Subtraction can be better than addition

Life is not always all about learning new things. It is also about deleting what is no longer needed.

Things that have served their purpose. Incidents that no longer revoke good memories. Experiences that have long outlived the reason they were supposed to be cherished for. Behaviors that can act as derailers in our future growth.

Just like one does spring cleaning of wardrobes or the house during festivals, we need to look inwards and clear our mind of the cobwebs that have engulfed our thought processes and made us lethargic and indifferent to welcoming new things in our lives.

There is so much of emphasis given on addition – add new skills, make more friends, expand your experience, move places, travel to pick up additional cultural insights, blah, blah and more blah. The world of addition is so vast that there is no dearth of information on it. However, too much of addition can also lead to a sense of overburden and the load can be quite heavy to carry about.

When it comes to subtraction, the initial reaction is that of confusion. Why would one want to subtract or stop dipping into memories? Afterall, we rely on our past to create our future. Right? And that is where we can go horribly wrong. Things that no longer have a value can add no further input for our future journey. Habits that have served their time need to make space for the new.

Our professional environment provides for us the perfect ground to introspect and make a list of beahviour/things that we need to subtract from our lives. Here are a few.

  • The urge to comment on just about everything

When we join a new organisation the urge to comment on just about everything is so strong that we keep jumping the gun. We want to make a mark, have people notice us, flaunt our expertise and experience. 

Ask of yourself – is that comment of yours going to improve the situation? Or are you commenting just to prove that you are right?

  • The need to be always right

Another common feature that one witnesses on the job front. We are not only in competition with others but even with our own selves! We cannot afford to go wrong.

Ask of yourself – is it competition or collaboration that will lead to better results? Are you an expert in that subject?

  • The craze to create a toxic work environment 

We do this by making negative comments about our organisation, our team, colleagues, and even our customers.

Ask of yourself – are your comments going to help the organisation or the person you are talking to/about? Will it lead them to a path of improvement?

  • The impulse to shut others off

You are ever ready to put the other person down by saying ‘No’ to everything s/he says. You begin your responses with a ‘No’, thereby discounting the other person’s point of view and not being respectful of her/his intelligence.

Ask of yourself – is this impulsive behavior of yours going to really prove you are smart? Or does it indirectly say that you think others are stupid?

  • The itch to be ‘everyone’s favorite’

Who does not like recognition and appreciation? Are you the one who all the time yearns to be the manager’s favorite?

Ask of yourself – in your quest to play the favorites game are you appreciating only those who like you?

When we allow the above behaviors to flourish in our professional work environment, we are clearly embarking on a path of self-destruction and not growth.

Constant review and deletion of behaviors/thoughts/actions that add no value in our work and/our lives can enrich our growth and be far more rewarding than addition of any new skill.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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