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  • Cameron M. Clark

Via Negativa - Addition by Subtraction

We all have goals and aspirations for being better versions of ourselves. We want to lose weight. We want to eat a healthier diet. We want to get more exercise or sleep. We want to be more productive. We definitely want more money, and in moments of quiet reflection, we often want to be better in our relationships with our friends and loved ones. Our approach to these yearnings is more often than not framed in positive terms. Positive not in the sense that we are upbeat about the goals or the process, but rather positive in the sense that we feel we need to add something to our lives in order to attain what we seek. We tell ourselves that we will lose weight after we find the right specific fitness routine or specialty diet. We tell ourselves that we will be more productive or make more money with a new computer, phone, or daily planner. And we convince ourselves that we will be at our best in our relationships once we have the right clothes or car, or maybe once we read that next self-help book that is about to hit the shelves. Each of these strategies may in fact help in getting us to where we want to be in life. However, I want to suggest an alternative way of inching closer to our goals: via negativa, or gaining from the removal of something in your life, rather than by adding something. Some examples:

a) diet and physical health: resolve to eat less junk food (try not buying it in the first place... you'll probably find that you won't miss it if it's not right in front of you)

b) sleep: decide to avoid caffeine in the afternoon, and electronic screens several hours before bed

c) productivity: commit to limiting your time on the things you know are distractions (try setting a timer, or making the distractions more inconvenient, or only indulge in your distractions after you've done something that would give you a sense of accomplishment about your day)

d) relationships: devote yourself to speaking less, and listening more (try simply rephrasing your conversational partner's points, which often has the effect of inviting them to elaborate on what they've said, and feeling more understood in your interaction)

These are just some simple examples to get you started about thinking about removing things from your life that may be holding you back in some way, shape, or form. I'll leave you with these two questions to help you generate more examples in your own life:

1) What is one thing that you could remove from your life that would definitely improve it?

2) If each day were only 12 hours long, what would you choose to cut out?


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