How Much Is Enough

The alternative to chasing after more

Four years ago, I told my girlfriend, now wife, that we would get married and have kids when we make RM5,000 a month. I was making RM1,500 at that time. That was equivalent to $400 in US dollars.

We got there a year later. But we were not comfortable about getting married just yet. Today, we're making many times over the income goals we set four years ago. While we're happily married, we don't feel like we're ready to have kids.

While I've always been very conscious about what I'm going after, like most people, I want more and feel like I don't have enough. I had this "never enough" conversation with a friend not long ago, and she simply said, "that's human nature."

Yes, it is. And it's easy to brush it off with an undeniable fact. After all, we all want more. More friends, more fame, more money, even when having more doesn't do any good—and worse, do bad—to us.

It's hard to dig deep into why we want more. And harder to put a stop to that, to answer the question: How much is enough?

How the never-ending chase of more is dumb

There's a dogma that the more choices we have, the happier we are, but nothing could be further from the truth. And it's called the Paradox of Choice.

Wanting more isn't necessarily bad. But let's admit it, it does produce unnecessary stress in our already hectic life.

As someone who writes a lot about productivity, I always strive to get more done in a day. That said, my to-do list tends to have more tasks than I can get done in a day. Even when I managed to get all of them done, I would scavenge for a task or two and add them to the list. Then it only made me feel terrible when it wasn't done.

A line from the book Manage Your Day-to-Day hits me right on the spot. Here's how it goes:

If you keep adding to your to-do list during the day, you will never finish—and your motivation will plummet.

The same goes for everything we do. It's so obvious that if you keep aiming for more without acknowledging and celebrating what you've accomplished, you'll never feel happy and fulfilled.

I don't agree with everything James Altucher has said but I like a line from him that I heard from a podcast.

When asked about what should one do with their money, James Altucher said something along the line of "Do whatever you like with your money. You've worked hard to earn it, and you shouldn't celebrate your success with a punishment."

Yes, delayed gratification is good. But the never-ending chase for more is not.

Processes over outcomes

We get what we aim for, so I don't think you should aim for less. In an article Set Goals Like an Athlete, I talked about the differences between a product goal and a process goal. Instead of aiming only for product goals, try to focus more on the process goals.

  • Instead of a net worth goal, set yourself a monthly saving goal. Better yet, automate the saving so you don't need to think about it.
  • Instead of dwelling on the number on the scale, focus on not missing a workout session and keeping your diet healthy.
  • Instead of counting the numbers of books you've read, stick to a reading routine.

Product goals focus on what you get while process goals focus on what you do. While we don't always have control over what we get, we can always choose what we do.

Figure out the price and pay it

There's a price to pay for what we want. So, answering the question "how much is enough?" is all about finding out the price we're willing to pay.

Anyone can make millions (and even more) he or she wants to make. But to what extent are you willing to work for it? And what are you willing to sacrifice to get there?

It's an uncomfortable exercise to most people because there are a few answers we might get out of it:

  1. The price is too high but we want it without paying for it. This is what Elon Musk called wishful thinking which is delusional in the first place.
  2. We don't have what it needs to get what we want. In this case, we should let go since it's out of our control. Instead, focus on what we can control such as readjust our goals and focus on what we do.
  3. What we have been working hard for doesn't worth the price. It could be soul-crushing, but it's better to find out about it now than later when we're deeper into the rabbit hole.

In short, knowing how much is enough is not about stop aiming high and working hard. It's about figuring out what's more important to you. It's about adding to your life by subtracting from it.

So what should you do?

You would probably be asking: "What should I do if I'm not working for more?"

This is a great question too few people are asking. Getting away from wanting more of what you already have let you work on things that matter.

  • Getting away from driving the top-line revenue goal let you or your team work on improving processes for sustainability.
  • Getting away from reading more books let you work on developing a system to process what you learn and integrate the lessons in your life.
  • Getting away from the obsession with the number on the scale allows you truly enjoy a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet.

Again, stop chasing for more doesn't mean stop moving forward. With the resources—time, energy, and money—you save from knowing that you have enough, you can choose to invest them in other values and areas that matter to you. It could be:

  • Working on the area that has the highest ROI (instead of going after diminishing returns).
  • Working on the values you believe in and where you want to grow and optimize.
  • Working on what's the most fun for you.

In fact, if you may, you don't have to work on anything. After all, you have—and are—enough.


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