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Success Through the Power of Subtraction

Success Through the Power of Subtraction

Success Through the Power of Subtraction

I hate the word “hustle.” Maybe because I’m a lazy piece of sh#t. Or maybe because I just can’t justify living for the future at the cost of today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite ambitious and future-oriented — I just believe a great future can be created while still enjoying the present. In fact, much of my life has been dedicated to answering the question of how to make that a lived reality for myself and others.

The following will explain a few realizations I’ve had over the years in my quest to achieve more in less time — not by packing my days with more things to do, but by cutting out all non-essentials. I’ve come to see that the path to stress-free success and achievement is one of subtraction, not addition. I believe the following will show you why that is true.

Problem #1: Focus Dilution and the Addition/Subtraction Paradox

I drew a simple diagram to illustrate this concept. Although reality is certainly more complex, I believe this does a good job at getting a basic point across—the fact that doing more can often lead to less progress while doing less can lead to more of it. This is counter to what we might unconsciously believe.

In math class, we learn at a young age that to get a bigger output, we have to ADD, not subtract. More = more. Subtraction leads to less of something while addition leads to more of it. I’m not sure how much of a role this innocent learning process plays in our attitude towards work and achievement later in life, but I’m certain it has some effect on the way we think about it.

When it comes to achieving goals, we’re often better served by taking the approach of subtraction, not addition. To get more, do less. Ask yourself, “what is the ONE thing I could do every day that would allow me to make the most progress towards my goal and potentially make everything else irrelevant?”

For example, when I’m coaching people on how to start their own online education companies, I encourage people to focus on only ONE product, ONE sales strategy, and ONE method of promotion for the first 1-2 years in business. Most businesses fail because they drift away from the essential into the non-essential, spreading themselves thin and reducing their overall progress.

To put it simply, when you put 100% focus into one area, you achieve 100 units of progress in one direction. But if you split your focus between 2 things, you still achieve 100 units of progress, but 50 of those are in one direction and 50 are in a slightly different direction, leading generally to less progress overall.

The more things you add, the more diluted your efforts become and the less time you can give to any one thing. This decreases the likelihood that what you’re doing will have the intended effect.

Sure, sometimes one thing can compliment and enhance another, so adding more can lead to more progress, but you have to be cautious when making the decision on what to add or take away.

That brings me to my next point, how “FOMO” and addiction to novelty make us believe non-essential things are in fact essential and worth our time…

Problem #2: Fear of Missing Out and the Addiction to Novelty

When we see others doing things, we might naturally be inspired to do the same. “That looks so cool. I should do that too!”

In business, this looks like:

Person A is a great writer, so he starts a blog. He’s writing 3 articles a week and is starting to attract an audience who loves his work. Momentum is on his side…_

Then Person A hears about Person B who is crushing it on Youtube. Person B talks about how you need to be publishing daily videos on YouTube to grow your business rapidly. Person A starts to doubt his blogging habit and wondering if it’s really the best way forward…

Person A then decides he should start doing daily videos instead. He puts his writing aside and goes all in on creating videos for the next 90 days. The thing is, video doesn’t come naturally to him like writing does. He’s not that great at it, and although he’s built up a small audience on YouTube now, the audience he initially attracted through his writing has either lost interest or forgotten about him completely…

Months have passed but he is no further ahead. Essentially, he took 3 steps forward in one area only to take 3 steps back in another…

He thought he was taking advantage of an “opportunity” but in reality he was only diluting his efforts and moving away from his strengths because of a “fear of missing out.”

I see this very often when coaching people in business. Because they have such a short-term focus, they want to change directions when something isn’t working amazingly well after a few months. But they just haven’t stuck with it long enough to see momentum turn to exponential growth.

For example, if someone has only made a few sales of their product after 3 months, it doesn’t mean the product sucks and they need to create another one. It probably just means they don’t have enough forward momentum. It’s quite possible that exponential growth is right around the corner…

For example, I co-founded a business in 2019, and we made approximately 300 sales of our core product in our first 6 months. Linear growth would mean making about 600 sales during our next 12 months in business, however, we actually made an additional 4,000 sales that year. Business growth is rarely linear. It’s exponential, which is why quitting out of boredom, fear, or lack of results is often the worst thing you can do.

When you’re thinking about adding something to your life or business or changing directions altogether, consider what will have to be sacrificed. We all have a limited amount of time and energy, so every additional thing we choose to focus on invariably takes away from something else. We have to decide whether that sacrifice is worthwhile.

We should also consider whether we are sincerely taking advantage of an opportunity or if we’re just seeking novelty.

Doing the same productive activity week after week is a sure-fire way to make massive progress, but it might not feel very exciting. If we work only for excitement rather than out of a sense of duty, love, or commitment, then we will surely find ourselves getting bored and quitting everything we start before it can blossom into something meaningful.

What goes up must come down. If you are hoping to get some constant emotional high out of the work you do, you will sabotage your efforts to make a meaningful contribution to the world and find real fulfillment through your work because you will never find a path you can stay on long enough. Excitement can get us going, but it is habit and most importantly a sense of purpose that _keeps_ us going.

Keep your head down and do what you do best. You’ll know you are meant to add something new to your arsenal when the pull to do it exists even in the absence of other people’s influence. When you sit in solitude and let go of all ideas of what you “should” do, where does your spirit guide you?

To summarize:

- Never do something just because other people are doing it and having success. There are a million paths to success. Chances are, the path you are already on or thinking about taking is the one for you, even if it looks very different from what most others are doing. There is a reason you are pulled in a certain direction. Your intuition knows more than your logical mind.

- Never stop doing something just because you’re bored with it. Boredom can be a sign that you’re meant to do something else, but it can also be a sign that you’re addicted to novelty and haven’t yet infused your work with a sense of purpose. Before changing directions, ask yourself why you started in the first place. Perhaps you’ve just lost touch with your “why” or haven’t stuck with it long enough to see your desired outcome become a reality.

I’ve studied the lives of successful people for over a decade now, and it seems that almost every one of them _knew_ they were going to be successful before there was any visible evidence of it. They didn’t know all the details or exactly how they were going to make it happen, but they trusted themselves and knew they would find a way no matter what.

Having a plan B to fall back on means you aren’t really 100% committed to making Plan A a success. Sure, you may need to make a pivot at some point, but what is necessary will become clear when the time comes. If you go into your Plan A already thinking about your Plan B, then you will find it much easier to give up on Plan A when things become difficult. Instead of pushing through and _making_ it work, you will fall back on your safe and secure plan B.

I’m not suggesting that anyone be irresponsible or take massive risks. But I do believe that if you think through your Plan A and make it solid and sound, then there is no reason to have a Plan B.

Success is not some mysterious and uncertain thing. It is very predictable. If you take a proven path towards success and correct your errors as you go, reaching your desired destination is essentially a guarantee. A Plan B is unnecessary because it only distracts you from the path you are on.

People don’t fail because success is meant for the few. People fail because they have patterns of thinking that lead to failure, one of those being the habit of preparing for failure before even setting out for success.

Again, I see this often in the world of business. People ask me, obviously out of fear, things like: “Should I create an online course or a membership site?” “Should I make videos or do a podcast?” My response is usually to ask, “Why does it matter? Aren’t there countless people who have success with either one?”

The belief is that there is a right or wrong path to take. Out of fear, people fail to make a decision or constantly jump back and forth between them, sabotaging their efforts, taking 3 steps forward and then 3 steps back…

But the truth is, you’ll be successful taking _any_ common path to success as long as you _stay on the path!_

Success is a state of mind first and foremost, not an external condition. Trust yourself enough to know that you will find a way to make things work no matter what direction you start in.


To summarize, 3 reasons people work a lot but still fail to achieve their goals:

1. They dilute their focus by doing more when they should be doing less and eliminating non-essentials so their effort yields the maximum results with the minimum of input.

2. They never stick to one thing long enough to see momentum turn into exponential growth. By quitting or jumping from one opportunity to another out of fear or boredom, they sabotage themselves and never stick with anything long enough to see the end result they desire.

3. They prepare for failure in advance. They create backup plans and safety nets because they secretly believe their plans won’t work out. With failure always on their mind, they inevitably create what they’re focusing on.

Enjoyed this? Please share it with someone who could use these gentle reminders. Thank you.

Beau Norton

Founder & Creator