9 Times When Less Is More


“You might do serious damage to your brain,” my 14 year old told me. She is my nutritionist.

I tried a three day fast. I drank only water and had no food or anything else.

On the first day I was hungry but I watched TV at night to distract me and then I fell asleep early.

Falling asleep is a great way to fast. By the time I had woken up I hadn’t eaten in 36 hours. Then I tried to go through the rest of the day. This was yesterday.

Around noon I had trouble standing. When I stood I would see yellow lights everywhere. Yellow lights, in a traffic situation, mean things are about to change. Means you might have to STOP soon.

Sometimes the yellow was so bright I’d fall into a wall and hold on. Then I’d slide down.

I had read that going on a three day fast is perfect. That maybe you could get mental clarity from cleaning out all the toxins.

Maybe this is true. But at 46 hours the worst thing of all happened.

I logged onto the computer, specifically onto the place where I play chess online.

I lost about 20 games in a row for the first time in my life. I decided I needed to eat.

I had salmon. I had avocado. I had some nuts. Fast over.

I tried it. It was an experiment. Did it work? Did it not work? I don’t know. It was something I just tried. If you don’t try things, you don’t have experiences.

Thinking about things is not experience. Doing things is experience.

About ten months ago I threw out all my belongings. I gave up the apartments I was renting. I had someone go there and throw everything out.

I gave up my diploma, my books, my dishes, my beds, my sheets, my desks. My 40-year-old comic book collection, my computers, my collected animated cels from the 70s TV show “I Dream of Jeannie.”

I gave up my original drawing of the seven dwarfs from the animator of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” I threw out my diploma.

“But you worked so hard for it,” my friend told me.

“I’ve worked a lot harder for other things,” I said. Ditch it.

I gave up everything that the prior James could say, “This is mine.” I was left with two outfits. A computer. A phone. I turned off all email from my phone and deleted all apps except Kindle.

I wasn’t being minimalist. I just didn’t want those things anymore. I wanted to be like a newborn baby again.

There’s a bestselling book about “tidying up” that says, “hold up each object close to your heart and keep the things you love and throw out the things you no longer love.”

This is a stupid idea. Why are there objects you love and other objects you don’t love? They are just objects.

I got rid of everything.

But then I found that I had many more things to give up.

Someone insulted me. I got angry at him. Now I had to give up anger.

Another person I had bad memories about that would come up almost every morning.

I had to give up those bad memories. Another time I was thinking about money. How much money will I make in my lifetime? I wonder this in the shower.

I had to give up thinking about money. I might die tomorrow. And then what? And worrying about money never made me any money.

The most common question people asked me after I threw everything away was, “Do you feel freer now?”

I want to say “Yes.” Yes, the burdens of objects no longer chain me to the Earth.

But it isn’t true. I didn’t feel freer. I just had no belongings or place to live.

I no longer had my Dr. McCoy doll sitting next to my computer. I no longer had my hand-carved Go board. Or the original sketch used to pitch the 60s cartoon, “Underdog.”

I no longer had an address.

But none of these things were freeing. But it was a starting point. And since then, every day I try to be freer. to find the spots where less is more.

10 things where LESS IS MORE:

1. Arguing.

When someone wants to argue with me, I take a pass. I remind myself of this:

My dad had a stroke while arguing and he never woke up again even though he was in bed with his eyes open for almost two more years.

2.  Investing.

Warren Buffett says, “The first rule of investing is don’t lose money.” Then he says, “The second rule of investing is…don’t forget rule #1”.

The best way to avoid losing money is to realize you don’t have to invest. You and I work hard for money. Don’t give it to the people who try to scam us every day.

I pick my spots carefully. I used to invest in and out of the markets all day long. I’d feel every heart beat. Now I don’t. Now I take a walk and my heart does what it will. I don’t need to feel it.

3. People you love.

“Love everybody” is good advice. Fine. But this is a bit abstract. It’s not really practical.

I actually love very few people. I gave up on loving everyone. That’s a lot of people to care for.

My first priority is to my kids. And my friends who are closest to me. These are people I love and will do anything for.

After that, I am very curious about everyone else. Is this someone I can love? I prefer that question to the statement, “I love you” about people I don’t know,

Starting with curiosity is, for me, better than starting with love.

4.  Work.

When you rest, you rejuvenate. You get more creative. You have more ideas. You read more and learn more and observe more and more time to get curious about people you might love.

These are all good things.

I work a couple of hours a day on writing, reading, and podcasting. But I can’t even call those things “work” because I love doing them.

It took me 40 years to realize this.

One thing I always remember: Anataly Karpov, who was World Chess Champion from 1975 – 1984 was asked how long he studied chess each day.

He said, “At MOST, three hours a day.” The rest of the time he spends with family, or playing tennis, or studying languages.

And that’s the best player in the world.

Why is everyone working more than three hours. For those of us not the best in the world, maybe one or two hours a day is enough.

The lion doesn’t hunt for food all day. He stretches out in the sun. He closes his eyes. Maybe she dreams of planets and lovers and blackness.

5. Education.

I went to college. I went to graduate school. I took 100s of tests to prove everything I was learning. I failed the last three of those 100s. And was thrown out of “learning.”

I use zero of it now. Zero.

Here’s what you need to know in each subject.

The MAXIMUM you need to learn to be good at 99% of things in life:

Math: basic probability and statistics that you can do in your head. For instance, know that 1/3 of 10,000 is 3,333 (roughly).

English: Learn how to read. Because later you might like reading and reading will make you a better writer.

Note that whenever you read a book, you might remember 1-2% of it. If you read lots of books that will add up. But no pressure to remember more.

History: A two page outline of the history of the planet. Because all the books are biased.

And then later they get rewritten.

Much later in life you might want to, for fun, explore those biases and read books about it.

Three good history books I think are worth reading:

Science: Nothing. You don’t even really need to know that the Earth is flat. If you want to be a scientist then learn more science.

Sometimes science is fun. I like reading science fiction.

Art: I don’t know. I never learned art. I’m only starting to appreciate it and read about it now. I’m 48.

In the past few weeks I went to The Broad museum in LA and The Whitney in NYC. Fascinating!

So now I am reading books to learn more. But I’ve never learned about art before because I had no interest.

If you try to teach people with no interest, they won’t learn.

To this day, at every conference I speak at, nobody can tell me the birthdate of Charlemagne within 500 years.

Go ahead, guess right now!

6. Food.

If you eat a lot, your cells get inflamed and this is the cause of every disease known to man.

This doesn’t mean fast (see above). Our ancestors ate at random times. They didn’t stuff their faces with processed sugars 21 three -course meals a week.

7. Fears.

I’m afraid my kids will get hurt. I’m afraid to go broke. I’m afraid whatever woman I am dating will cheat on me. I’m afraid people I work with hate me.


When has a fear solved a problem for me?

Some would say, “fear is motivating”. Don’t be stupid.

Being smart should motivate me. Not trying to avoid some insecurity or fear.

8. Yes.

A “Yes” takes time.

If I lose $1000 I can always make it back (hopefully). But if I lose five minutes, I can NEVER make it back.

This doesn’t mean never say “yes”. But figure out how many more “Yesses” you have in life.

By the time you are 30, maybe you’ll only have time to make 10-20 new good friends in your life.

Make sure you say “Yes” very carefully to new friends. You only have 10 Yesses left.

Same for books, loves, meetings, coffees, everything. Same thing for the messages you send on a phone. To the people you are curious about.

9. Lists.

You can listen to this list. Or not. I might eventually start owning things again. Or I might change my mind about anything above.

It doesn’t matter.


True joy is infectious. It’s contagious. It’s a virus.

If you always do the things you enjoy then other people will become excited about them, excited about you, excited about the ideas you have

If you want to have impact on the future, bring as much joy as possible to the present.

I wasn’t enjoying fasting. So I ate a dead fish and some plants pulled out of the ground.

And then I won some chess games and watched some TV, went to the bathroom, slept eight hours.

And the next day I wrote this article. I said “Yes” to this. To you.

What are other things where “less is more?”

Maybe: medicine, talking, the middle aisles in a supermarket, drug laws, romantic intrigue, gossip, etc.

Maybe even words in article I write.