10 Times When Less Is More

less is more

“You might do serious damage to your brain,” my 14 year old told me. She is my nutritionist.

I tried a three day fast. I drank only water and had no food or anything else.

On the first day I was hungry but I watched TV at night to distract me and then I fell asleep early.

Falling asleep is a great way to fast. By the time I had woken up I hadn’t eaten in 36 hours. Then I tried to go through the rest of the day. This was yesterday.

Around noon I had trouble standing. When I stood I would see yellow lights everywhere. Yellow lights, in a traffic situation, mean things are about to change. Means you might have to STOP soon.

Sometimes the yellow was so bright I’d fall into a wall and hold on. Then I’d slide down.

I had read that going on a three day fast is perfect. That maybe you could get mental clarity from cleaning out all the toxins.

Maybe this is true. But at 46 hours the worst thing of all happened.

I logged onto the computer, specifically onto the place where I play chess online.

I lost about 20 games in a row for the first time in my life. I decided I needed to eat.

I had salmon. I had avocado. I had some nuts. Fast over.

I tried it. It was an experiment. Did it work? Did it not work? I don’t know. It was something I just tried. If you don’t try things, you don’t have experiences.

Thinking about things is not experience. Doing things is experience.

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About ten months ago I threw out all my belongings. I gave up the apartments I was renting. I had someone go there and throw everything out.

I gave up my diploma, my books, my dishes, my beds, my sheets, my desks. My 40 year old comic book collection, my computers, my collected animated cels from the 70s TV show “I Dream of Jeannie.”

I gave up my original drawing of the seven dwarfs from the animator of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” I threw out my diploma.

“But you worked so hard for it,” my friend told me.

“I’ve worked a lot harder for other things,” I said. Ditch it.

I gave up everything that the prior James could say, “This is mine.” I was left with two outfits. A computer. A phone. I turned off all email from my phone and deleted all apps except Kindle.

I wasn’t being minimalist. I just didn’t want those things anymore. I wanted to be like a newborn baby again.

There’s a bestselling book about “tidying up” that says, “hold up each object close to your heart and keep the things you love and throw out the things you no longer love.”

This is a stupid idea. Why are there objects you love and other objects you don’t love? They are just objects.

I got rid of everything.

But then I found that I had many more things to give up.

Someone insulted me. I got angry at him. Now I had to give up anger.

Another person I had bad memories about that would come up almost every morning.

I had to give up those bad memories. Another time I was thinking about money. How much money will I make in my lifetime? I wonder this in the shower.

I had to give up thinking about money. I might die tomorrow. And then what? And worrying about money never made me any money.

The most common question people asked me after I threw everything away was, “Do you feel more free now,”

I want to say “Yes.” Yes, the burdens of objects no longer chain me to the Earth.

But it isn’t true. I didn’t feel more free. I just had no belongings or place to live.

I no longer had my Dr. McCoy doll sitting next to my computer. I no longer had my hand-carved Go board. Or the original sketch used to pitch the 60s cartoon, “Underdog.”

I no longer had an address.

But none of these things were freeing. But it was a starting point. And since then, every day I try to be more free. to find the spots where less is more.

10 things where LESS IS MORE:

A) Arguing.

When someone wants to argue with me, I take a pass. I remind myself of this:

My dad had a stroke while arguing and he never woke up again even though he was in bed with his eyes open for almost two more years.

B) Investing.

Warren Buffett says, “The first rule of investing is don’t lose money.” Then he says, “The second rule of investing is…don’t forget rule #1”.

The best way to avoid losing money is to realize you don’t have to invest. You and I work hard for money. Don’t give it to the people who try to scam us every day.

I pick my spots carefully. I used to invest in and out of the markets all day long. I’d feel every heart beat. Now I don’t. Now I take a walk and my heart does what it will. I don’t need to feel it.

C) People you love.

“Love everybody” is good advice. Fine. But this is a bit abstract. It’s not really practical.

I actually love very few people. I gave up on loving everyone. That’s a lot of people to care for.

My first priority is to my kids. And my friends who are closest to me. These are people I love and will do anything for.

After that, I am very curious about everyone else. Is this someone I can love? I prefer that question to the statement, “I love you” about people I don’t know,

Starting with curiosity is, for me, better than starting with love.

D) Work.

When you rest, you rejuvenate. You get more creative. You have more ideas. You read more and learn more and observe more and more time to get curious about people you might love.

These are all good things.

I work a couple of hours a day on writing, reading, and podcasting. But I can’t even call those things “work” because I love doing them.

It took me 40 years to realize this.

One thing I always remember: Anataly Karpov, who was World Chess Champion from 1975 – 1984 was asked how long he studied chess each day.

He said, “At MOST, three hours a day.” The rest of the time he spends with family, or playing tennis, or studying languages.

And that’s the best player in the world.

Why is everyone working more than three hours. For those of us not the best in the world, maybe one or two hours a day is enough.

The lion doesn’t hunt for food all day. He stretches out in the sun. He closes his eyes. Maybe she dreams of planets and lovers and blackness.

E) Education.

I went to college. I went to graduate school. I took 100s of tests to prove everything I was learning. I failed the last three of those 100s. And was thrown out of “learning.”

I use zero of it now. Zero.

Here’s what you need to know in each subject.

The MAXIMUM you need to learn to be good at 99% of things in life:

Math: basic probability and statistics that you can do in your head. For instance, know that 1/3 of 10,000 is 3,333 (roughly).

English: Learn how to read. Because later you might like reading and reading will make you a better writer.

Note that whenever you read a book, you might remember 1-2% of it. If you read lots of books that will add up. But no pressure to remember more.

History: A two page outline of the history of the planet. Because all the books are biased.

And then later they get rewritten.

Much later in life you might want to, for fun, explore those biases and read books about it.

Three good history books I think are worth reading:

Science: Nothing. You don’t even really need to know that the Earth is flat. If you want to be a scientist then learn more science.

Sometimes science is fun. I like reading science fiction.

Art: I don’t know. I never learned art. I’m only starting to appreciate it and read about it now. I’m 48.

In the past few weeks I went to The Broad museum in LA and The Whitney in NYC. Fascinating!

So now I am reading books to learn more. But I’ve never learned about art before because I had no interest.

If you try to teach people with no interest, they won’t learn.

To this day, at every conference I speak at, nobody can tell me the birthdate of Charlemagne within 500 years.

Go ahead, guess right now!

G) Food.

If you eat a lot, your cells get inflamed and this is the cause of every disease known to man.

This doesn’t mean fast (see above). Our ancestors ate at random times. They didn’t stuff their faces with processed sugars 21 three -course meals a week.

H) Fears.

I’m afraid my kids will get hurt. I’m afraid to go broke. I’m afraid whatever woman I am dating will cheat on me. I’m afraid people I work with hate me.

Or…not.

When has a fear solved a problem for me?

Some would say, “fear is motivating”. Don’t be stupid.

Being smart should motivate me. Not trying to avoid some insecurity or fear.

I) Yes.

A “Yes” takes time.

If I lose $1000 I can always make it back (hopefully). But if I lose five minutes, I can NEVER make it back.

This doesn’t mean never say “yes”. But figure out how many more “Yesses” you have in life.

By the time you are 30, maybe you’ll only have time to make 10-20 new good friends in your life.

Make sure you say “Yes” very carefully to new friends. You only have 10 Yesses left.

Same for books, loves, meetings, coffees, everything. Same thing for the messages you send on a phone. To the people you are curious about.

J) Lists.

You can listen to this list. Or not. I might eventually start owning things again. Or I might change my mind about anything above.

It doesn’t matter.


THE ONLY THING I WANT MORE OF:

True joy is infectious. It’s contagious. It’s a virus.

If you always do the things you enjoy then other people will become excited about them, excited about you, excited about the ideas you have

If you want to have impact on the future, bring as much joy as possible to the present.

I wasn’t enjoying fasting. So I ate a dead fish and some plants pulled out of the ground.

And then I won some chess games and watched some TV, went to the bathroom, slept eight hours.

And the next day I wrote this article. I said “Yes” to this. To you.


What are other things where “less is more?”

Maybe: medicine, talking, the middle aisles in a supermarket, drug laws, romantic intrigue, gossip, etc.

Maybe even words in article I write.

Love, James.


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  • Angie Clark

    Never fast if you want Joy in your life. You may live a longer, but you’ll be starving and disoriented.
    I agree that most possessions are not important, but old photos and special keepsakes can provide Joy later in life. Don’t dump everything just because it doesn’t serve your immediate purpose.
    There is a lot of Joy in getting a formal education. I know you won’t, but I wish that you’d stop saying it’s a waste of time. It’s easy to dismiss the importance of an education when you’ve had one that’s better than most. The purpose of learning most subjects that seem useless is they help a young mind to think in different ways. It’s more about learning how to process information, either by reason or creativity; it’s not about reciting the data verbatim. Science and Sci-fi are not the same, btw.
    Continue studying art, even the kind you hate. Art, like music, is a reflection of the time it was created, which reveals more than what may be obvious.

    • Joe

      You fast every night you go to bed, just depends when you break it. Many people report feeling incredible with the 16/8 method. I argue living a healthier life leaves to higher quality. Not “joyful” with you get type 2 diabetes from eating around the clock causing constant insulin spikes (which stores fat btw).

      While I’m at it, formal education is a waste of time unless you’re going for a specific purpose which most people don’t. They get themselves in tons of debt to socialize and play WOW for four years.

      • sebfiedler

        The “higher ed and personal debt” theme doesn’t hold true across the board. Look to Sweden, Finland, Germany, etc. .. all first world countries that provide higher ed for (almost) free.

  • Isaiah

    James- You are my hero. I don’t care about the billionaires. You are the one who has come back from the brink so many times and even come out ahead. Thank you for your blog!

  • Latoya Cook

    K. Social Media.

    Specifically, Twitter, The less I use it the more clarity I have of myself, thoughts, and opinions, (instead of being boggled down with other people’s).

    • Ringo Starr Posters

      love it! well said. i just deleted instagram for this reason. so much NOISE…right?

  • Carl Schattke

    I didn’t remember the Charlemagne birth date. We learn what we care about or what we think will help us later. Names – good luck remembering them unless they meet one of these two criteria. I have that book on tidying up under some new papers on my desk. Funny I think there’s now way I am giving up everything, but you can be damn sure in the end not one thing comes with to the other side.

  • Stimpy

    No belongings, just a couple of changes of clothes? Are you trying to become Jack Reacher?

  • Jolly Lamb

    The universe moves in accordance with the laws of cause and effect, positive and negative, the opposites that keep it constantly in motion and striving for balance. Khalid Gibran said it best in his book The Profit:
    “When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
    When you strive for something like happiness or joy be sure to persue the lessons to be learned in the study of their opposites in your life.

  • RapmasterD

    Please go on 46 hour fasts and feel like crap a bit more often. For this is an inspired essay – well done! P.S. Yeah I want to be Jack Reacher too – who wouldn’t want that?

  • Some things everyone should learn: 1. How to say “Please,”…”Thank You,”…and “Where is the Bathroom?” in every language. 2. Some basic survival skills (how to start a fire, how to build a shelter, what is safe to eat and what’s not, etc.) and 3. How to get quiet and listen to the “whispers” of guidance that are always being sent to you from those who want your life to turn out better than what you could have done on your own. .. Linda Deir, author

  • bluestar

    I guessed Charlemagne was born in 768 – and it turns out I was fairly close. But still, almost knowing that date doesn’t do me a damn bit of good …

  • Tracy Colley

    Higher education gave me a new perspective. I came from a lower middle class family with a scarcity mindset and received a scholarship to a school filled with rich kids. I became comfortable around them and no longer hated rich people, something my parents taught me as a kid. I see money differently than the rest of my family – as a good thing that everyone should have if they want it. I learned a little in college, mostly how to debate, practice writing papers and that the legal system is complicated. The majority of what I learned I don’t use, except the reading/writing/speaking which comes in handy in a lot of fields. The exposure to different mindsets is what I gained the most from.

    • Tracy Colley

      Oh… and I loved the article :) I did a similar fast once and fell down flat in the yard! I am a minimalist with my clothes too (20 pieces, not 2 Jack Reacher), on the bright side I love everything I wear, but when I rip/stain something it takes out like 5% of my wardrobe! I want to be free too and I draw inspiration from your experiences. You always make me think James, thank you!

      • patricia.lawson

        I got paid $104,000 previous year by doing an online job from my house a­­n­­d I manage to earn that much by w­orking part time f­­o­­r 3+ hrs each day. I’m using a money making model I found online and I am happy that i earned so much money. It’s so user friendly and I am just so happy that i discovered this. This is what i did… http://statictab.com/dntj48t

      • I profited 104000 dollars in last twelve months by freelancing on-line a­n­d I did that by working part-time f­­o­­r 3+ h on daily basis. I was following a business model I came across from company that i found online and I am so thrilled that I was able to earn so much extra income. It’s very newbie-friendly a­n­d I am just so happy that I found out about it. Here’s what I did… http://statictab.com/gptmadp

  • Olga Yakobi

    Hi James, I liked the article! It’s sad to hear that you had a bad experience with the fast. I did 3-day dry fast (no water, nothing) and had very good results. Fasting is a complex process and yet, is very rewarding if you do it right. There are several practices that you need to do in order to have the best out of the fast and make it easier for the body and mind. The best distractions from dizziness and hunger are fresh air, light music, meditation, shower, breathing exercises, etc. If you decide to try it again, I’l be happy to share my experience and knowledge in this field. It is much easier to do the fast with the support of someone who knows what it’s all about. And yes, you do get a lot of clarity and you learn to listen and understand your body. Fasting brings you to a very different level of consciousness. Thank you for writing the article!

  • When you said “Learn How to Read”, what exactly did you mean? Are there ways to improve your reading, aside from just reading a lot?

  • Andrew McGovern

    I was off by 716 years for Charlemagne’s birthday. Is that good?

  • J Hu

    I guessed 1200 for Charlemagne’s birthday, I think I was off by 458 years which is under 500 years. Hehe.

  • Mike Kenniston

    Another “less is more”: the letter F. Nicely subtle, leaving if off your list so there’s really only 9 items, not 10.

  • Dominique Natale

    Less is More ! I Appreciate this to the highest gratitude ! This is the place I am exactly in James ! Also just saw your interview I love you so much more your a wonderful person and the mentor for me right now !

    Stating to perfect my stock trading , guitar , music, and reading in the betweens. I really believe God prepared you for something ! Definitely to talk to millions! I also may have a problem I love everybody ! you saying its not possible idk I give love freely ! but now I do preserve and refresh in times that I need to be in prayer. I do agree with you about being smart and not fear. This one stuck with me by Tim Sykes Why invite Disaster “So forget about why there’s a rumor—just get out of your position. Why invite disaster? It could be true, it couldn’t be true—you just don’t know and gambling with low or unknown odds of success will not make you rich anytime soon. Thank you .

    Looking Forward
    Dominique Natale