ain’t easy to stick with. Eliminating soda, on the other hand, is comparatively a cinch. Dropping the sugar water habit isn’t going to turn you into a trim athlete, but it’ll get you on your way; once you’re closer to your goal, and feeling some momentum, you can start making more significant, positive changes to your diet.

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