A recent article by Matthew May caught my attention: link
May is the author of The Laws of Subtraction, and he describes the effect that subtracting things from our life can have. Subtraction lights up different parts of the brain, and it feels very counter-intuitive to focus on what we aren’t doing, or what we will not put in our schedule or in our daily practice. But, like focusing in the white space in a graphic or the empty places in music, the change in our focus and perception can change our lives.
I began to wonder what effect this could have on living with chronic illness. Illness seems to “add in “ so much. Doctor’s visits, medications, research, the expectation of new habits – and so many more additions accompany the diagnosis and treatment. At times it seems my patients are overwhelmed with all the additional things to do and think about as they live with their disease.
What could one subtract? Where can ideas, events, appointments, things be eliminated? What is non-essential – or energy draining?
To even shift focus this way brings some small relief. I don’t have to do everything. Just adding in more treatments and new techniques won’t necessarily help.
Take a moment and look around the room. Begin with the simple accumulation of stuff. What can you let go of? Where would some space allow you to breathe?
Our possessions are the first layer. But it is our mental outlooks and beliefs that add the most weight.
Look at your to-do list, and if you don’t write it down, take a moment and jot a few notes.
Now, right next to it, think a moment and then begin a “don’t do “ list. Make it just as long as your to -do. This is challenging. We are so used to thinking in a forward movement, get it done kind of way. To imagine where we are choosing and deciding to leave “white space” in our lives is hard. We believe we need to do things, and we add all that weight to our lives.
What will you not do today or this week? Some of my clients told me they decided to bracket four items on their to -do list and put them off to next week. There was a sigh of some relief. Another client told me she was no longer going to take the drycleaning or do Facebook updates. Small steps, but creating space.
Yet another person told me that she cannot think of one thing to eliminate. Ah – I resonate with that. There is so much work to keep this body together and life organized and supported. What could be cut out when I already feel like a slacker?
But that is just the point – the exercise is a way to shift our perspective from so many “have to’s” to radically re-arrange what we tell ourselves is necessary.
Maybe a nap or a walk outside, or a few moments dreaming while we look out the window will support our lives better than one more hour researching or scheduling another appointment. Maybe not going to see your therapist, or not doing your exercises, or not …. you fill in the blank.. will serve your health and well being.
Subtraction – a different way to nurture your health and best life!
Let me know how – well, maybe don’t do that either!