“VIA NOE” is a game that lets you survive in the wilderness without any tools or weapons.
“Via Negativa: Addition by Subtraction.” is a philosophical concept that was developed in the 17th century. It is a method of attempting to achieve something without actually doing it.
It’s the start of a new year, and people all across the globe are setting plans to better themselves. These objectives usually consist of doing something new or adding a habit to their life, such as getting back into exercising, journaling, starting a side business, adopting the Paleo diet, earning more money, and so on.
However, after a few weeks of focused work, most people begin to lose steam. They quit coming to the gym, never enroll in that carpentry class, and revert to Pop Tarts and Doritos. Then they feel bad since they haven’t made any effort toward self-improvement.
There’s nothing wrong with setting good objectives for yourself, but they’re not the only method to better your life. Subtracting the things that may be holding us back is just as beneficial as adding something to our life, if not more so.
In reality, following the route negativa — the bad road — is frequently the best way to become a better man.
Negative Via Your Path to a More Fulfilling Life
The term “via negativa” is a Latin expression used in Christian theology to describe a style of expressing God that focuses on what he isn’t rather than what he is; comprehending Deity’s positive characteristics is said to be impossible for humans’ limited brains.
Instead of focusing on what you do, via negativa may also be used to describe a similarly “negative” approach to better one’s life: instead of focusing on what you don’t do, the attention shifts to what you don’t do. This route has two key goals: removing harmful habits and circumstances from your life and preventing negative habits and situations from occurring in the first place.
Downside/Getting Rid of Bad Habits
Nassim Taleb argues in his book Antifragile that the best method for a person or organization to become antifragile (something that thrives rather than merely survives) is to first reduce their downside. The negative aspects of your life are those things, people, activities, habits, or systems that expose you to danger and instability. When you have enough money flowing in to make your payments, for example, debt isn’t much of an issue, but when you lose your job, that debt becomes a huge burden, and it happens quickly.
Even when there is little volatility, though, the downside might be a disadvantage. Consider the debt situation once again. Money that you transfer to your monthly payment may have been put to better use, such as establishing a company or enrolling in a class to acquire a new skill. You have less alternatives in life if you are on the downside.
By concentrating your efforts on paying off that debt, you reduce the chance of falling behind on payments and free up funds to invest in your future.
It’s subtraction via addition.
It’s the same way with money as it is with everything else.
Smoking has a significant negative impact on your health; quitting smoking will give you with more benefits than adding extra exercise and protein to your diet.
Relationships that are toxic are harmful to your emotional and psychological well-being. Simply ask someone who has been in an abusive relationship how much their life improved after they were free of the relationship’s burden.
Eliminating bad habits is not only a very efficient approach to enhance your life, but it’s also frequently far simpler than forming a new, good habit. It takes a lot of drive and determination to develop positive habits. It’s much easier to do nothing than it is to accomplish anything. For example, if you’re considerably overweight, moving to a low-carb diet will help you lose weight, but it won’t be simple. Getting rid of soda, on the other hand, is a piece of cake. Dropping the sugar water habit won’t make you into a trim athlete overnight, but it will get you started; once you’re closer to your target and have gained some momentum, you can begin making more major, beneficial dietary adjustments.
Avoid Making Irrational Decisions
“I’ve lived my whole life by a wonderful simple heuristic: charlatans can be identified by the fact that they only give you positive advice, and only positive advice, preying on our gullibility and sucker-proneness for recipes that come to you as obvious in a flash, then fade away as you forget them.” Nassim Taleb (Nassim Taleb)
According to Taleb, reducing the negative is just one aspect of route negativa. The second component is to simply prevent any potential negative consequences in the first place.
Because we have a predisposition toward positive behavior, it’s difficult for us to see how avoiding the negative is a benefit; we notice when things go well but miss when something awful doesn’t happen. This prejudice is reflected in how companies reward achievement. Corporations will lavishly reward CEOs who significantly raise shareholder value during a boom, but will not do so for CEOs who take cautious steps to save the business from losing its figurative shirt during a downturn.
However, not becoming bankrupt is the greatest way to success in the long term — you can’t earn any money if you’re bankrupt! As Taleb points out:
“In reality, the professionals, those picked by evolution, exploit the negative: chess grandmasters typically win by not losing; individuals get wealthy by not going bankrupt (especially when others do); religions are primarily about prohibitions; life learning is mostly about what to avoid. You may lower the majority of your personal accident risks by taking a few simple steps.”
“It is surprising how much long-term benefit individuals like us have achieved by striving to be consistently not dumb, rather than attempting to be exceedingly brilliant,” said Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger.
Despite their skills, I know a few exceptionally bright and creative people whose lives are in disarray. It’s because they continually making silly, preventable errors. They continuously add unnecessarily negative aspects to their life.
Their lives would have been much preferable to the ones they have today if they had done nothing genuinely great but avoided DUIs, drug charges, out-of-wedlock babies, affairs, and consumer debt.
Allow that to sink in: doing nothing would have provided these folks with a better life than they now have.
I’ve heard folks complain that the Ten Commandments or other religious edicts place too much emphasis on limiting conduct and not enough on encouraging good behavior. However, concentrating on the “thou must nots” may be wise. You’re going to have a really decent life if you can avoid killing people, lying, sleeping with your neighbor’s wife, and being envious of others.
It may seem that living via negativa is a protective and risk-averse style of life. However, by concentrating on what you don’t do, you place yourself in a position to be more assertive in your life. The man who has never been arrested, has never been in debt, and has never been in a bad relationship has more opportunities presented to him, as well as more money, energy, and willpower to take advantage of those opportunities when they arise; the man who has spent his life making stupid mistakes does not. In other words, if you’ve ruined your life by neglecting the shall nots, you’ll never have an opportunity to work on the “shalls.”
Invert. Always Invert, or What Kind of Man Do I Hate Being?
“Invert. Always Invert,” said the famous German algebraist Carl Jacobi, when it came to approaching complex arithmetic problems. Often, the greatest way to obtain insight about a subject is to approach it from the other direction.
It’s the same way with math as it is with life.
Don’t ask yourself, “What am I going to do to become a better man?” this year. “What type of guy do I want to be?” or “What kind of woman do I want to be?” Invert the questions and ask, “What am I not going to do to improve my manhood?” “What type of guy do I NOT want to be?” and “What kind of man do I NOT want to be?”
I believe the insights you’ll get from the responses to these via negativa questions will surprise you.
If you have any dumb things in your life, get rid of them. Reducing the negative will result in quick and visible benefits that positive activities would not provide.
Stop smoking, paying off debt, avoiding toxic individuals in your life, spending time on the internet, eating junk food, and watching porn.
If you’ve already gotten rid of a lot of negative habits (or never began them in the first place), take via negativa to the next level by getting rid of things that may be excellent but distract you from the important things in life. Cal Newport presented an anecdote about Warren Buffet on his blog that demonstrates the significance of selecting the excellent above the good:
“Buffett wanted to assist his employee advance in his career, so he advised the employee make a list of the twenty-five most significant goals he intended to achieve in the following several years. He then instructed the employee to circle the top five and prioritize this smaller list.
Everything seemed to be well until the wise Billionaire remarked, ‘What are you going to do with the other twenty things?’
‘Well, the top five are my major emphasis, but the other twenty are a close second,’ the employee said. They’re still vital, so I’ll work on them as needed as I finish my top five. Although they are not as essential, I want to devote my whole attention to them.’
Buffett’s reaction astonished him: “No.” You’ve got it backwards… Everything you didn’t circle ended up on your “avoid at all costs” list.”
In a recent interview, Steve Jobs stated something similar:
“Many people believe that focusing involves saying yes to the task at hand. That, however, is not the case. It entails saying no to a slew of other excellent suggestions. You must choose wisely. I’m just as proud of what we haven’t accomplished as I am of what we have. “Innovation is the ability to say no to 1,000 things.”
A decent life may be had by removing apparent drawbacks such as bad habits and debt; a genuinely thriving life can be had by removing good things so you can concentrate on the best.
Aside from removing the negative aspects (and maybe nice, but best-distracting activities), vow this year and for the rest of your life to avoid making dumb decisions; when you see red flags waving, turn around and go the other way. If you do, I guarantee your life will be more simpler and full of more opportunities.
Don’t despair if you’ve already made a slew of dumb decisions in your life. Yes, you’ve dug yourself a hole, but the first step toward climbing out is to quit digging. Make the decision now to avoid making dumb life-altering blunders as much as possible. Then, by doing what you need to do to put things right, start working your way out of that hole. It won’t be simple, and it will take time, but there is hope for change and reversal. Many individuals have done it before you, and you can too.
What are your ambitions for this year’s Via Negativa?
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The “antifragile via negativa” is a concept that was first introduced by Nassim Taleb. It involves adding things to your life, and then subtracting them later on.
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