The Anti-Resolution: The Medicine of Subtraction

Sometimes when we are ready for a shift, it is what we STOP doing that makes an opening for real change, rather than adding something new. 

But how un-sexy is that for a January proposition! The stereotypical New Year’s Resolution is about scaling new mountains – taking up Crossfit, or learning to speak Spanish, or vowing to compose 3 handwritten letters each month to reconnect with old friends – in other words, putting another notch in your belt. Accomplishing something.

In this season of envisioning new possibilities, so often we focus on what we should add to our life (“I’ve always wanted to learn to play the clarinet!“) rather than what needs to go. Who wants to focus on what’s NOT serving you?

However, it is often far more impactful to STOP doing something that has been taking up space, money, or time in your life without any real payback (or worse, a truly negative impact), so you free up resources to dedicate to a new path. Often we must clear the way before we can add something new and have it stick.

Perhaps you have already encountered the flip side of this phenomenon: trying to take on something new in a crowded life, and finding you just don’t have the necessary time, energy, or follow-through to make it happen. This is a direct path to comparing ourselves to others, self-castigation, fatigue, and despair. We end up throwing up our hands – “I’ll never be able to stick to Crossfit – I just don’t have the time. I guess I can’t change,” and we unintentionally reinforce what we DON’T want.

This is when the Medicine of Subtraction can set us up for a more peaceful – and ultimately more effective – process. Now is the perfect time to ask yourself, “What can I let go of (that I do not actually feel good about anyway) that would give me more breathing room, more perspective, more energy?”

Consider the following subtractions and see what they may inspire in you:

  • Reconsider your list of standing meetings or weekly appointments, and cancel one – what could be accomplished outside of a meeting instead?
  • Let go of scrolling social media after dinner, or before breakfast (or at another specific time makes sense for your life).
  • Stop staying late at the office (including the home office).
  • Give up watching the news and skim the headlines instead, or find one reliable news source and stop reviewing several.
  • Look at your habitual entertainment sources (TV shows, podcasts, magazines, etc.) – which is no longer giving you a surge of joy or contentment? Drop that one.
  • Stop grocery shopping in person and order online for pick up (ok, you won’t be able to pick out your bananas, but think of the time you’ll gain!)
  • Stop accepting appointments or meetings after 4 PM (or whatever time you choose – make a boundary).
  • Cancel your subscription to something – an app, a podcast, a professional periodical that doesn’t really add enough.

Take a moment right now to think of something you can subtract from your life, and tell us in the comments below. Then, hold on and resist the urge to FILL that space with something new right away. Let yourself experience the empty space. The energy and time you gain will open you up for something you may not be able to even imagine right now. Wait for the spaciousness to arise and experience the teaching it holds. Happy New Year!

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