What does a medieval philosopher, simplicity and a "razor" have to do with freedom? I'm so happy that you asked!
July, for most of you in the United States, may bring to mind the thought of freedom (in addition to the summer heat) as Americans observe Independence Day. While many of us think of those things that have made our freedom and independence possible, less of us think of those things that actually take away our freedom and independence.
Freedom means many things to many people, almost to the degree that the word's meaning is abstract. What represents freedom to one may represent enslavement or subjection to another. More commonly, those things most considered to be liberating and/or productive have paradoxical consequences. Today, therefore, I would like to call to mind some things that may be inhibiting your freedom, but perhaps you may have first thought of as liberating or productive.
"Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." ~ Sir William of Ockham (c.1288 - c.1348)
Why add complexity if it is not necessary? Sir William of Ockham certainly agrees. Who is Sir William of Ockham? He is credited with the principle of Occam's Razor (or Ockham's Razor), which "recommends the selection of the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities while sufficiently answering the question."
With regard to the "hypothesis" of how to lead a fulfilled and meaningful life, I submit that simplicity is one of the greatest virtues in this pursuit. For example, if you reduce your daily activities to half the current level and are able to maintain the same or greater level of meaning and fulfillment, then Occam's Razor says to do so!
Let's consider some of the means of procuring freedom, in the spirit of Occam's Razor, via the pursuit of simplicity, viewed through the lens of personal finance:
- More choices often lead to less decisions, poor decisions or no decision at all. While some choice may be good, more choice is not necessarily better. With regard to personal finance, social research has shown that more investment choices in a 401(k) plan has led to lower participation on the part of employees. How many investments do you need? If you are a mutual fund investor, the benefits of diversification will more likely diminish than increase beyond eight or ten funds.
- Allocation of Attention: Most of us are familiar with investment assets, such as stocks, bonds and cash; however, we tend to forget an asset that may be more important -- our attention -- which is certainly one of the only assets where we can control performance. Much like the allocation of a portfolio of investments, you should allocate where and how your attention is spent and determine if your information sources are adding to (or reducing) simplicity in your life. What adds value? What adds complexity? What takes time away from your priorities? Do you need cable tv, video games, newspapers, magazines, cell phones, or blogs? If so, to what degree?
- Align who you are with what you do: This is the essence of freedom. Do you enjoy what you do? How much time do you spend on activities that you simply do not care to do? Why are still doing them? How soon can you minimize or remove them and increase the time and energy spent on things you enjoy -- your priorities? Essentially, an increase in time spent on activities you enjoy will reduce time available for activities you do not enjoy; thereby increasing your freedom.
- Outsourcing: Do you enjoy researching investments and planning your finances? If not, hire a financial adviser. How much is your time worth?
- The definition of terms: Define the word productive. If anything can slice needless complexity out of your life, this may be the most simple and effective strategy to do so. To define what productive means to you, simply make a short list of the thing(s) you wish to produce. Is it time with family? Is it time to write the book you've always wanted to write? Is it money for a well-deserved vacation? Is it money or materials for a charity? While you're at it, define a few other terms, such as wealth, strength, weakness and happiness.
- Turn down the noise: One thread running throughout this post may be the idea that conventional wisdom has more influence on the "average person" than is healthy. Media sources, educational institutions, parents, and other social influences are constantly trying to tell you how to act, what to study in school, what career to pursue, where to invest your money, which car to drive and what things bring you most happiness. Only YOU should choose these things. Tune out (or significantly turn down) outside influences and simplify, simplify, simplify...
- Beware of 'Luxury:' I'll simply quote Socrates here: "Luxury is artificial poverty."
To end this post, I'll add one more thought from the book I'm currently reading, Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, perhaps one of the greatest teachers of simplicity that ever lived (not to reduce the value of our friend, Sir William of Ockham)!
What are your thoughts? Do you have examples of procuring freedom via simplicity? I'd love to hear of them...
Mind vs. Brain Part II: Priorities, Pursuits & Productivity