Tynan, a fellow longhorn, once shared an interesting story on his site. He was at cruising altitude, eating the provided in flight meal compete with fish, vegetables, and other edibles. However, also included in this meal was chocolate pudding. Now Tynan has talked extensively about his commitment to eating well. For years he was a vegan paying hundreds of dollars while traveling to eat fresh, wholesome meals. He didn’t want to eat the cup of chocolate pudding, but the cup sitting right there on the tray in front of him proved tempting to some part of himself.
Instead of letting the tempted, rationalizing voice in his head continue to work on his own resolve, Tynan simply picked up the provided bags of salt and pepper and dumped them on top of the pudding. He went so far as to mush pieces of trash into the container. In one split second the pudding went from tempting to disgusting. He had no more desire to eat the pudding and no nagging left to deal with. In other words, one moment of willpower saved him from needing to maintain willpower over a long stretch of time.
At the end of his post he suggests that there are many other arenas in which we can apply the same principle, so I’ve spent about two years deploying this tactic.
There are many tools that I simply say no to because they require too much willpower to diligently use in the proper way. By reserving my willpower for when I need it to process shallow work and engage in deep work, I ultimately get more done with less effort.
A simple example of this principle is owning and maintaining a car. There are many benefits of having a car to use while traveling around Austin including being able to go long distances, transport large things, and traveling with multiple people. However, the work surrounding a car — filling up the tank, rotating tires, getting oil changes, washing the car, finding parking, paying for parking, negotiating insurance, upgrading to a new car, selling the old car — is significant. That shallow (non-cognitively demanding) work could be organized and optimized. Perhaps you could work out a car sharing co-op in which the responsibilities of maintenance are divided evenly. Or, like me, you could just decide that the work of the car is not worth the value of the car. I’ve decided that for me, right now, in my particular situation with my particular values, that owning a car is not worth having a car. By saying no to the big thing, I don’t have to divert any energy to all the little things.
The following is a list of shallow activities I say no to in order to save energy for more important things.
- Social media. less consumption, more creation.
- Purchasing brand new clothes. less time spending money irresponsibly, more time falling in love with what I have
- Checking email regularly. less asking and being asked, more doing
- Furniture. less sedentarization, more movement.
- Shoes. less choices, stronger feet
- Gigs. less logistics and unloading/loading, more time
- Makeup. less artificiality, more authenticity
- “Networking.” less fairs, more coffee and real conversation
- News. less sensationalism, more age old wisdom
- Animal products. less harm, more health
As I mentioned above, I don’t believe that these activities don’t have potential value. I’ve personally made these choices in this moment in my life because I don’t want to spend effort navigating the nuances of what is possible. I want to spend effort on what I know is important.
By saying no to purchasing new clothes, furniture, shoes, makeup, and animals products I have more money to invest in my business and my health. By saying no to social media, email, gigs, “networking,” and news I have more time to invest in learning, creating, and exploring. By saying no to convention, I invest in myself, my students, and ultimately to the beautiful, radical relationships in communities I find myself in.
I recommend you do have a list like this. Your list won’t, and doesn’t need to look like mine. But please consider writing out a list of what you say no to, or what you avoid, or what you deprioritze, in order to do more of what you do love.