“It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.”
– Muhammad Ali, Boxer
In his excellent book, “Antifragile”, Nicholas Nassim Taleb explains that we tend to be suckers for positive advice, the “additive” approaches offered by how-to books, top ten tips, government interventions, crash diets, medication prescriptions, get-rich-quick schemes etc. Sadly, in practice these “additive” approaches often don’t deliver the hoped-for results, and can even cause actual harm. For instance, in the USA, it’s estimated that iatrogenic illness (illness caused accidentally by medical interventions) is the 3rd biggest killer after heart disease and cancer. So if addition isn’t as strong a bet as we’d like it to be, what’s the alternative? In this article, we’re going to explore the unexpected power of subtraction.
Each month, I make space to do a 3-day Clarity Intensive with a client. This is an in-depth, one-to-one experience designed to upgrade the person’s embodied understanding of life and establish a new ‘platform’ for living. At the beginning, when I ask my client “What would you love to get from our time together?”, the answers typically take the form of a “more” or “less” statement:
– More self-belief, happiness, freedom, peace, confidence, clarity, connection, purpose, security, decisiveness. More money, time, energy, sex, love, visibility, success, creativity.
– Less worry, anxiety, overthinking, self-doubt, nervousness, stress, pressure, fear, self-consciousness etc. Less tiredness, stuckness, relationship hassles, conflict, illness, inertia.
These desires are perfectly natural and understandable, and the client has usually tried a bunch of different approaches already to get them. Inevitably, these approaches have been additive:
– What do I have to do to have more [A]?
– What skill or ‘how to’ do I need to develop so I can experience less [B]?
– What steps do I need to follow to experience more [C]?
– What do I need to remember to have less [D]?
– What tips can you give me so I can have a better [E]?
– What practices should I develop so I’m less afflicted by [F] and experience more [G]?
– What intervention can I use when I find myself gripped by [H]?
They’re looking for ‘positive advice’, additive approaches; “What do I need to add to my life to make me more X and less Y?”
But that turns out to be the wrong question. When it comes to living your most inspired, authentic and beautiful life, the solution is almost always a subtraction. In a moment, I’m going to offer you a simple equation, but first, a few definitions:
Clarity: Mental clarity is a kind of “universal resource” that gives rise to the wellbeing, high performance and stellar results individuals and organisations are looking for.
Capacity: At the level of principle, each person has an unlimited capacity for experiencing qualities such as wellbeing, creativity, flow, resilience, security, love, learning, peace, connection, purpose, presence and intuition.
Contamination: Just as a pollutant contaminates water, “superstitious thinking” contaminates mental clarity.
CLARITY equals CAPACITY minus CONTAMINATION
Clarity is your natural state when there’s no superstitious thinking getting in the way. When people first see this, they typically look for another additive approach, and ask “OK, how do I stop thinking so much? How do I get rid of my superstitious thinking?”
Surprisingly, the answer to this question isn’t an addition, but a subtraction. A more leveraged question turns out to be “What’s giving rise to the superstitious thinking in the first place?” After all, if we can identify the “cause” of the superstitious thinking, we can address that and cut it off at the source! So what's the cause?
A deadly misunderstanding
To answer that question, let’s use physical health as an analogy. The human body has an incredibly capacity for healing wounds, as long as the wound is free from contamination by germs and bacteria. In the 1830s, surgeons innocently infected their patients by operating on them with dirty scalpels in filthy operating theatres (19th century operating theatres were typically so dirty that the smell was almost unbearable). Surgeons had a misunderstanding about the cause of infection, and that misunderstanding gave rise to countless unintentional contaminations.
Similarly, our misunderstanding of the nature of Thought (what I call "the outside-in misunderstanding") – gives rise to the 'contaminant' of superstitious thinking.
Understanding is subtractive
Subtracting a misunderstanding, and getting more closely aligned with reality has a profound effect. Ignatz Semmelweis’ insights about the nature of germs and bacteria have resulted in a 3-decade increase in the average lifespan of every person on the planet. Seeing through a misunderstanding about how life already works has had a bigger effect on physical wellbeing than all medical interventions combined.
When I coach my clients, 100% of my focus is on helping them subtract a misunderstanding; a misunderstanding that has been contaminating their experience. As you start to see through the misunderstanding, clarity emerges and you discover that you already have what you’ve been searching for.
– Problems melt away, as you realise they were non-issues, or suddenly find simple solutions to them
– Peace and wellbeing emerge, and you start feeling comfortable in your own skin
– You start feeling more connected to life, and get the sense that things are unfolding perfectly
– You start having insights about the right way forward for you, and get in touch with that inner sense of direction
The harmful effects of the outside-in misunderstanding are 1000 times more devastating than the combined benefits of every tip, technique, methodology, intervention or psychiatric medication ever developed. Waking up to the reality of germs and bacteria has had more benefit physically than all medical interventions combined. Similarly, seeing through the outside-in misunderstanding can provide profound psychological benefit. And as your psychology is behind all your decisions, performances and results, the impact on your life as a whole can be truly profound.
By the way, I’ve now got a waiting list for 1:1 intensives. The next available slot is in November, so if you’d like to find out if it’s a good fit for you, please email Nikki on email@example.com
If you’d like to get a sense of the impact that understanding the principles behind clarity can have for you and your clients, check out the results people are getting on our Certified Clarity Practitioner Programme. The 2014/15 programme starts in September and the first 42 people have already booked their places, so there are only 6 places left. You can have a look now to find out if it’s a good fit for you (live-streaming options also available). You can get access to the full information here
The ways these figures are presented refers only to deaths, when a more accurate measure involves DALY's – Daily Adjusted Life Years. For instance, we can die from a heart attack, but poor mental health isn't going to kill us directly. But depression causes premature death. By using DALY's we can get a measure of true mortality.
If we do that the top three causes of death are:
1. Heart Disease (17)
2. Cancer (13)
3. Mental Health (11)
The figure is brackets is purely to indicate their relative standings. If current trends continue by 2020 poor mental health will be the greatest cause of premature death in the USA. All these figures are taken from the WHO report below.
On a global scale, the richer we get, the worse our mental health becomes. Taking four divisions of income, lowest first, highest last, the relative figures are 1.8, 2.3, 3.6, 4.0. Truly, money does not make you happy – quite the reverse.
The same figures reveal we have achieved something man has sought for years – World Peace. The number of people killed in war or armed conflict is around one tenth of those killed in traffic accidents, and on a downward trend. Despite what we might think we are living through a time of unprecedented peace.
You might have thought this would have made us more content…….
(The figures on latrogenic illness include 80,000 deaths caused by infection and 106,000 from the adverse effects of correctly prescribed drugs. If no drugs were prescribed then although this figure would be zero, deaths from other causes would be many times greater. Similary, deaths from infection in hospital could be reduce to zero by not having hospitals. The real figure for latrogenic deaths is about 21,000, which is similar to the number of deaths caused by falls or interpersonal violence., so it's still safe to go to hospital.)
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