Via Negativa

Much has been said and written throughout time of the elements that will move us to real success. We are constantly beat over the head, virtually bombarded over and over about the power of positive thinking; the value of mindset; the necessity of goal setting and umpteen ways to be motivated.

No problem. They’re all good if you consistently and persistently act on them. But, I’m always looking for more. I am always searching for a better way, new tools and thinking.  I am in a constant mode of learning and sometimes, for me at least, new is old.

Enter the Latin phrase VIA NEGATIVA. The phrase originates from Christian theology but also has multiple applications. It is also applicable to define a powerful strategy for personal and professional improvement and achievement of success, by adding through subtracting.  I know it sounds a little nuts but hear me out. Via Negativa represents a strategy of adding to your life by subtracting from it. One definition I found called this practice a “Negative” way of improving one’s life. It went on to say, “…instead of concentrating on what you do, the focus turns to what you don’t do. This path has two main thrusts: stripping bad habits and situations out of your life and avoiding bad habits/situations in the first place.”

What do most of us do? We set goals, or we create, throughout our year, resolutions that really are things we want to start doing and habits we want to add to our lives. We want to read more books; start a diet; make more money, or be a better person, and then we make a good run at them. But then we run out of steam, lose motivation, go have a big old fat cheese burger and a beer, maybe two beers. You know what I mean.

Inevitably, we get upset with ourselves, become surly because we haven’t’ made any progress and go have a couple more beers.

So, Via Negativa says that to GROW, we must first ELIMINATE bad habits and anything that could possibly create a downside for us. In his book Antifragile, Nassim Taleb says that the best way for a person or organization to become antifragile is to first decrease their downside. Downside is defined as those things, people, actions, habits, or systems that make you vulnerable to volatility and risk.

If your success goal was to lose weight, and to achieve that you went to the gym every day. However, what would happen if after your workout you rewarded yourself with that half-pound cheeseburger and beer? Do you think that you would ever achieve that weight loss goal? You are going to the gym, but without subtracting the urge for the burger and beer, the likelihood of ever losing an ounce is slim to none.

Consider the negative power of toxic relationships. These situations affect your entire being. They effect how you look, act and speak, which has a direct effect on your personal and professional perception. Positive input, positive results. Negative input, negative results. If the only thing that your golfing buddies can talk about is how bad the economy is; or that the government a mess, or that taxes are sure to soar and that the sky is falling, and you’re surrounded with this environment, then do you ever think you will totally achieve a powerful positive mindset for your business let alone your life? Unless you eliminate those relationships and find new, like minded associations and colleagues you’re destined for a life of merely surviving versus one of thriving.  You must make changes and eliminate the barriers to success.

Via Negativa Strategy 1: Eliminate the downside!

Via Negativa Strategy 2: Avoid the downside!

The second strategy is to simply be more aware of the dumb stuff that we can do and avoid doing it. The legendary Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger said, “It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”

Look, the stupid things we do in life are only stupid IF, we do not learn anything from them! I’ve written about this before, but I teach a very simple four step process to use when mistakes are made, or I/we do something utterly stupid;

  1. WHAT happened? Be honest about what really happened.
  2. WHY did it happen? What did I or we do that screwed this thing up so bad?
  3. HOW will it never happen again? What is the solution. What do I need to STOP doing so this never happens again?
  4. DONE, move on with this new knowledge.

With every person or organization that I work with on building sales skills, one of the first things we do is an exercise to clearly understanding and define who their target customer is. And, we spend equal time discussing who their target customer isn’t! In business and life, we can easily live a life of survival because we don’t identify and eliminate those things, people, actions, habits, or systems that slow us down or ruin us altogether. According to an article at, “Reducing the downside has immediate and noticeable gains that you won’t get with positive actions. Stop smoking, get rid of debt, get rid of toxic people in your life, quit wasting time on the internet and stop eating crap…”

So, do something good for yourself by stopping doing things that aren’t good for you! Success could be that simple!

VIA NEGATIVA, adding by subtracting, growing by eliminating.

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