Ep. #26: The Magic of Constraint

Everyone thinks they want more, but mostly, what we really want is less. Less stuff in our homes. Fewer things to do. More space in our calendars. The space in between is called white space. It’s a hallmark of wealth, and the way to achieve it is through constraint. Listen to this episode to find out three ways that constraint will help you create wealth.


Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you cut weight to create wealth. Today’s episode is for every listener who’s feeling bogged down by the weight of too much–too many tasks to do, too much stuff to think about, too many things in your surroundings, and a schedule that feels so packed you can barely breathe.

I’m Kelly Hollingsworth and I’m happy you’re here because “too much” is the enemy of wealth and real achievement, so today we’re going to talk about how to clear the decks so you can start thinking about, and doing, the things that matter to you, and let go of everything else.

To start off, I’d like you to think about why you’re attracted to the idea of wealth. For most of us, it’s because wealth paints a picture of white space. We want wealth because we have a vision of what it means to be wealthy. It means having time and space to think and breathe and not have to rush around and stress and worry about petty details and race around in stressful situations. We just get to relax and enjoy our lives and pursue only the things that really interest us, in terms of our vocation, business, or profession.

But here’s the funny thing about white space. The more you give it to yourself on the front end, before you feel wealthy, the more likely you are able to achieve wealth. Why does this happen? One reason is that you’re going straight to the hallmark of wealth. We don’t want money for money’s sake. We want money because of how we think it will make us feel, and most of us want money in large part because we think it will make us feel peaceful. So if you can just get yourself some peace right now, you’re well on your way to being wealthy. You’ve got a big piece of it already.

Another reason we need white space is because we are not machines. In terms of financial riches, your brain is the most powerful money-making tool on the planet. If you don’t give it time and space to think about things and generate ideas and solve problems, you’re not putting it to work effectively.

So today I want to talk about how to achieve some white space in your life. White space is the portion of something—a page in a magazine, a wall in your home, a piece of your day –that is open, unmarked, uncluttered. The most valuable white space you can give yourself is inside your own brain–space where you don’t have to think about anything, and the reason you want this is because when you have that space, the most interesting things bubble up. This is the reason I no longer have a housekeeper. I love cleaning house, if there were any money in it I probably would just clean people’s houses for a living, but I used to think that wasn’t an efficient use of my time, because I could earn more money doing other things besides cleaning my house. But then I decided to clean my own house anyway, just because I like to do it, and when I did this I learned that when my brain is totally relaxed, the things that were troubling me, or problems that I couldn’t figure out for my business, everything gets solved while I’m cleaning house.

So, what I’m suggesting is that we all need some white space for our brains to rest and relax and come up with interesting things and solutions to our most vexing problems. It’s really amazing how it works.

It’s equally amazing how little of this space we allow ourselves. We think that if we’re going to get somewhere– in terms of growing our businesses, or moving our careers forward, or even the education of our children– we have to hustle like mad. And that’s certainly one way to go about doing things, but it’s not the wealthy way. Wealthy people have everything they want. They don’t forgo peace and sleep and time with friends and family to chase a single rabbit and hope they catch it.

So we need something better. We need white space, and the main tool to achieve this is constraint. We don’t often think about constraint when we’re talking about wealth-building, because a constraint is a limitation or a restriction, and we tend to think of wealth as unlimited living, and unrestricted way of operating in the world, but constraint is where the magic is, and today I’d like to explain a bit about why that’s the case.

Constraint Reduces Decision Fatigue

One way constraint helps us is that it reduces the number of decisions we have to make. Decision fatigue is a real thing. Your brain is the highest calorie-burning organ in your body, and the more you burn it out on inconsequential decisions about meaningless things, the less energy it has for the important things.

This is the first reason that setting constraints in your life can help you. I have a new friend named Donna, who feels like an old friend, and for the first few times she saw me I was wearing a dress, but we were doing things like lunches or shopping where you might expect a woman to wear a dress. And then one night she and her husband called us and said they were taking their boat to a restaurant on the lake and they were going to stop by and pick us up at our dock if we wanted to go. And normally women would probably wear shorts or something more casual for an outing like this, but I wore a dress. And when they pulled up in the boat and she saw me walking down to the dock, she yelled across the lawn to me, something like, “What are you doing in a dress?”

Now, I don’t think she was really upset that I was wearing a dress. I suspect she asked me this because when one person in a group is “dressed up” other people tend to wonder if they are underdressed, but whatever the reason she asked, she just didn’t yet know me well enough to know that no matter where I’m going, I wear a dress. I wear yoga pants at home, and I wear dresses when I leave the house. Every single time.

And the reason I do this is because a dress is easy. You pull it over your head and you’re done. You don’t have to worry about things matching, or if one part of an outfit is dirty, or if you need a different color belt. It’s a single garment and that’s all you have to think about. I guess I should say I have one black suit for if I have to appear in court, which is almost never, and that is the sum total of my wardrobe.

And I don’t just buy any kind of dress. I only by the kind of dress that flatters me the most, and with rare exceptions, like my wedding dress, I only buy machine-washable dresses that never need ironing. You can find them in beautiful fabrics that look formal, not casual, if you look. And I do look. Every time I go shopping, I am looking for these dresses, because I collect them. And then, when I have somewhere that I want to go, I have a new dress to wear if I want a new dress for that occasion, and I never have to wonder what I’m going to wear, or scramble at the last minute. Dresses are also super-easy to pack. If I’m going to be gone five days, I take five dresses. They take less room than separates, and if I’m really in a pinch I can wash one out in the sink in my hotel room.

The way I use dresses is an example of constraint. It frees me to think about more important things in so many ways I probably can’t even count them all. So here’s what I’d like you to notice here. We think of constraints as limiting, but when a constraint is used properly, what it buys you is a whole lot of freedom.

Constraint Creates Efficiency

The other thing about constraints is they force you to be efficient by forcing you to plan and think efficiently. Consider time. Parkinson’s law is the adage that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. The idea here is that if you give yourself a year to write a novel, it will probably take you a year to write a novel–or more. Few novels are finished on time. But some famous and highly acclaimed novels were written in a month or less.

Why do most people take a year or more to write a novel? A typical novel these days is usually between 40,000 and 60,000 words. A slow writer might write 500 words in an hour. Fast writers can write 10,000 words in four to eight hours.

The writing part, even at the slow-ish pace of 500 words per hour, needs 120 hours. And that is a chunk of time, but it’s not a year. It’s not even close. So why does everyone think that a novel takes a year? Because if you think it takes a year, it takes a year. Remember, our thoughts create our emotions which drive our actions which create our results. If you think it takes a year to write a novel, how are you going to feel? You’re going to feel slow. Measured might be an emotion that that thought brings up for you. And from this emotional place you will feel resigned to devote a year to writing your novel, and that’s how long you will take, and then your thought will lead to your result. If you think writing a novel takes a long time, that’s exactly how long it will take.

What if you changed your thought about that? What if you thought, writing a novel doesn’t have to take very long. How can I be a writer who can write well and write quickly?

Writers who ask themselves this question start coming up with answers. One of the answers to how to write a novel quickly, or a non-fiction book if you’re not into novels, is to plan first, write second. If you’re sitting down at the computer and you’re writing the story as you try to develop it, you could sit there for a decade and still not have a novel when you’re done, because writing and planning are two separate skills. You can write and write and write, but if you can’t plan a story, if you don’t know how to construct one, or if you don’t know what your story is, and you don’t know how to distill all the different parts of it that are swirling around in your head, if you can’t take that and distill it into a cohesive message, all the writing in the world is not going to fix that. You can lay words on the page all day, every day, for a decade or more, and you still won’t have a novel.

There is a critical path to writing just as there is a critical path to everything else. The first thing you have to be able to do is structure the story, and once you know how to do this, then the writing is easy, or at least easier, and it doesn’t take very long.

This idea of putting some constraint on a project and how long it’s going to take doesn’t just work for writers. Many would-be entrepreneurs spin in endless study and planning—they call this preparation—for months, years, or even decades, before they pull the trigger and eventually start the business. But there are really only four steps to starting any kind of business. I’ll talk about these in an upcoming episode, so if you haven’t already subscribed to the podcast, please do so now so you don’t miss it, but the point here is that what we call preparation can continue forever if we don’t put some constraint around how long we’re going to prepare.

Constraint works for everyone. First-time mothers who return to work often report a huge boost in their post-baby productivity because suddenly they don’t have endless hours of overtime to burn on a project. They have to get the work done within a constrained amount of time, and when that happens, suddenly their brains figure out how to get the work done so they can go home and enjoy some family time. It’s something we can all learn how to do, if we’re just willing to constrain the number of hours that we work in a day or a week.

Constraint also works with money. Many would-be entrepreneurs fail to get started because they’re waiting around for seed capital. I encourage every entrepreneur to forget about seed capital. There’s almost always a better way. It is the rare entrepreneur who can’t start on a shoestring and keep 100% of their equity, but no one sees these more resourceful ways of approaching business if their brains are always yearning for more resources. If you put constraint on the idea of equity, if you just say “No—I’m keeping 100% of my business and that is the constraint, I’m not giving any of it away,” you will find a way, I can almost promise you, to get your business going without bringing in outside investors. If you want some help with this, let me know. I’m here for you.

Constraint Creates More (and Better-Quality) Free Time

The last benefit of constraint that I want to discuss today is its effect on our time. Right now, what I see happening with most people, and in most families, is an unfettered inclination to add and add and add things to their social, scholastic, and professional calendars. If you get past this, if you put some constraint around that inclination, you can enjoy some really high-quality free time for yourself and your family.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but the example I want to use today on this is the soccer family. When my nephews were a bit younger, they were involved in soccer, and I witnessed the demands on the entire family’s time as a result of soccer. Now, it’s one thing if everyone in a family loves soccer and they love devoting their evenings and weekends to it and they love spending money on all of those away games. If everyone is on board that, if the entire family thinks it’s a fantastic way to spend time, effort, and money, then I say terrific. Have at it. But when my sister’s family was involved in soccer because her kids were in it, I would go to the games and I would talk to people at those games and ask them, “Wow. What is all this about for you? Because from the outside, it seems quite draining. on multiple levels.” I was single back then, and earning a very good living, and I would’ve been reluctant to spend on soccer what these working families with a bunch of kids were spending on soccer.

And what did they say when I asked them about this? It was the rare family who lived for soccer and that’s why they were doing it. Mostly, the reasons they were all pushing themselves so hard to excel in soccer were united under a common theme: fear. The soccer families I spoke with were afraid that their children wouldn’t get into good colleges. They were afraid they wouldn’t get scholarships. They were afraid of what it would mean if their kids weren’t as accomplished, athletically, as the other kids.

Why were they afraid of these things? Because they thought if they don’t raise kids who are as “good” as other kids, they won’t get into the right schools, and they won’t have the right job prospects, and then they won’t have the right career, and then they won’t be able to take care of their families, and then they’ll wind up living in their parents’ basements, and then the parents are going to wind up supporting them and their kids, and no one will be able to afford the things they need like food and housing and medical care.

In short, people are running themselves ragged on the soccer circuit because they fear for their very survival. The thought that usually drives this kind of over-activity by families is some version of I’m not enough or We’re not enough or We don’t have enough. And what happens when these thoughts drive a family? They beat their brains out on the soccer circuit, because they feel obligated to do it, and because they feel afraid to do anything else, and what is the result? They don’t have enough. They don’t have enough time. They don’t have enough sleep. They often don’t have enough money. Those soccer trips are expensive.

So why do they do it? The really sad thing is that all of this frenetic activity is based on a fiction. The lie that many of us have bought into is that the only way to achieve wealth is through a certain type of education that is only available to a small number of people, and a certain type of people.

And this is driving families into debt. Scarcity thinking never results in wealth. It always results in scarcity, and this is very true in the pursuit of expensive higher education for one’s children. We’re spending more on education than the education is worth, at least in terms of its commercial value and the earning potential it brings. Many people who study this problem report that we are on the verge of our next debt crisis. And this debt crisis isn’t going to be about defaults in home mortgages. It’s going to be about defaults in student loans. We’re spending more on college educations than the college educations bring to us in the commercial marketplace.

The first thing I’d like you to notice about this is that there’s never only one way. If you’re beating your brains out doing something you don’t really want to do, and spending money on it that you don’t really want to spend, but you’re doing it because you think it’s the only way to success, you’re operating from fear. Fear always results in binary thinking. If I do this I will succeed, and if I don’t do this I will fail. But life is not a light switch. There are more than two options for anything. There is always a different way.

I went to community college. Then I went to a no-name state university and a fairly ho-hum law school. This is not to say that the Ivy League doesn’t offer some value. Clearly it must, because people spend a great deal of money on those schools, and I can’t believe that all of that is fear-driven. But what I’m trying to illustrate to you is that there is always more than one way, and that you should like your reasons for doing something before you do it, or you are almost guaranteed that you will not like the results that you get from doing it.

The other thing I’d like you to notice here is that the refusal to embrace constraint is almost always about fear. Maybe it’s constraint around your spending on your home or your car or your wardrobe, because you’re afraid of what people will think if you don’t overspend. Maybe it’s constraint around your time spent on certain projects, because you’re afraid of what people will think if you don’t eke out the last bit of perfection by devoting hours beyond what’s really necessary. Maybe it’s constraint around your schedule, because you’re afraid of what it means if you’re not running yourself ragged like everyone else is.

The unfortunate thing that all of this running around has on our wealth is that we constrain the activities that actually build wealth. We curtail our learning and our curiosity. We cut short our willingness to serve and truly connect with other people. We put our health and our families at risk.

Don’t let your brain go to these broke and bulky places. Everyone is afraid of constraint because they think it means they’re falling behind. But it is impossible to fall behind on a hamster wheel, and that’s what most people are running on. So what I have for you this week is this: let yourself get off that ride. Put some constraint around your choices and activities and the time allotted to complete your projects, and watch your life and your business and your wealth explode. I promise you it works. If you are feeling fearful about something, and you’re having difficulty with constraint, get in touch with me. Fear is an emotion that comes from your thoughts, and I can help you sort it out. I can also help you come up with a more efficient strategy, something that will put you on the critical path to wealth so you are not running yourself ragged and beating your brains out. If you want some help, I’m here. Email me. kelly@richandthin.com, or go to richandthin.com where you can access my calendar and set yourself up with a free session to talk to me about it. Thanks for joining me today. I look forward to connecting with you next week.

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