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Subtraction

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

Hey friends,

I've been thinking a lot about subtraction recently.

It started a few weeks ago when I noticed, for the first time in years, a slight sense of overwhelm in my life. I'd swapped a few shifts at work that meant I was working for 12 days in a row, I'd just hired a new team member to help with content stuff, and I'd taken on a new role as a physiology supervisor at one of the Cambridge colleges.

Usually I float through life in a fairly tranquil state, but I noticed that for the first time I can remember, I felt the number of hours in the day were a genuine limiting factor. For example, there were a few days where I wanted to go to the gym, but between relearning physiology and working towards deadlines for sponsored videos, I actually felt "damn I physically don't have enough time for this". This wasn't a nice feeling, especially given my hatred of the phrase I don't have time and general disdain for the word "busy" being used as a badge of honour.

As I was thinking 'hmm maybe I should start saying no to more things', I stumbled across these two gems.

(1) A blog post Subtract by Derek Sivers

By a stroke of luck, Tim Ferriss shared this in his email newsletter and after reading I felt my chakras align. Here are some quotes from it:

The least successful people I know run in conflicting directions, are drawn to distractions, say yes to almost everything, and are chained to emotional obstacles.
The most successful people I know have a narrow focus, protect themselves against time-wasters, say no to almost everything, and have let go of old limiting beliefs.
More people die from eating too much than from eating too little. Most of us have too much baggage, too many commitments, and too many priorities.

(2) A passage from Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

If true wealth consists in worries sleeping, clear conscience, reciprocal gratitude, absence of envy, good appetite, muscle strength, physical energy, frequent laughs, no meals alone, no gym class, some physical labour (or hobby), good bowel movements, no meeting rooms, and periodic surprises, then it is largely subtractive (elimination of iatrogenics).

I'm now making a more concerted effort to say no to things. Again, I like Derek Sivers' thinking on the topic - he writes that the choice shouldn't be between yes and no, it should be between hell yeah or no.

When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” — then say “no.”

I still think there's a lot of value in saying yes to everything, and trying to seize every opportunity that comes our way (at least early on). But when we notice the 'internal aargh', it's a sign that we've taken on too much, and the way forward is to subtract rather than to add. I'll let you know how it goes.

Have a great week!

Ali


My new Discord server

It's somewhat ironic that I'm mentioning this immediately after lamenting how I've taken on too much stuff, but oh well - in case you  don't keep up with my Instagram stories, I've started a Discord server. I'm very pleasantly surprised by how many people are active on it, and discussing wholesome things like study tips, productivity, books, podcasts etc. If that sounds up your street, here's an invite link.

This week on Not Overthinking

Not Overthinking is the weekly podcast hosted by me and my brother. If you enjoy these emails, you’ll hopefully like that too. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Castro (my favourite podcast app) or any other podcast app - just search for ‘Not Overthinking’.

Inner Rings - The Desire to Fit In | Not Overthinking

In this episode, we discuss our desire to fit in, to be part of the 'cool kids' group, to be part of what CS Lewis calls "The Inner Ring". We share some instances in our own life when we've succumbed to this desire, and discuss whether it's ever acceptable to be exclusivist in our circles.

My Favourite Things this week

1 - Fantasy Book Series - I finished reading the incredible The Faithful and the Fallen series by John Gwynne this week. I finished book 3 on Monday, immediately bought book 4 on Kindle (for 99p!) and tore through that over the next few days. If you're looking for a great fantasy series to dig your teeth into, I'd highly recommend this one - the first book starts off a bit slowly and it can be hard to keep track of who's who initially, but it's totally worth working through that struggle.

2 - Article - Here's what's happening in the American teenage bedroom - This is a fun read by the NY Times about kids who make money online. I started that journey myself aged around 12 when I taught myself how to code and started doing freelance web design / development stuff, but the hustle nowadays seems more focused on social platforms like Instagram or selling stuff online directly. Super interesting stuff.

Kindle Highlight of the Week

To “what would you put on a billboard?” Jocko responded: “My mantra is a very simple one, and that’s ‘Discipline equals freedom.’” TF: I interpret this to mean, among other things, that you can use positive constraints to increase perceived free will and results. Freeform days might seem idyllic, but they are paralyzing due to continual paradox of choice (e.g., “What should I do now?”) and decision fatigue (e.g., “What should I have for breakfast?”). In contrast, something as simple as pre-scheduled workouts acts as scaffolding around which you can more effectively plan and execute your day. This gives you a greater sense of agency and feeling of freedom. Jocko adds, “It also means that if you want freedom in life—be that financial freedom, more free time, or even freedom from sickness and poor health—you can only achieve these things through discipline.”

From Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. Resurfaced with Readwise.

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Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.