5 Ways to Think Less in 2014
Michelangelo is famously quoted as saying about his David statue that he made it by removing all the stone that didn’t look like David. Implicit in this remark is that underneath extraneous layers, a thing has an essential, irreducible quality. 17th Century scientist/philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Pascal understood that editing, i.e. getting to that essential, irreducible quality (in his case, the essential message) is something that takes time and great effort.
This is a bit counterintuitive. Humans tend to be impressed with “more”–more space, money, bling, etc. But addition is the easiest math (at least in the short term); it involves throwing more distractions and stuff in our lives to avoid confronting life’s toughest questions. What would my life look like in its most essential form? What kind of company would I keep? What kind of work would I do? Where and how would I live? What would I focus on?
For 2014 we suggest continuing to ask those tough questions–to continue removing all that is not David (insert your own name to make the metaphor work). Here are five areas where we might direct our figurative chisels in the coming year.
- Attention. It’s been shown that the more we attempt to multitask, the less we are able to pay attention to anything. Multitasking might even make us dumber insofar as our intelligence is applied to those multiple tasks. In 2014, become a master monotasker. Practice doing one thing at a time–whether it’s work, driving, reading or talking with a friend. Keep asking ourselves, “Am I doing and paying attention to my essential task?”
- Space. We suspect that our readers are better than most in terms of editing their spaces, but there is almost always room to reduce. We’ve seen before that many Americans use a small percentage of their floorspace. If we’re considering a move, we might consider how much space we truly need, not just what we can afford or what other people have decided is the right amount of space for them. If we’re staying put, ask ourselves how we can make the most of the existing space and how we can remove any elements that don’t support how we live.
- Clothing. It’s been estimated that most people only wear 20% of the clothes in their wardrobes. An essential wardrobe would be one where 100% of our clothes are regularly worn (seasonal and specialty clothing notwithstanding). In 2014, let’s get rid of the clothes we don’t wear and don’t bring in ones that won’t be worn. Create a wardrobe where every item is our favorite.
- Food. For many, eating is a recreational activity more akin to zoning out in front of the TV than reading a great book. Rather than jumping on the latest fad diet, for 2014 let’s eat less, but better–healthy, fresh food that supports longterm health, not immediate gratification.
- Stuff. With the holidays over, it is a good time to take stock of our stuff. For 2014, we might continually ask whether we need the stuff we have. Do we use it? Does our frequency and quality of use justify its residency in our lives? If not, can we be willing to let go of it? Can we let go of the things that prevent us from living an essential life?