One of the advantages of realizing that you’re riding atop an unwieldy mass of urges is that you can stop blaming yourself for lapses of willpower and start actually fixing the situation. If you know that the elephant you’re riding gets dizzy near ditches and sometimes fall into them, it’s stupid to berate yourself for not being a strong enough driver to keep the elephant on course as you’re skirting the edge of a ditch. The reasonable thing to do is keep the elephant on the other side of the road, away from the damn ditch! There’s absolutely no reason to go riding right up to the edge if you can avoid it.
What does this mean in practice? I love pastries. Sometimes I’ll see them as I’m grocery shopping, and I’ll want to buy some. But I realize that if I buy those donuts… I will eat them. There is no reason for me to go digging that ditch and placing it right in the middle of my kitchen where I can fall into it every time I walk past it. So I keep going and soon they are forgotten.
It is remarkable how much easier and more productive life becomes when you purge your surroundings of all the things that trip you up. In the world of the internet, you no longer need cable to watch a series you like. This means you can get rid of TV entirely and not lose anything you care about – all you’re doing is removing the stream of passive content that distracts you and grabs your elephant’s tail. In fact, most “stuff” people own falls into this category. Generally, you don’t need it. Every belonging has a weight, it has a cost associated with being kept around. It’s taking up square-footage in your house, it makes it harder to find the things you actually need, and it’s using up psychological resources by vying for your attention. Every single item you own should be paying rent to you in utility to justify its costs. If it is not paying rent it needs to be evicted, promptly. Throw it away.
From a recent profile:
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
Things can be kept for aesthetic value – a nice decoration is providing you utility in joy or status. Don’t let it go crazy, and remember that anything in storage rather than on display is NOT doing this.
When I was single I would move every year. This quickly gets you in the habit of paring down your possessions to what you actually want and need, and it’s less than you probably think. Yes, there’s a tiny chance that item may come in useful some day. Throw it out (or sell it) anyway, and when you need it you can simply GO OUT AND BUY IT AGAIN (or simply rent it!). As long as it’s not insanely expensive you probably saved more in space & psychological costs by not having to store it in those intervening years! If you have a hard time deciding if an item is useful or not, ask yourself when you last used it was. If you can’t remember, it’s likely not worth keeping.
When you have less to trip over you can move more efficiently, and your Elephant will thank you.