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Quality Over Quantity: The Simple Philosophy For A Better Life

The quality over quantity philosophy is one that’s hard to live by. 

As human beings, we’re wired to want more in all areas of life. We often set down the path of reinventing ourselves  at least in some part due to the desire for nicer clothes, more money, a lavish home, better meals, etc.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a successful person who isn’t engaged in the constant pursuit of more success. 

However, this mindset doesn’t always serve us. And oftentimes it can actually prevent us from finding joy in what we do have, which is usually much more than what we think.

In this article, we’re going to be discussing the quality over quantity mindset — what it means, the implications of the philosophy, and most importantly, how to apply it to everyday life.

 

The Meaning Of Quality Over Quantity

Quality over quantity is a common philosophy that’s likely been relayed to you ad nauseam by teachers, mentors, parents, etc.

Although you’re probably quite  familiar with the basic idea behind this philosophy, let’s just start with a surface level definition and then go deeper.

The surface level definition of quality over quantity is that we should have a preference to better things, as opposed to more things.

When you choose quality over quantity, you’re choosing to sacrifice the good and keep the great. And that’s a philosophy that can be applied to anything — work, relationships, hobbies, goals, etc.

If we get too focused on quantity, we sacrifice quality. If we get too focused on quality, we sacrifice quality. 

For most people, sacrificing quality is easier to live with. The problem is that in almost all cases, choosing quality over quantity is the better decision. 

Choosing quality adds meaning to our lives by subtracting things of low-value. However, our brains aren’t wired to give things up even if it makes sense logically.

 

Why Is It So Hard To Choose Quality Over Quantity?

If choosing quality over quantity is the route towards a better, more meaningful life, then why is it such a difficult philosophy to put into practice?

There are a bunch of psychological explanations that answer this question, but for the sake of time we’re going to focus on two — the mere exposure effect and the status quo bias.

Let’s explore the mere exposure effect first. I’ll let someone much smarter than me take the reins here in describing what the mere exposure effect is and how it impacts our decisions.

Mira Estrada, a Harvard educated social psychology professor describes the mere exposure effect in this article published on Psychology Today:

“Research on the mere exposure effect shows that the more we are exposed to something, the more it will become favorable to us. This is true of the things that we see, read, name, create, and meet.”

From a cognitive standpoint, repeated exposure to something means we’re less likely to give it up, even if it’s in our best interest to do so.

Another factor that makes choosing quality over quantity difficult is the status quo bias — one of many cognitive biases we possess that affects our decision making.

The status quo bias suggests that our brain perceives any deviation from the status quo as a loss, even when there are real advantages to change.

That’s why people find it so difficult to break bad habits, sell clothes they don’t wear anymore, and spend less time with people they don’t really enjoy hanging out with.

Unfortunately, we’re hard-wired to fight change even when it’s in our best interest.

 

trail in the forest with two different pathways

 

The Importance Of Choosing Quality Over Quantity

The simple fact that our brain stops us from adopting this philosophy suggests that it’s a good one to live by.

Our brains stop us from doing many things that help us grow. So the fact that we’re predisposed to fight this philosophy is just one reason why it’s important to mold our behaviors around it.

Additionally, pursuing quantity as opposed to quality subtracts meaning from almost everything in our lives. 

  • If you pursue quantity over quality in your personal relationships, you’ll struggle to spend adequate time with the people who are truly there to support you.
  • If all of your clothes are important to you, how do you distinguish between what you like wearing and the clothes that are simply taking up space?
  • If everything on your to-do list seems urgent, then how will you make time for the high-priority actions that really move the needle in your life?

Seeing everything as important is the same as seeing nothing as important. Because when you see everything as important, you have no reason to prioritize your life.

Focusing on quality in all endeavors frees up space for the things that really matter. It allows you to minimize your life so that it’s filled with high-quality friends, hobbies, things, and tasks.

When your focus is on quantity, you tend to pursue the instant gratification that comes along with having more of something. When you favor quality, you’ll naturally begin to assign more value to the things that you have.

 

Examples Of Quality Over Quantity

We touched on this a little bit in the last section, but here are a few other examples of why it’s important to choose quality over quantity in your daily life.

  • Hobbies: If you have a bunch of hobbies that you like to engage in, it’s hard to spread your time around to the ones you enjoy the most. You’ll start to view certain hobbies as distractions and get less enjoyment out of them, sabotaging your ability to engage in guilt-free downtime.
  • Vacations: Vacations are great for unwinding from your obligations. However, if you take vacations too frequently you may start to rely on them as a crutch to escape reality. On the other hand, if you take a few vacations per year, you’ll be more appreciative of the time you spend away from responsibilities instead of feeling guilty about it.
  • Behavior Change: We all have things we want to change, but oftentimes there are certain keystone changes that add significantly more value than other potential changes we could make. If you get too caught up in changing several things about your life, in other words going for quantity instead of quality, it’s likely you’ll struggle to make meaningful progress on any of them.

Those are just a few examples that highlight the danger of focusing on quantity as opposed to quality.

 

whiteboard with the word choice written on it

 

7 Benefits Of Choosing Quality Over Quantity 

By now, we’ve established the fact that quality is superior to quantity in almost every area of life. 

But how do you actually apply this philosophy? And what tangible benefits can you realize by adopting this philosophy into specific domains of your life?

Those are the questions that will be covered in the following section. Here’s a list of seven benefits of choosing quality over quantity, supplemented by action-focused advice for adopting the philosophy into your life.

 

#1: Emphasizing Quality Helps You Achieve Your Goals

It’s human nature to get really excited when we set goals. Goal setting is an emotional process that taps into our deepest values and desires, which really gets our motivational system fired up.

However, when our emotions get involved in this process, it’s easy for us to overestimate our capabilities. The heightened emotional state we find ourselves in means we’re not thinking rationally, so we might say things like:

“I’m going to get in shape, become more productive, and erase my social anxiety once and for all!”

However, those of you reading this know that never works. Eventually, the sheer effort required to make progress on all of these goals depletes our willpower, and we end up right back where we started.

Adopting a quality over quantity approach to goal-setting solves this problem. 

If you have the humility to tone down your ambition and build your ideal life brick by brick, as opposed to all at once, you’ll begin to actually change your life for the better.

Applying This Philosophy To Your Goals:

Make a list of ten outcomes that you want to achieve in the next 12 months.

Once you have them down on paper, assign each outcome a number from 1-10 based on importance. The goal here is to distinguish between the goals that would be nice to accomplish and the ones that you need to accomplish.

For the next 12 months, focus all of your attention on the top two goals with the highest scores on your list.

To make the weeding out process easier, score each goal with decimal points so you don’t find yourself deciding between two goals that both scored an 8.  

 

notebook with goals written down on it

 

#2: Quality Over Quantity Makes Sticking To New Habits Easier

Adopting a quality over quantity approach to new habits increases the likelihood that you’ll actually follow through on your intentions.

If you wake up and see that you’ve committed to a one hour workout session, a two hour deep writing session, and twenty minutes of meditation, you’ll probably feel a little bit of dread given the enormity of these commitments.

The same principle that applies to goals applies to habits — focusing on everything is the same thing as focusing on nothing.

The everyday grind of consistent repetition that it takes to form new habits can be overwhelming when trying to stick to just one positive habit, let alone 3-4 at one time.

Applying This Philosophy To Your Habits:

The goals that you want to achieve require consistent, focused action. In other words, they require that you think about good habits to start building and then craft a plan for making them a part of your daily routine.

There are a number of different habits you can adopt in order to achieve your goals (quantity), but a very few of these habits can be characterized as non-negotiables that must be a part of your life. (quality)

Take one goal you want to achieve and write down a list of possible habits that will help you make progress towards that goal. 

Then, follow the same scoring process outlined above to determine the 1-2 habits that are most important. Make these habits your sole focus for the next 90-120 days and don’t add additional changes onto your plate until they’re firmly ingrained into your daily routine.

 

#3: Quality Improves Your Personal Relationships

Personal relationships are arguably the most logical place for the quality over quantity philosophy to drive your decisions.

You’ve gotta protect your energy in life because not everyone deserves it. Building an expansive social circle is a meaningful pursuit so long as you ensure that the connections you form actually add value to your life.

Life’s too short to spend time attempting to make deep connections with people who don’t share the same goal.

The more you focus on being in the presence of those who really care, value, and encourage you, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Applying This Philosophy Into Your Relationships:

Write down the top five people you spend the most time with and get brutally honest about whether or these relationships are fulfilling:

You may ask questions like:

  • Do I really enjoy hanging out with this person or am I spending time with them for the sole purpose that I don’t want to lose them?
  • Is this person bringing positive or negative energy into my life?
  • Are they putting in the same level of effort into our friendship as I am?

After doing this, you may realize that changes need to be made. You don’t have to cut certain people out of your life completely, but you may need to simply reduce the amount of time you spend with them for the sake of your well-being.

When these connections go back years, or even decades, it’s not fun to actually act on these intentions, but the short-term pain is necessary for your long-term growth.

 

friends standing with arms around each other highlighting the importance of quality over quantity

 

#4: Focusing On Quality Improves Your Productivity

When you sit down to work on something for two hours, how much of that time do you actually spend concentrating on what you set out to accomplish? 

One hour? 30 minutes? 15 minutes?

My guess is that when you take into account pointless web browsing, the quick pulse check on social media, or responding to emails & texts, that number is significantly less than two hours.

When it comes to productivity, quality is everything. If you can master the skill of putting all of your focus into a given task without falling prey to distraction, you can accomplish in two hours what most people accomplish in an entire day of work.

Thanks to Cal Newport, one of the leading productivity experts in the world, this skill has a name — deep work.

In his book titled, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World, Newport lays out a simple definition of deep work:

Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

The ability to focus on deep work is the great equalizer in today’s world. If you’re able to master this skill and adopt a quality over quantity approach to your work, you’ll be able to get more done in less time. 

And when you get more done in less time, you’re in a prime position to take every aspect of your life to the next level.

Applying This Philosophy To Your Productivity:

While reading Newport’s book, there was one strategy he talked about that really resonated with me, and I think it will resonate with you too.

Because let’s be frank, we can’t just snap our fingers and become a productivity machine who can work for hours on end without a lapse in concentration.

That being said, we can become that kind of person with enough practice. Here is Newport’s recommendation for getting in the habit of adopting a quality over quantity approach to your work:

  • Identify a deep work task that’s high on your priority list
  • Complete one Roosevelt Dash — a short period of intense, focused work where every ounce of your concentration is dedicated to making progress on that task.
  • No checking text messages. No checking email. No browsing the web. Roosevelt dashes are periods of full concentration with zero interruptions
  • I’d recommend starting out with 15 minutes and working your way up from there.
  • The goal is to build up your focus muscle with these short bursts of intense productivity until you feel comfortable working for hours at a time in this same fashion.

 

picture of money with the word productivity on it

 

#5: You’ll Feel Better About Your Wardrobe

Most of our wardrobes are characterized by excess. They’re filled with dozens of outfits that we either never wear, or haven’t worn in years. Yet for some reason, we continue to let these clothes take up space for the sole purpose of having more stuff. 

Adopting a quality over quantity approach to your wardrobe is one of the easiest ways to begin simplifying your life. Having done this process myself, I can tell you that you’ll feel a lot more pride in your closet when each item of clothing has a purpose.

Applying This Philosophy To Your Wardrobe:

I’ve written an extensive blog post walking through the process of creating a minimalist closet, which you can check out below if you’re interested:

 

picture of a typical closet

 

#6: Quality Over Quantity Helps You Save Money

When you shift your focus to quality over quantity, your bank account is definitely one of the biggest beneficiaries.

Financial freedom is just as much about saving money as it is about making money. There are countless stories of people who work normal 9-5 jobs, save and spend responsibly, and are able to retire at 55 or 60 with millions in the bank. 

However, the story that’s far more common is the person who works that same 9-5 job, spends money on a bunch of shit they don’t need for 20 to 30 years, and ends up working until they’re 70 or 75.

The only difference between these two people is their spending habits. I’m not saying that you should never reward yourself, simply that you should be more aware of your intentions when making purchasing decisions.

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself before parting with your hard-earned cash:

  • Do I already have a similar item that serves essentially the same purpose?
  • Is this a status buy? Am I buying to keep up with my friends/neighbors/colleagues?
  • Can I see myself using this product 6-12 months from now, or is the more likely outcome that it’s going to end up collecting dust?

If you’ve been wanting to go to Europe for years, and have the financial resources to make it work, then go for it! You shouldn’t feel guilty about treating yourself to a trip that will potentially be the experience of a lifetime.

But maybe proceed with caution when you’re thinking about buying a lavish dining room table that’s only marginally better than the one you have now.

 

one dollar bills planted in the ground

 

#7: Quality Makes You More Grateful

“Be happy with what you have while working for what you want.”

The quote above is from Helen Keller, and it serves as a perfect reminder that the quality over quantity approach doesn’t mean you need to eliminate your desire for more.

The desire for more drives all of us. We all want to make more friends. We all want financial freedom. We all want to live in a nicer home.

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing a better life, so long as you don’t believe that happiness lies in the stuff that you don’t yet have. 

If you go through life this way, you’ll continually move the goalposts and nothing will ever be enough to provide the sense of satisfaction that you’re looking for.

One of the biggest benefits of living with a preference towards quality instead of quantity is that you’re more equipped to appreciate the things that you do have. It’s far easier to maintain a positive outlook on life when you’re not constantly reminding yourself of what you lack.

 

Final Thoughts

That wraps up our discussion on the quality over quantity philosophy. 

I hope that the tips provided in this article gave you some ideas as to how you can adopt this philosophy into your own life.

Whether it’s cleaning out your wardrobe, trying out Roosevelt dashes, or cutting out certain goals you’ve been pursuing, it all serves the same purpose — making more room for the highly important stuff.

If you can design your life around what really matters, you’ll begin to develop more appreciation for what you have and free up mental energy to go after your most exciting goals.

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