Exercise in minimizing

November 28, 2014 by Joshua
in Exercises, Nature, Tips

Since my posts, “The smallest effective difference” and “Minimum effective behavior,” I’ve meant to write an exercise in using less. The day after Thanksgiving,when people tend to consume more than they want, seems timely.

As usual, the point of an exercise is partly for the immediate outcome, but mainly to develop new skills. New skills change your behavior and beliefs in the long term. So while the exercise may seem minor, its long-term effects on how you behave and interact with your world can be much greater. If it seems minor, you might as well experiment with it anyway since what’s the big deal?

Actually, I’m moving in this direction with my coaching and teaching, and appreciating it when teachers and coaches do it with me—to give exercises and practices that help make a behavior into a habit, or at least to try it. I find trying and practicing new things more effective in changing people’s lives than talking about what the changes will bring. Experimentation leads clients and students who want to change their lives and are willing to experiment to develop quickly. People unwilling to try new things… they’re harder to help, even if they came to me to learn.

Anyway, the exercise is this:

When you use a resource, try to use the least you possibly can while still being effective each time.


For example, in “The smallest effective difference” I wrote about a guy brushing his teeth with the water on full the whole time, even when he wasn’t using the water. The first time he did this exercise he’d use probably one percent of what he used to just by turning the water off while he was brushing. After a while he’d probably be able to drop another ninety-nine percent by not turning on the water full blast.

Speaking of brushing teeth, have you noticed how much toothpaste commercials for toothpaste show using? As a kid I used that much. It’s way more than necessary, as confirmed by my brother-in-law, who has a doctorate in dentistry. You can easily use less while cleaning your teeth and gums as much.

When you wash your dishes or hands, how high do you need to turn the water on? Most people seem to default to putting it on full, which is more than necessary. My mom told me about how on the farm she grew up on she had to carry buckets of water from the well to the house, which led people to use water sparingly. They were able not to die of thirst or dirty dishes.


After doing the exercise long enough to make it a habit, you start defaulting to minimizing your impact: walking instead of driving, turning off lights when you leave the room, taking stairs instead of escalators and elevators, eating less food, and so on. You may find yourself using fewer words to say the same thing.

You’ll probably also notice other people wasting things and the effects on their lives more than you used to—putting on fat they don’t want, losing control of their emotions, not being in touch with their values, and so on. You’ll connect pollution with waste and people’s choices. You might look at a child’s asthma as partly resulting from past generations’ not doing exercises like this, and they used less than most of us do. You’ll feel more empowered to change your behaviors in eating, exercising, budgeting, and so on all over your life. However small you start, its impact on your life will only increase.

While you may say using less water or even gasoline here and there doesn’t change the amount of pollution in the world that much, the point of the exercise isn’t about polluting less, it’s about developing new skills, perspectives, and beliefs.

I predict when you’ve tried enough to make it habitual, you’ll look at wasteful behaviors you changed from with feelings approaching disgust and that you won’t go back.

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