The Law of Subtraction: How to Reduce Overwhelm

I want to share something with you today that’s going to get you thinking a little bit differently. I like things that get us thinking differently, and I want to talk about something called the Law of Subtraction, not the Law of Attraction, which many of you will be familiar with.

The Law of Attraction talks about how we want to be attracting wealth. But I want to share a concept that’s been written about in a book by Matthew. E. May where he refers to this concept of the Law of Subtraction. What Matthew talks about is that we live in a world of excess. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little bit frustrated with e mails coming into my inbox, and listening to people doing videos and podcasts talking about ‘now is the time to be doing more things because you’ve got more time’. In actual fact, I’ve got less time right now because I’ve got children at home. So I’m getting a little bit frustrated with this ‘excess everything’, because actually many of you will resonate with the fact that you have less time, not more time.

But we do live in a world of excess. Right now some of you may have all the time in the world, some of you may have less time, but we live in a world of content. Social media, blogs, videos, podcasts, memberships, mastermind courses, programmes, excess everything. Excess content. The Law of Subtraction is the art of removing anything that is excessive, confusing, wasteful, complicated. And here’s the thing: this is where for me it’s mind blowing. There are three critical choices that are inherent to every decision that we make in our life, in our business, in our finances, with our families and those three critical things are;

  1. What we pursue
  2. What to leave
  3. What to do.

If you think of the opposites of those, these are the things that Matthew talks about that we rarely pay attention to. We rarely do the second part. So thinking about what to pursue, what we rarely do is think about what to ignore. So we might think about I need to go and do more of this. I need to go be attracting more clients, making more money, creating more time writing more blogs, doing more Facebook lives. I need to be creating more money. But we rarely think about what to ignore. Think about how powerful that is. Think about if you ignored X Y Z things in your life: how much more time you could create, how much more wealth you could create, if you were to just think about the opposite of what to ignore and think about what to pursue.

I like things that get us thinking differently, and I want to talk about something called the Law of Subtraction, not the Law of Attraction, which many of you will be familiar with.

What to leave in vs what to leave out.

What could you do without right now that maybe you’ve always had that you don’t actually really need anymore? Maybe it’s sapping your finances, or your time, or your energy, or your resources. Maybe you’ve had a look at your finances recently and thought ‘I don’t really need that Sky sports subscription, I could make do without that.‘ But we rarely actually question this.

We largely think about what we want more of rather than what we want less of. It’s really interesting. I’m sure many of us are already feeling that things that we may have taken for granted, we no longer take for granted. I’m sitting here already thinking I really miss my Mum right now. I miss my family. I would just love to go and have a hug right now, but can’t because I’m being forced into a situation where I cannot have something. But actually this is an opportunity for us to be thinking about what we want less of rather than what we want more of.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve absolutely loved most of the time having my children at home. It’s lovely to spend more time with them. And yes, it’s been a balance of trying to juggle work and home, but I’ve absolutely loved it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had times where I’ve been pulling my hair out! But it’s an opportunity to think about what you want to leave more in vs what do you want to leave out.

What to do vs what not to do.

So rather than overwhelming yourself with creating this massive to do list with all these things that you need to do right now, think about what you do not need to do. Create yourself really good boundaries; boundaries around your energy, your time, your relationships. Some of you may even be questioning your friendships right now – which of your friends are there for you at the moment, which are maybe not. It really gets you re-evaluating lots of different things.

When it comes to finances, looking at your direct debits and subscriptions, what do you need and what do you not need? We rarely think about the second part, we always think about what we need and want, what we want to pursue more of. What do we need to be doing, rather than what you need to ignore? What do we need to leave out and what do we not need to do.

The Law of Subtraction and You

So think about this for yourself today. What can you remove? What can you subtract? What can you minimise? What is complicated in your life right now that you could actually just remove? Because sometimes doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing. Many of you will be feeling the pressure of I’ve got to do something right now, but sometimes if you wake up in the morning and you feel massively overwhelmed, one of the best things you can do for yourself is nothing.

Doing nothing is sometimes better than doing something. For those of you that are feeling overwhelmed during times of change or crisis; our brain doesn’t like change. We don’t like change. We resist it. Think about what’s in your comfort level. We don’t like anything that makes us feel uncomfortable, but actually, it’s when we start to do things that sit outside our comfort level, that push our boundaries, that make us feel more comfortable. What can you ignore? What can you leave out? What can you not do right now? To serve you and your mindset and your relationship with yourself and with others right now. Because what Matthew E. May talks about is that success is about one key skill, and that is subtracting rather than adding. Think about how that may apply to you in your life right now.

And don’t forget that behind every decision is a set of beliefs, thoughts and emotions. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed the most important thing to do is to get out of overwhelm!

There is an excess of stuff right now, especially online, so take time for yourself. That is the most productive way to deal with overwhelm. Get all the overwhelm out of your head onto some paper. Dance to some music. Have a nice glass of wine, have a walk in nature. Just get everything out. Then you are in a much better position to deal with anything.


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The Laws of Subtraction by Matthew. E. May

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