First you add. Then you reduce.

In an earlier post, I wrote how you could discover the meaning of your life by reduction, not addition.

But now I’ve realized the same pattern repeats everywhere. First you add, then realize that addition wasn’t optimal, so then you’ll reduce. 

First you want your calendar to be full. Then, you want it empty.

First you seek out thought leaders and teachers. Then, you take no one’s word for it and figure things out for yourself.

First you believe in interventionism. Then in letting things work themselves out.

First you think you're not working enough to be productive, not trying enough tools or hacks. Then, you’ll appreciate “redundancy” and say no to most things.

First, in public speaking or argumentation or writing essays, you'll want to say more, adding more conditions under which your argument is true, explaining details and special cases. Then, you’ll just make your point and get out of the way.

First you want to make grand plans and strategies. Then, you just wing it.

First you believe your struggling business will be saved with more employees, more features and more funding. Then, you’ll realize mercilessly cutting everything non-essential has a better chance of working.

First, your reading list will be large. Then, it will become narrow.

First, you want many things. Then, you want few.

First, you add complexity and length to seem smart. Then, you realize simplicity is smarter.

First you think everything is necessary. Then you realize hardly anything is.


Note that I’m not writing about the journey from an amateur to a pro. I’m writing about the difference between amateurs and pros. The reductive path is the better path to begin with and you could skip the additive path altogether.

But, it just so happens, most people realize the reductive path is better only after they’ve tried adding. Only after we’ve bought everything money can buy do we realize a detachment from possessions is a better way to reach happiness. Addition isn’t necessary at all - you could arrive at this conclusion without getting rich first.

I tried to think whether it really is more common to first default to adding, and then as you know better, default to reducing. Or whether examples in this direction are just easier to think of (vs the direction of first reducing, then adding).

But I believe we are inclined to add first. There are several plausible reasons:

  1. When we add, we feel like we are doing something. We want to do something because we don’t have the confidence not to or because we need to justify our existence to someone.
  2. Or maybe not doing something seems too easy, suspiciously simple. “Surely it must be more complicated than that”, we think and take the additive approach.
  3. It’s much easier to make money when you recommend adding something, when you make things complicated. Consultants, specialists, coaches and authorities convince us we need to add rather than reduce, not because it is good for us but because it is good for them.
  4. We're used to solving problems in the physical world, not internal. So we’re inclined to take action (for example, post more pics to get social validation) vs reflecting internally to remove the need for social validation. 

So we default to adding. And as with all defaults, we need to reconsider. Whatever problem you’re facing, ask yourself: “What would it look like if I solved this problem by reduction, not addition?"

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