I recently finished reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown, and I got some great nuggets of wisdom to implement into my life. The book shows you how to make fewer but better decisions with work and personal endeavors so you can make the biggest contribution to the things that really matter, and forget the rest that aren’t essential. Essentialism seems simple and straightforward enough, but you would be surprised how much of our everyday lives are filled with behaviors, activities, decisions and physical things that don’t matter that much to us, but we blindly, reluctantly or knowingly take part in them anyway thinking that we’ll benefit somehow. The book is like a lawnmower, to help you weed out all the pointless weeds out of your life that are sucking up your resources. Now, you just have to be the person that puts the lawnmower to work.
A small part of me freaked out while reading this book, thinking, “Oh No! I’m the opposite of the perfect essentialist… I’m screwed.” I often try to do a million things in life and never stick to just the essential few activities or behaviors that may very well give me maximum happiness and success. As an example, I will openly admit I am a semi-hoarder, but I honestly think most people are to some degree, I sometimes have a hard time letting go of clothing that I’ve had for years because there is sentimental value in them and either I’m getting some use out of them now or, who knows, maybe they’ll be of use at some point in the future (*personal cue to throw out more clothes). However, I give away clothes that I know I’m getting zero benefit from, so I think I fit in between what an essentialist would do – ruthlessly get rid of clothes that aren’t getting maximum wear, and what a nonessentialist would do – hoard all things forever because we might get value from them some day.
To be a true essentialist, you have to be a strict authoritarian of your time.
I have mad respect for the people that stick to that. I don’t think I could adopt essentialism into all parts of my life at the moment, but reevaluating how I make decisions and what kinds of routines I’ve adopted has been a great start to living more purposefully. The goal is to slowly become more of an essentialist as I solidify more good habits.
Here are some of my favorite concepts and nuggets of wisdom from the book.
Life is a finite chunk of time, might as well do what is essential
There is a part in the book where Greg highlights why nonessentialism is everywhere, from too many choices, too much social pressure, and my favorite concept he dives into- the idea that you can have it all. He argues that you can’t have it all, there is not enough time to do everything. When people try to pack in as much activity as possible into their lives, they lose sight of what is important and lose out on truly living life. He shares a story about a nurse who took care of people that were approaching the end of their life and learned their most common regret – “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This part of the book reminded me that life is temporary and time is ultimately limited, so we can’t possibly do everything. We should be making our lives count and be mission-driven with the time we do have.
Change your mindset from a limiting mentality to a bountiful mentality
This concept is kind of like having a growth mindset – learning from experience and having a positive attitude about solving problems, instead of having a fixed way of perceiving situations and struggling to overcome challenges. Greg encourages that people ask themselves, “what do I want to go big on?” instead of, “What do I have to give up?” The key is to not think that eliminating desires from your life is a downer, but instead, feel empowered and excited to pick what is of paramount importance above nonessential nice-to-haves and things that aren’t significant to your success and happiness.
Adopt a process that makes essentialism easy
Creating a routine is important for fostering a life of essentialism. Routine creates habit. And habit guarantees that something will get done without much energy. Creating a routine that helps automate practice of essentialism makes essentialism easier to stick with and also frees up more time to focus on other parts of life. Greg uses Michael Phelps as an example of an epic routine machine. The Olympic swimmer has mental and physical rituals in his daily routine that are second nature, he doesn’t even need to stress or think about them. Winning becomes second nature and is part of his routine, winning happens before he even gets into the water to swim a race, it starts with all his rituals before that, leading up to the race and during his swim. A nonessentialist would think that doing what is essential is tough, it requires extra work and willpower. But, with the practice of essentialism, doing what is essential should in theory be easy, because you have routines in place that make choosing what is essential a habit. It makes decisions more automatic and less stressful to make, and makes choosing distractions less tempting.
Greg shares tips for making routines work:
- Don’t make the wrong routine a habit – like never getting a full night’s rest
- Fix your triggers for naughty, nonessential behavior. You want pizza, don’t eat the pizza like naughty you would when you walk by the pizza shop. Next time you walk by the pizza shop and crave pizza- your cue to get a salad instead.
- Create new triggers to get you to do your essential life work/tasks
- Do what is challenging first and get it out of the way
- Spice up your life and change up your routine, sometimes routines get boring.
- Don’t go nuts trying to implement lots of routines, it will be much more difficult to stick with. Try making one change to your routine until you’ve perfected it.
One decision can automatically solve 1000s of other decisions
Clarity on your essentialist intent helps eliminate the need to solve a ton of decisions that aren’t essential. If you know exactly what your values are, then one decision can take precedent over other decisions and you won’t waste time and energy on doing unessential activities. For instance, if my essentialist intent is to optimize my wellness using mindfulness, making the decision to be mindful every day solves other nonessential decisions I could have made. I decide to meditate instead of staying distracted with thoughts, I take a moment to pause and reflect instead of turning on the TV, I listen more intently to the conversation at hand instead of getting distracted by conversations around me. Knowing what my values are and being aligned with them helps me easily choose to be mindful over other distractions/nonessentials that don’t serve purpose to my wellbeing.
I loved that the author doesn’t expect the reader to be able to practice essentialism right away, because it can be difficult to choose what is essential all the time. Greg gives practical advice and tips for creating new perspectives and routines that help make choosing the essential way easier than if you just tried with sheer willpower. I highly recommend this book, the content is articulate, practical and makes changing personal habits and self-improvement fun and less daunting.