It’s 12AM. You’ve been drinking for a few hours. You feel good. The party isn’t stopping anytime soon. Neither are you.
It’s 4AM. You look at your pyramid of empty beer cans and the empty bottles of tequila. You think to yourself, “Geez. I drank a lot. But I’m sill feeling good. Awesome.”
Yet as soon as you flop down into bed, the entire room twists around you. You feel like you’re being sucked into a void. You have, what my good friend Bobby calls, the whirlies.
Do whatever it takes to stay awake when you have the whirlies. Get up. Walk around. Tell someone to punch you in the face. These strategies only work 33% of the time though. The other 66% of the time, you’re so drunk you can’t even feel the cold touch of a Sharpie on your cheek.
You wake up with a hangover and think, “This is awful. I need to do something. Slam down fatty breakfast foods? Chuck back a bottle of painkillers? Something. Anything.”
The logic is as follows…
First, there’s a problem. Something you want fixed. Something you want changed. Second, you think, “What do I need to ADD in order to solve the problem?”
This logic isn’t isolated.
- Fat? What supplements should I take?
- Sick? What medicine should I take?
- Weak? What exercise should I do?
- Bad posture? What stretches should I do?
- Sad? What kind of alcohol should I drink?
- Injured? What kind of brace should I wear?
- Tired? What form of caffeine should I consume?
Maybe there’s some deep biological wiring pushing us towards solution by addition. Maybe it’s consumerist beauty culture and the idea that, well, you aren’t enough and, with our product, you can feel whole.
But what if there was a better way?
What if solution by addition only made the problem worse?
The n-body problem
You might know of the n-body problem. If not, don’t wet yourself. It’s simple. The n-body problem goes like this: problems with two variables are simple, but once you add a third you might as well shove a toenail in your eye.
Adding variables makes things more confusing, and more confusing things tend to lead to more problems. Perhaps the scariest examples being forms of iatrogenics, which are problems caused by medical interventions.
Get surgery, get a sponge left inside of your body. Get prescribed sixteen drugs, six of which conflict with each other. Go to a chiropractor and listen any single word that comes out of his or her mouth.
It’s one thing to absolutely need medical attention, like, Oh no there’s a toenail stuck in my eye. The upsides of the situation outweighing the potential iatrogenic downsides.
But a lot of medical interventions aren’t emergency situations. A lot of surgery is elective. A lot of surgery is avoidable. Back surgeries? Hip replacements? Liposuction?
Culture says little about prevention, which usually requires via negativa, otherwise said: living by way of denial.
A lot of problems can be solved by eliminating rather than adding.
Instead of thinking about what exercises to start doing, think about which foods to stop eating.
Instead of thinking about what mobility drills to start doing, think about what positions you’re in that are killing your posture to begin with.
Instead of thinking about what form of caffeine to consume, think about what you can stop doing that’s preventing a good night’s sleep.
Instead of thinking about the next planner app, think about the ability to eliminating thoughts from your brain (meditate).
Instead of thinking about what brace to wear, think about eliminating the movements casing you pain. (But don’t just cast a phoenix down.)
We should expand the definition of iatrogenics: an unnecessary addition, especially when a subtraction would be safer (and potentially more effective).
Now, this isn’t to say all addition is evil. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to exercise if you’re trying to build a better body. It’s necessary if you want any semblance of muscle mass.
But when you add things to your life, you add potential complications. Strength training is necessary if you want to build muscle, but it takes time. You need the motivation to train. You need attention to technique and readiness to prevent injuries. You need…
Solution by subtraction
Shampooed and conditioned my hair, as you can tell. You gotta’ condition your hair cause…everyone else does.
Someone told me the reason we’re supposed to condition our hair is ’cause we shampoo our hair too often. So instead of using one product less often, we just added another product.
Yah my wife didn’t like me drinking beer every night and so make her feel better I started drinking beer and whiskey. Maybe that’ll get her off my back.
-Jim Gaffigan, Obsessed