Becoming Bland — the goal and the lifestyle

Sometimes you see your reflection. That’s the real you. | Source: Matt Hoffman via Unsplash

Have you ever had black coffee? What does it taste like? No no, I’m not talking about the smell of the coffee beans, the heat that awakens you, or the kick you get in the morning. I’m talking about the taste as the dark, death-life liquid hits your tongue. Take a moment, look away from the screen, and describe it’s taste out loud.

Done?
Now, let’s proceed.

We own so much in life and use so little. The core of everything is the same. What’s the point of dressing it up, giving it a different name, and doing the same thing over and over again. This can be applied to everything, food, drinks, clothes, entertainment.

Variations of these take up our time, make up our homes, and dominate our lives. Yet the differences in them are minimal. At times, unnoticed. So, what’s the point of giving them so much credence. If “basic” give us all we need, why do we strive to want the “special”? Even though, there is no change in utility.

This might just be the consumerist culture surrounding us. Where everything has ten different versions. A lite version and a premium one, and we want both. But the modifications made from one version to the next are insignificant. Yet, we must have them. In fact, we crave them. Think of every new phone, game, gadget, or car released. We must have it!

This does not apply to something in particular but everything in general. At the very core of this is something that I can’t define. But let’s try taking another view and look at what is opposite it. It’s spelt in five letters — BLAND.

Now that we know how to spell it, let’s look at the definition. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as —

“Lacking strong features or characteristics and therefore uninteresting.”

You can call this being “minimal,” but I’d like to think “minimal” is not the same as “bland.” Something can be minimal but not bland. It certainly is a better word. You’ll hear people scoff and say “I don’t own things like that, I’m a minimalist,” but you won’t hear someone say “That’s not for me, I’m a bland-ist(?).

At first estimation, this might seem like something you wouldn’t want to be called. “What a bland person he is!” sounds awful. Why would anyone want to be “uninteresting”? We’re all unique and therefore interesting in our own quirky ways. To have someone remark that we are “uninteresting” or “unamusing” or God forbid “boring” seems like an insult.

Bland, even the world evokes no emotion. Like a tasteless boiled egg, an empty white canvas, or an abandoned house in the neighborhood. Even though we taste, experience it, and pass it, there’s no taste, emotion, or persisting feeling it draws out. But is that good or bad?

I think our conception of what is bland is incorrect. My view of “bland” is it’s not only good, it should be the goal.

The very definition of bland is it invokes no emotion. It is forever indifferent. The simple grey t-shirt you wear to parties, workouts, and family dinners. The water or black coffee that you prefer to beer, cappuccino, or a Jägermeister. The simple reading of a book or walk in the park, over browsing through social media or binging on Netflix. These simple things have no emotion, taste, or immediate stimulus. They are the very definition of bland.

Sometimes bland objects do draw a tinge of emotion. This is, however, not from the object but the subject. It’s based on reaction, not action. Very rarely does it posit anything in favor or against the user. What it does bring out is a reaction to the object. Or rather, a reflection of what’s already going on in one’s head.

Bland objects take away the unnecessary cost of thinking about the mundane. If I know I have to wear the same t-shirt and jeans for the next few days, and it’ll be in my closet when I open it, I can focus on other things. I save ten minutes every day, deciding what to wear. That comes up to a whole hour in the week. If I know that I’m going to be drinking only water during a night out with friends, it not only saves me time and money but my consciousness. If I know I’m going to be doing the same workout tomorrow morning, I don't need to pay attention to others in the gym.

What this gives the mind is freedom. Since you’ve done the same bland things over and over again, repetition sets in (which we’ll discuss next). You begin to go through the motions. Like a robot. These necessary, but uninteresting things fall by the wayside. Your mind is allowed to think beyond your immediate meal, attire, drink, or day.

Being bland allows you to think about the important things. You no longer have to waste time on the mundane.

Becoming bland requires repetition. This is simply doing the same thing over and over and over again. Wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, doing the same workouts, meeting the same people, engaging in the same activities, and having the same schedule. Repetition is difficult. [It’s so difficult that I’ve spelled it incorrectly twice. Thanks, auto-correct for pointing it out.]

In order to repeat something consistently, the activity should be sustainable. Meaning, you should be able to do it over and over again with no interruptions, or cost. You can’t go to the gym and deadlift heavy every day. Nor can you run a marathon every day. You can’t eat an all you can eat buffet every day. You don’t wear and suit and tie every day. Nor do you wear your workout gear every day. There’s a time and a place for these things. These activities, food, and attire are exceptional. And by definition, they aren’t sustainable.

Sustainability comes when you do simple and easy tasks consistently. You have to make them so simple and easy that you can do them every day with little to no effort. That’s why people say, pick a half-decent gym close to home, rather than a good gym, a few kilometers from home. You can consistently go to the former, not the latter. Repitition is key.

Being bland requires you to put simple easy things on repeat. The attire, food, drinks, exercise. Everything is like on a hamster’s wheel.

There’s a reason why the head of every major company wears the same clothes everywhere. They are maximizing their outputs. One of the ways this can be done is by minimizing inputs. Inputs here can be the mundane everyday things that you need to do. But you don’t have to do them. Or, more specifically, spend mental energy doing them.

These are things we do because we live in societies, and follow certain norms. Eating food when you’re out with friends. Consuming alcoholic beverages saying, “Well, everyone is drinking. I might as well.” Or acquiring certain possessions because you want to maintain the network effect. None of these things — eating out, drinking alcohol, and spending unnecessarily is part of you. But you engage in them because everyone does.

Business executives, the ones in creative and no-corporate pursuits at least, couldn’t care less about this pressure. They wear the same clothes, eat the same food, drink the same drinks, and maintain the same routine. These little things slowly decrease daily inputs because they do them daily.

The daily cost of figuring out what to wear, what to eat, and which and drink to order is just that a cost. None of this matters when you’re building something — a company, technology, product, or service. Decreasing these daily inputs end up accelerating the end output.

You don’t have time to think about what shirt matches with those jeans or what Netflix episode you want to watch next. You’re busy with more important things. In this pursuit of what’s important, everything else becomes bland. If this means making your entire lifestyle bland, so be it.

At the end of the day, it’s all about priority. And to some people, expensive food, fizzy drinks, and fancy clothes are not priorities. They are distractions. To these people, the priority is their work, family, passion, community, or something else.

Being bland requires you to know what‘s a priority and what isn’t. More often than not, if you’re paying too much attention to your external appearance, you are distracted.

It might seem that a bland life does not move forward, there is no progress. I’d argue that a bland life has more progress than the average life. Because if progressing is truly what matters focus on what actually gives life meaning and qualify. Not what’s simply a façade.

Progress does not come from going from a simple plain t-shirt to a Nike dry-fit one. Nor is it going from a redmi to an iPhone. This might seem like progress, and it does seem like life is becoming “interesting.” But what’s changing is the exterior, not the interior.

These — a shirt, a phone, even a car, and a house, are pieces of utility. They are useful in specific areas, for warmth, communication, commute, and shelter. But they aren’t measures of the quality of life. They aren’t giving us a reason to wake up in the morning. To plan ahead. To set goals, and get after them. They might be milestones we set, and we say something like, “When I get that bonus, I’m getting myself an iPhone.” But we say this, in a way, to distract us from the next milestone. Or rather the real goal.

When you focus on being bland these materialistic items of progress wither. It forces you to seek progress where it truly matters. In your career, passion, family, or something personal to you. Any monetary surplus you get is immediately reinvested to set you back on the path. Not spent at a pitstop, delaying you from getting back on track. Like an efficient company, your profits are put back into the business. This is an investment in growth.

Being bland requires you to know where progress lies and where it doesn’t. We tend to look at progress by the logo on our shirt or the number of cameras on our phone. But that’s not progress. Find out what truly is progress is to you, and get on that path.

In no way do I live a bland lifestyle. I don’t think it’s possible in the internet age. But I’m trying to everyday. I guess we all try to at one stage. Some sooner than later.

Bland objects have three features that others do not — they are simple, easy, effective, and cheap. They are the simplest of their kind (think water over a beer or black coffee over a double Caramel Crunch Frappe). They are easy to prepare (think of a boiled egg prepared in 10–15 minutes or a t-shirt that you can throw on to a workout or a meeting). They are effective because they get the job done (think of a cycle that’ll get you from place A to B, save you money, burn calories, help the environment, and prevent traffic). They are cheap (a Rs 6 egg over a Rs 100 omelet). Bland objects are efficient and they provide leverage unlike anything else.

A bland lifestyle can be achieved, not through struggle, through constant practice. Toning down objects to what’s needed, what can be repeated, what promotes free-thinking, what’s important, and what can be improved incrementally (think more water, longer walks, progressive overload, and more). That’s what being bland is about. This might seem “uninteresting” as the aforementioned Oxford Dictionary definition pointed out. Like I said, to me, it isn’t. It’s the goal.

P.S.: I’m writing this as a reminder to myself. Eventually this will be a a lesson learned. But beyond the narcissistic need, I hope it does help you.

If you’re interested, I turn books into guides here.

Writing as opposed to keeping the thoughts locked in my head.