Right Start Blog

Adopting a "Do Less" Mentality

By: Annie Hasselgren
In a recent "Hidden Brain" podcast, the concept of less being more is examined. 
As we come to the midpoint of our summer, many of us find ourselves torn between trying to squeeze in as much as possible and choosing to relax and be still before the ramp-up to the '22-23 school year.

In a recent "Hidden Brain" podcast, Shankar Vedantam interviews engineer and University of Virginina professor Leidy Klotz, author of Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less. The topic? How the human condition subconsciously pressures us to constantly do more. Leidy argues that the opposite - subtraction - can yield far more innovative results.

A consistent theme of the podcast is this question: Why do we overlook subtraction as a way to improve things? Klotz begins the interview by telling the story of building a bridge with Legos with his son. The support towers were different heights and, much to Klotz's surprise, his son remove a block from the taller tower. Realizing that this was the opposite of his impulse to add a block, Klotz began experimenting with how others around him would respond to the challenge. Reliably, he says, everyone's impulse was to add.

"Our desire to come up with new solutions gets in the way of coming up with the best solutions," says "Hidden Brain" host Shankar Vedantam. If your child is struggling with homework in the evenings, it might be tempting to create a family calendar on which after-school activities, chores, and homework are neatly organized in an at-a-glance format. Instead, the better solution may be to consider how that child's day could be streamlined or "subtracted." Is everything on his or her to-do list necessary? If not, determine how to make room for the things that should take priority.

The interviewee, Leidy Klotz, has a surprisingly simple antidote for the to-do list: Each time he makes a weekly to-do list, he tries to make a "stop doing" list with an equal number of items. Assuming that we are already at capacity, he argues, why not identify things that we could stop doing rather than only things that add to our plate? The balance can be tricky, but when successful, it makes room for doing less in one area, even if you may be doing more in another.

Both Vedantam and Klotz recognize that we as humans often need an external force to see the value of subtraction; otherwise, they say, it is too emotionally and cognitively difficult. But giving ourselves permission to subtract when we are accustomed to adding can be the first step toward a more balanced life.

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