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3 Minimalist Hacks For Extending Experiences

Posted in Money

Suppose that we suddenly face a limit we didn’t anticipate on an experience we’re in the middle of enjoying. In this article we look at minimalism from the view of external limitations (time, resources, circumstances), self-imposed limitation (frugality), or a combination of both. We may not be able to control the limitations imposed on us, while in other situations, we may impose limitations. Our power to extend an experience increases our discipline, resources and time. Life becomes long when you can take an hour of joy and turn it into one-hundred hours of joy.

Use Your Senses

It’s finals week and we have several major projects due. We were ahead of schedule until our professor surprised the class with a last minute change to our biggest project of the week. Because we had thought ahead before finals week, we had free time and made plans with our significant other. Now, we’ll have little, if any, free time.

We have a couple of options that we could use, one of which is just rescheduling our plans. Still, life will always throw surprises at us, and rescheduling to “fit life” may set a habit that we later regret. I’ve seen many people who unintentionally built this habit over time and began losing important people in their life – they kept letting life’s surprises derail moments with special people in their life.

Since we face time limits, we can use the minimalist approach to our time by making the best use of it. Since we have little free time, we can do the following or a derivative of the following:

  1. Use our plans, even if they’re shorter, as something to look forward to. The brain sometimes can’t differentiate between expectation of an event and an event (see research on dopamine, vacations and the expectation of a vacation).
  2. Do an activity that engages all five senses. The creates memories and lengthens time. In addition, we experience the world through senses, yet popular activities (dinner and a movie) engage very few of the senses.
  3. Take one or more sensory reminders of our experience and experience them as we complete the rest of our work for finals week.

This can be applied with other limitations too: for instance, suppose you have a busy year where you can only take a 3 day vacation. You can use the above steps to extend the experience of your short vacation.

Reflect Over the Experience

Sometimes we may be able to consider an experience before trying it, but this option is not always available for us and reflection after the experience can be as valuable as reflection before the experience. The purpose of reflection is to take an honest assessment of the experience and its value. If watching a movie provides no value to us at all after we reflect on it, we cannot extend something which has no value. For instance, I find fiction completely boring and it has no value in my life at all. I would much rather do pull-ups to the point of failure than read fiction because even though pull-ups are painful, they add value to my life; fiction is completely wasteful in my view. You may feel differently and we only know these things when we reflect over their value.

Minimalists like to ask the following questions when considering something:

  1. Does this increase my time? For instance, a 3D printer in some situations significantly increases time.
  2. Does this increase the value of something?
  3. Does this add complexity to my life? Complexity will always require more work to manage. A home is a great example here, as people spend many hours a week managing and maintaining their home (or spending money for others to do so).
  4. Does the return of the output from this exceed the weight of the input? Corporate America is a great example here – every meeting fails using this measurement, as the input in time, money and discussion is high with little to no output.

Just like I could never extend the value of fiction, because it’s meaningless to me, you may not be able to extend some experiences because they’re meaningless to you.

The pleasure or reward chemical dopamine from Wikipedia.

Avoid the Dopamine Trap

Dopamine is the pleasure or reward chemical that receptors respond to and enrich our experiences; without dopamine, existence would be depressing. If you remember the old advertisement – “This is your brain on drugs” – some of this came from research on how some drugs interact with the brain, dopamine and dopamine receptors.

To see this in reverse, meth may be one of the most dangerous drugs that exist due to its affect on dopamine and the human brain. Meth addicts over time blow out their dopamine receptors, or their ability to sense or enjoy pleasure. In the beginning, the high feels good, but in time they can’t experience more because their dopamine receptors lose sensitivity to the chemical. The result is that they increase the use of their drug, but the cycle continues – the more of an increase, the more they increase their inability to experience pleasure. Soon, small pleasures completely lose meaning.

I can think of nothing more depressing than a small joy, like a kiss, a sunset, or a person’s smile having no meaning. Yet, this is exactly what happens to meth addicts over time.

This occurs because people have a maximalist approach to pleasure without understanding what pleasure is and how the brain experiences it. Too much of anything will desensitize us to it. The irony of a minimalist approach to pleasure is that it actually maximizes pleasure by increasing sensitivity to pleasure. We can avoid the dopamine trap by taking the following actions:

  1. Pleasure is not vision. Vision should be our meal. Pleasure should be our spice.
  2. Offset pleasure with its opposite that increases value in our life. A good example of this would be to do something that requires discipline to do (the virtue beyond despair). A bad example of this would be inflicting pain for the sake of it, even though it provides no value. If we stab ourselves in the knee for no reason, that’s useless. If we intensely work out at our gym, that may create temporary pain for later value.
  3. Visually remind ourselves that too much pleasure devalues pleasure and reduces our humanity. It only took one picture of a meth addict in junior high to motivate me away from drugs forever. I want to be full of life, not a zombie.
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