Welcome to Run With Less, Colin Wright.
Everything changed for Colin when he realised he wasn’t fulfilled in his job, so he became a minimalist, left his career behind and started a blog aligned with his values.
Since 2009, Colin has traveled the world full-time, asking his readers at times to vote on where he should move next.
Colin, thank you for taking the time to chat.
Run With Less: Could you share your origin story for any readers who may be unfamiliar?
Colin Wright: Back in 2009, I found myself in a fairly fortunate situation: I was running a branding studio in Los Angeles, was making more money than I thought possible, and had some impressive clients on my roster. I was able to do challenging, at times quite interesting work, and professionally I felt like things were going quite well.
Unfortunately, by essentially every other possible metric, things were not going great.
I didn’t have the time or energy to invest in my health or relationships, so both suffered. I didn’t really have hobbies or activities that I engaged in outside of work; there wasn’t any time for “outside of work.” I barely slept, making getting an average of 3 or 4 hours a night, when I did have time to sleep.
It wasn’t sustainable. And fortunately I realized that when I took a quick vacation (the first of my adult life), leaving LA and work behind for the better part of a week to celebrate my 24th birthday.
From that distance—geographic and psychological—I was able to see that things weren’t going super-well by the standards that I should probably actually be focusing on, so I set a deadline four months in the future, at which point I would leave LA, and leave the country, recalibrating things so I could focus on the aspects of life I actually did care about, and had been (for some reason) putting off.
During that period, I got rid of everything I owned that didn’t fit into carry-on bags, scaled my business to something I could run from the road, and started up a blog, called Exile Lifestyle, which gave me a platform where I could write about what I was learning along the way, but also helped me attract an audience I could recruit to help me decide where to travel: something that I’d always wanted to do, but hadn’t yet gotten around to doing.
My readers voted that I should move to Argentina, and I did so for four months. I had such a great time, and learned so much, that I decided to keep going, and had my readers vote on where I would go next each time.
That general framework persisted for about 7 years, at which point I started to mix it up, trying out different project frameworks, durations, locations, and anything else I could think to adjust to ensure I wasn’t getting lazy or dependent on any specific model of living to be happy.
RWL: How does Minimalism as a philosophy allow you to focus your time, energy & resources on your passions; travel and learning?
CW: Minimalism is about first figuring out what’s actually meaningful and fulfilling to you as an individual, and then adjusting your lifestyle and behaviors accordingly.
That first step is valuable unto itself, because many of us don’t take the time to really think about what we actually want; we mostly borrow the ambitions of others, or follow well-worn paths that we’ve been told, overtly or covertly, to follow.
The second step, though, is what we generally think of as the minimalism process, which may involve discarding/giving away/recycling possessions, scaling back the time we spend on certain tasks, habits, or relationships, or otherwise reallocating scarce resources (time, energy, and money in particular) where they will do the most good, based on our personal definitions for the word “good.”
For me, this has meant a radical rethinking of how I want to spend my life, and has led me to slowly redefine my career and relationships so that I have an abundance of time to spend on the most important things (work and hobbies I consider to be important, for me and hopefully beyond me) and the most important people in my life.
It’s also meant keeping tabs on what influences are guiding my decisions, from marketing messages to political ideologies, and doing my best to keep tabs on why I do what I do, and whether or not the things I do are taking me someplace I want to be.
RWL: Favourite travel destination?
CW: There’s no way I could choose just one.
I’ve been to something like 60 or 65 countries, and I could probably make the argument that every single one was my favorite by some metric.
I do tend to prefer travel that allows me to spend a decent amount of time in a place, though—at least a few weeks. So I would absolutely say I prefer slow travel over quick-paced travel, in most cases.
RWL: Running is sometimes described as a passport. It’s a great way to explore new surroundings. Could you share your relationship with running?
CW: I actually run as a core part of my workout, but also as part of a broader collection of activities that allows me to be in my own head, sometimes concentrating on something I’ve been thinking about, sometimes concentrating on the motions of a walk or run or other workout, sometimes just to explore a new city or space-out with a podcast in my ear while running on a treadmill.
I like that it’s a simple routine that’s challenging if you choose to make it so. I also like that you can almost always figure out a way to do it wherever you end up, though results will vary as to whether you actually do, based on social mores, infrastructure, and so on.
RWL: Has your approach to fitness & movement changed since adopting minimalism?
CW: Yes, for a few reasons.
Partly it changed because my previous approach—going to the gym every day when I lived in LA—was done as part of a work hard, play hard lifestyle, and thus I tended to overdo a lot of things, always be sore and borderline injured, and aiming for results that would help counteract the otherwise unhealthy lifestyle I was living. Today, it’s part of a more holistically healthy approach to life in general.
But it also changed because, practically, it’s not a good idea to assume you’ve have certain types of equipment with you wherever you go in the world, and it’s therefore a good idea to rework your habits so you can use gym-stuff when you have access, but can otherwise get by and feel good doing bodyweight-resistance workouts, running and walking, using stairs, or whatever else might be accessible in your environment, where you happen to be that night or that month.
I’ve also made my workouts quite modular, in terms of when I do them, how long they take, and other such things. It’s not always practical to have a midday workout when you’re living in a place with no air conditioner and 100+ degree temperatures, and it’s not always practical to aim for an early morning routine when you’re living within a culture that stays up very late and wakes up very late.
So my entire approach to working out has shifted significantly, and I personally think for the better—because my priorities also shifted, and I’ve been able to invest more time and energy in getting it right and trying new things along the way to make sure I can continue to do so.
RWL: How would you define Minimalism?
CW: Minimalism is about figuring out what’s important so you can spend more time, energy, and resources (including money) on those most important things.
RWL: What advice would you give to someone discovering Minimalism for the first time?
CW: Make sure you take the time to pause and reflect on what’s actually important before you start chucking things into the trash bin.
I’ve met a lot of people who got really into the “reducing the number of things I own” side of minimalism before they through it through, only to regret something that they got rid of, because they were aiming for raw numbers, not focusing on which things they actually get value from, and which they do not.
Look at it as a process:
Slow down, take a deep breath, and give yourself some time to think about how you want your life to be.
Then, figure out which things in your life help you get there, and which are standing in your way. Don’t just get rid of things, by the way: also changing your consumption habits in the future, so you can spend more of what you’ve got (in terms of time and money) on things that will help you get where you want to be (yes: minimalism may involve buying a few things, strange as it may sound).
From there, develop positive habits and keep your eyes on the prize: that lifestyle you’re building, according to your standards and no one else’s. Spend your reclaimed time, energy, and money (and other resources) appropriately, and remember to pause and enjoy what you’re building for yourself along the way.
RWL: After listing everything in the All 51 Things I Own blog post, you no longer share lists or photos of this nature, as it seemed to unintentionally reinforce the idea that minimalism is about owning as few things as possible – rather than the right amount for you.
How else has your approach to minimalism evolved?
CW: Yeah, that list really inspired some people, but it very quickly spiraled (for some other people) into a perceived competition, to see how few things they could own.
Which for some people isn’t the end of the world, but unless you’re traveling full-time, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to own so few things. Unless you are literally carrying everything you own on you should (like I was), that’s kind of silly. It’s performative. And I didn’t want people to think that minimalism is about how few things you can own; owning fewer things doesn’t make you morally superior or any happier. It can actually have the opposite effect, if that dearth isn’t serving some other purpose.
Beyond that, the biggest changes have been in how I approach minimalism, personally, because of how my priorities have shifted, and how I’ve come to better understand my own wants and needs.
I’ve learned along the way that it’s great to have enough money to pay the bills and to be able to afford to do the things I want to do, but above a certain point—lower than I would have guessed—it doesn’t make me any happier; while having more time to spend however I want actually does make me noticeably happier.
So at this point in my life, ten years after I hit the road, leaving LA behind, I make far less money than I made back then, but I also have more or less 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to spend on things I enjoy, to travel, to be around people I care about, to just sit around and read a book all day if I want.
That’s been a significant shift, because even after I left LA, I was still caught up in my previous conception of what success looked like, monetarily, and dropping that for something that was a better fit has been one of my proudest and most psychologically beneficial accomplishments.
RWL: What makes you smile?
(Question by Courtney Carver)
CW: Learning new things, hearing about other people’s lives—how they grew up, what’s important to them, what they’re working on, how they see the world—being able to spend my time on things that may never earn me money, leaving things and people better than I found them.
RWL: How do you use technology intentionally?
CW: It depends on the technology, but fundamentally it’s about figure out what role that tool plays in my life, and then figuring out how to ensure it serves that purpose and nothing else.
The smartphone is a great example of a piece of technology that I absolutely love, but I also have all notifications turned off, don’t accept phone calls, and delete all apps that I don’t use on a regular basis.
For me, the smartphone is an amazing tool for creation and intentional consumption, but it’s also constantly angling to me more than that: to summon me when it thinks I’m not paying it close enough attention, with blips and pings and vibrations. And I’m not into that; if it ever got to the point where I couldn’t customize it to remove the majority of those dark patterns that try to manipulate me, I would get rid of it in favor of something else.
That’s how I tend to approach tools in general: does this serve me? How can I adjust it so it serves me better? And if it doesn’t, or if the negatives outweigh the positives, I ditch it for something that fits better into what I’m trying to do.
RWL: Tell us more about your 20 Minutes of Awesome (20MA) daily practice?
CW: This is another habit that has changed shape many times over the years, as I’ve tried new things, learned new approaches to meditation and related fields, though the fundamentals stay the same.
The concept is that you essentially sit quietly and do nothing for 20 minutes.
If you’re just starting, maybe do 5 or 10, instead, because it gets very boring very quickly. Most of us are accustomed to be occupied and entertained all day, every day, and it’s difficult to pull away from that; it’s borderline panic-inducing, at times, to not have something in front of our eyes or in our eyes, stimulating us in some way.
But if you can manage it, it’s great. All you have to do is do nothing for a period of time, not listening to anything, not chanting or humming, not trying to clear your mind even: just sitting there.
And this nothingness can lead your mind to some interesting places. For me, I usually spend the first 10 minutes or so thinking about issues of the day, worrying over things I’ve been worrying about, sorting out problems and maybe getting closer to solutions. Then during the latter 10 minutes, my mind is a bit unspooled and those immediate issues are handled and set aside, and my mind wanders to things I haven’t thought about in ages, memories that I can revisit, thoughts and ideas I never would have had because they bear no relation to all the other (ostensibly productive) things I’ve been thinking about the rest of the day.
I find this helps a lot in terms of calmness and peace of mind, but it’s also wonderful for sleep, as a lot of what you might otherwise worry about right before going to sleep you can get out of the way during this (otherwise quite boring) period of time.
RWL: What’s next for you?
CW: I’m currently working on a small collection of publications: a pseudo-advice column about everything, a weekly essay about the “brain lenses” that bias our thinking, and a weekly summary and news analysis email.
I’m also continuing to produce my news analysis podcast, Let’s Know Things, and enjoying the hell out of that. I’ve been producing a 30-60 minute show every week for over 3 years, and that has been time very well spent, in terms of personal growth and understanding, but also trying to share my love of nuance and context with the world.
RWL: You can add one word onto the end of the phrase ‘Run With Less…’ What would you choose?
RWL: Where can people find you online?
CW: Colin.io is a good place to start, for my books and those upcoming publications I mentioned.
Letsknowthings.com is my podcasting home base.
Exilelifestyle.com is my blog.
I’m also on social media, @colinismyname on Twitter and Instagram, and just ColinWright on Facebook.