Nature abhors a vacuum. If you take something away, something else has to move in to take its place.

Nature also doesn’t like two things occupying the same place at the same time. In order for something to come in, whatever is currently there has to move out.

It sounds like a problem for a hotel manager or the person in charge of freshman dorm assignments. It’s one of the principles of increasing productivity and personal growth: to get something out, put in something better.

The first place to start is with what you might euphemistically refer to as “an opportunity for improvement”. These are the pain points, the low-hanging fruit. These changes have an undisputable impact on our results when we make them.

Take smoking, for example. Have you ever met anyone who was glad they smoked? They might enjoy the break from work or the accompanying conversation with friends, but when they consider the impact it has on their health, no one is glad they smoke.

But it’s very hard to “stop smoking”. It’s a learned behavior. It’s a habit. To stop smoking, you need a replacement habit, like chewing gum, cinnamon mouthwash, or taking a walk with friends. (You may need to address the chemical addiction, as well.)

Many of us wish we could “eat healthier”. (Isn’t that wonderfully vague? No matter what you eat, no matter how good your diet is now, you can always “eat healthier”. Don’t set a goal to “eat healthier”. You’ll never finish.) You can’t “eat healthier”. You need a health plan that’s more rewarding than a Ghirardelli brownie.

What about getting up earlier? You’re making good use of your time now, probably better than most. You could get a lot done in those early-morning hours, though.
Except you can’t “get up earlier”. You have to have something more exciting than sleep to get you out of bed.

You won’t spontaneously get off the couch. Running shoes aren’t going to magically appear on your feet. These are conscious acts, decisions made to enact a better outcome. Why do you want to put yourself through all this short-term pain and misery? What’s the long-term win you’re fighting for? That’s what you have to identify and hold on to. Let it pull you off the couch.

You aren’t going to get out of debt, save more, or invest more unless you have a plan for it. There’s a reason you’re where you are. What is it? What can you change about what you do in order to change the results you get?

There’s a natural winnowing and refining process that happens. In Start, Jon Acuff calls this process Editing. We start off filling our lives with good activities (addition). Eventually, we need to start subtracting to make room for more of the best things to fit in.

You don’t start with subtraction. You have to identify the thing you want to add and use it to push out the less-desirable thing.

Change away from something is hard. Change towards something is easier to make.

When you start thinking of behaviors you want to quit, turn the thought around. What do you want to start instead? How would you rather be using your time?

Question: What will you subtract to make room for something better? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.