Via Negativa - Addition by Subtraction (not financial, philosophical)

thebrofessor's picture
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wassup WSO, I have no idea if anyone will enjoy this or not, since it helped me I thought it could help some of you. as you all know, I'm not an expert with getting a job in IB, PE, HF, and so on, so I feel like my value here is in the collective wisdom I've borrowed from smarter more successful people my job has blessed me with.

this forum and most advice online is mostly centered around "how to" do certain things like getting a job, getting into b school, picking up chicks, how to dress well, and so on. today, I'd like you to focus on what NOT to do. I've had a suspicion that while the democratization of information is the best thing we've ever done as humans (the internet), there's too much out there. seriously, how many morning routines, "10 things successful people do before breakfast," daily habits lists, and so on have you read? no one with a full time job can do everything, so when life gets crazy, I try to simplify. via negativa is a good way to do that.

what is via negativa? it's addition by subtraction, whereby to get closer to achieving a goal, you first remove things from your life, rather than adding routines, life hacks, or additional shit. the idea has been with us since we were little kids, but it hit me when I read some Nassim Taleb (from his book Antifragile), and while you may disagree with some of his thoughts, the concept of Via Negativa is so delicious I cannot help but share it.

"OK brofessorboomer, what do I really need to remove from my life/avoid in life" you might be asking. some of this will be hard, some of this will be painful, but sometimes suffering is just what the doctor ordered. so, in no order, here's some of the "don't dos" that have helped me, and I think can help you too.

  1. remove toxic people from your life. yes, this includes family & friends. you know that one friend you've known forever but is just a debbie downer? after a couple of efforts trying to have them see the positive side of things or be optimistic occasionally, if it doesn't work, stop contacting them. unlike drug addiction which is curable, this is a personality trait that is mostly ingrained in people. that family member who's a raincloud all the time? sure, you can't totally ditch your family, but you do not have to engage.

1a. what if it's a parent or sibling, brofessor? I literally cannot go without talking to my mum/sis/bro/dad. look, I get it, I'm not saying alienate yourself, what I am saying is create distance from negative people to free up space for positive people. one of my parents is a debbie downer, I just simply don't engage when they go down that rabbit hole. I just say "ah I don't really want to start a complaining session, can we just talk about football?" it helps, trust me.

  1. remove material waste by striving to become a minimalist. no, this does not mean sleep on the floor, have the same shirt & pants like Doug from the cartoon Doug, and throw out all of your TVs, what it does mean is take inventory. how much shit do you have that you don't use? be honest. I have plenty. the first step is to go around your house/flat/apt whatever and go on a rampage. if you haven't worn a piece of clothing in over 4 seasons (not 4 winters, 4 total seasons) and it's not a specific piece of gear like ski pants and you didn't ski last year, throw it away or better yet, donate/sell it. decorations, gadgets, shoes, all of that. purge like you've never purged before, and leave the space empty forever. you can drown in becoming too materialistic, I see it here too much, talking about watches, shoes, cars, meanwhile most 22-24yo wear essentially the same thing, rarely see the sun, and have no time to enjoy material things because they're living in crowded apartments being overworked by no-nut MDs. cut the shit, only have necessary things plus a couple extras, and you'll be much happier.
  2. remove financial waste. not much to say here except live so far below your means your income could be cut by 50% and you'd survive (not be immune, cause that shit hurts, but survival is paramount). do you really need that equinox membership you use 4x a month or would a rec club plus a weekend jog/bike do the trick? do you have a car in a city where you don't need one? for those of you considering homeownership, how big of a place are you buying? is the place you're considering big enough to hold all of your current shit and then some? if so, it's too big. the idea that we need square footage to be fulfilled is completely off base. shrink your footprint, plenty of our ancestors were raised in close quarters and turned out fine. you don't need an office, a man cave that you'll never use, a bedroom for each kid plus a guest room for the guests that never come aside from your mom once every other year, live smaller. furthermore, moving out to suburbia limits your opportunities for interaction and advancement.
  3. remove vices. I'm going to catch shit for this, but whatever. unless you're a recovering cigarette smoker who uses it only occasionally, get rid of your stupid juul. you did it cause you thought it'd be cool and liked the initial head rush nicotine gave you but now you're hooked. do you smoke cigs? stop it. do you drink excessively? stop it. does every weekend involve the same 3 or 4 bros huddled around someone's counter doing lines of questionable coke because no one brought a quality girl back but you want to keep the party going? stop it. not saying you need to be drug free because I love drinking and other vices, but if it's routine, it's not a treat, it's a financial commitment, remove that from your life.
  4. remove politics from your life. do you vote? great! how much additional value does following the news/debates add to your leanings? you likely already have decided who you'd like to vote for in 2020, so what're you doing spending so much time trying to educate others and comment on topics/posts written by other people who are already convinced? don't watch any more political news, don't even do any research until the field is set. do your research, figure out your ballot, and get back to living your life.
  5. remove unhealthy habits. do you play too much video games? watch too much porn? spend too much time on WSO? too much time on social media? remove these from your life, just try, you'll be surprised.

as far as what to avoid? well, that's arguably easier

  1. avoid getting pregnant as long as you can. guys, wrap it up. I know it sucks, but what sucks worse is being 24yo and knocking up a girl who won't take Plan B. that's a lifetime commitment you got roped into all because "it feels better."
  2. don't drive drunk/high.
  3. don't be a cheater, in romance or in business. mean what you say, say what you mean. if you have the temptation to cheat, you're an idiot for putting yourself in that position. I have no stronger willpower than any other man, and anyone who's been married long enough that's not a total dumpster fire will have had opportunities to cheat. what the faithful ones do different is they think about the downside, and more importantly they do not allow themselves to be tempted. maybe if you know there's a bunch of attractive females at a party, you don't drink as much, just so you have your wits about you. maybe you have a friend reverse wingman for you, but the point is you don't allow a short term gain to give you long term pain.
  4. avoid bad health. I have seen firsthand (as I'm sure many of you have as well) the damage a sedentary lifestyle and bad diet can do to someone long term, even with good genetics. it's immensely harder to reverse those impacts than it is to simply have a balanced diet & exercise regime for your entire life. it's easy to stay in shape, it's hard to get in shape.
  5. avoid the lottery. no, I don't mean the actual lottery. I mean get rich quick schemes, things that are too good to be true, and the like. that penny stock newsletter, residential real estate, house flipping, gold coins, hedge funds with unbelievable track records, and so on. avoid them like the plague, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

full disclosure - I'm not perfect. it'd be very easy to find examples where I've contradicted myself. I'm not claiming to be some woke buddhist ascetic, I've just found that removing bad things from your life is a lot easier than finding something to add which will make a difference.

for further reading, check these out
all the best my fellow monkeys

Comments (4)

Dec 11, 2019

I'm a huge fan of Taleb's books, though the guy can be personally insufferable. Nonetheless, conceptually speaking the guy is top notch, ranging from risk taking and enterpreneurship to mediocristan/extremistan and the IYIs.

Speaking of via negativa, I had the opportunity to test it earlier this year. Due to allergies, I had started taking antihistamine. Problem: my body got addicted to them and not taking one every day would cause an insane itch. Given that I had no intention to spend the rest of my lifetime on drugs that quickly, I progressively removed it (starting with one every two days, then every three) along with foods that could cause the itch. Eventually I got off it altogether.

Health and food are indeed the best way to experiment successfully and Taleb is right, don't fill your body with drugs unless it's absolutely necessary to do so.

Back to the other things you mention:
-people: always did that. Everyone gets a chance, everyone gets a second chance, but after that you get nuked.
-unnecessary expenditures: on groceries, car, phone/tech stuff don't buy things you don't need. You can save a 1/3 of your monthly expenses excluding rent this way.
-vices: never smoked. Alcohol was the first to go along with sugary drinks once I started dieting.
-politics: guilty. The problem with not caring is that you end up with a drag queen teaching your kids about the fluidity of gender identity. No thanks.
-other unhealthy habits: agreed. Fellow millennials, tone down social media and videogames. I had to as well.

-sort of disagree on ''getting pregnant''. I'd honestly recommend to have kids in your late 20s.
-if you drive while drunk or high, it's coming. I'm not going to say anything else.
-once a cheater always a cheater. I cut all relations with such people asap. Societies with low loyalty don't last.
-bad health. People will get it when they hit 30.
-lottery schemes: anyone chasing any of this shouldn't be in finance or anywhere some sort of risk is involved.

    • 1
Dec 12, 2019

-sort of disagree on ''getting pregnant''. I'd honestly recommend to have kids in your late 20s.

what I meant was getting pregnant to someone with whom you're not exclusive. extramarital child rearing can certainly work, but when it's planned it's better. basically don't become an NFL player with 4 kids to 3 different women

Dec 12, 2019