0 + 0 = 0, and other simple mathematics

Stop what you’re doing. Before you continue, I want you to drink a glass of water. Yes, I’m serious.

Waddle over to your nearest tap, cooler or (if you must) pre-packaged bottle of tap water and chug it down. It’s important for vague reasons I’ll explain by the time we’re through here.


Great. Wasn’t that refreshing?

Hydrated Readers: Get Introspective

Lately, I’ve been thinking. Thinking’s awfully dangerous if you do it for too long and sure enough I’ve begun to feel a growing tension between the place I am and the places I want to be.

That’s a problem.

Mostly because as a kid you have these wild and exciting visions of how your life is going to play out. You want to be an astronaut – a lawyer astronaut who saves orphans from burning buildings in their spare time. But if not that, you at very least want to be interesting.

Ask yourself right now – am I interesting? And be honest about it – that’s the hard part. Your fragile little ego is going to cry out “Of COURSE!” as soon as you ask the question, but let it simmer. Turn up the heat on it. Force it to bubble a little bit.

You might (uncomfortably) find that the answer isn’t all you wanted it to be.

Let’s Make This About Me (Because it’s my blog and I said so)

I decided I was going to be honest about it. The answer I came to after a few desperate moments staring into ceiling stucco wasn’t the one I wanted.

I used to do monthly challenges. I slept in my backyard through a Canadian winter, went vegetarian (despite every urge in my German history begging me not to), faced my fear of horses, finished a book, interviewed my grandparents, went for a walk every single day – and life was richer.

I used to tour in a band, used to spend late nights trying to write a piece for a full orchestra, used to organize nights called “friend swaps” where new people would connect, used to put on local shows.

“Used to” is one of the ugliest phrases in the English language.

Somewhere, I started failing simple mathematics. Simple mathematics like 0 + 0 = 0. What kind of new age hippy crap am I on about, you ask?

Zero-Sum Activities

Zero-sum activities are anything that you invest time, money or effort into that has absolutely no outcome on the betterment of your life. By the time you’re done you have nothing to show for it.

The obvious things that might spring to mind are things like watching television or mashing a controller. And it’s not that these things are inherently bad – if we want to get really nit-picky then we could argue that their “outcome” is entertainment.

Still, in a broader sense, they’ll never contribute to advancing your life – unless you plan to be a professional video gamer (I hear that pays out well in Korea).

But the less obvious zero-sum activities are more insipid. Things like worry. Worry is a zero-sum activity. You can worry yourself into an ulcer (I nearly did!) and at the end of all your worry you will be no closer to achieving anything.

Wishing is a zero-sum activity. Feeling sorry for yourself is a zero-sum activity. Carrying a grudge is a zero-sum activity. Being jealous is a zero sum activity.

Zero-sum activities are the types of things that nobody would ever write about in a book because they’re boring to read about. Why write them into your autobiography?

Do The Math, Einstein

If the bulk of my time – the most precious and finite resource I have – is invested in zero-sum activities, then my life will look like a zero-sum life. That’s how you get boring.

Moving past this is simple in theory: Reduce/eliminate as many zero-sum activities as you can. Replace them with positive outcome activities. Getting started on this can be hard, though. It’s tough to break patterns – poor eating patterns, lazy living patterns, emotional frenzy patterns. It’s much easier to come home and flick on the television or worry about trying something new because new things are scary.

But the good news is, you already started. You drank a glass of water. Your body is 80% water. You need that stuff. Good going, champ! You just did something great for yourself.

Now all you need to do is keep it going.

4 Responses to “0 + 0 = 0, and other simple mathematics”

  1. Alessio says:

    Fearing the change is a zero-sum activity. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2 months, and I didn’t know even 2 months ago, but I’m fine.

    I’m trying to get rid of that awful feeling. Fear is blocking the world, and there is no need right now.

    • Joel says:

      It’s sad how much of our lives we allow to be dictated by fear. I think you nailed it, Alessio. Fear is debilitating – it always answers “what if?” in the most negative light. Fear is the enemy of possibility and it needlessly robs us of so much joy.

  2. Anthony Pensabene says:

    i had this thought this morning waiting for the train. i used to need/want a night light as a child (up until this last fall).

    in the dark i feel anxious; and, i wonder why the unknown incites fear. maybe when the lights come on, i’ll be touring with Victoria Secret models with intriguing views on content distribution, captaining my pirate boat of random acts of kindness…

    perhaps if i think that’s in the dark, it will make for a better immediate mood, and in the sweet relief of grief, what dreams may come..

    • Joel says:

      That’s a neat perspective: defining your darkness. Like Alessio mentioned, we tend to let fear keep us from heading off into the dark. I love the idea that there ARE things lurking in the dark; colorful, exciting and wonderful things. Cool insight :)

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