This is part of our Rockstar Book Review series.
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“Essentialism” Provides the Insights We Need to Create the Life We Want
To live a fulfilling life, we need to decide what matters and what doesn’t, and that’s increasingly difficult in a world that tries to equate “busyness” with importance.
McKeown dispels this idea of busyness early on, declaring that this state of being is just as damaging as laziness, as both are a means of avoiding action. That is, avoiding making the choices that are necessary ingredients for success.
The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten. (pg. 36)
According to McKeown, the solution to overcoming life’s incessant noise and demands is to:
- Be clear about what we want and why
- Eliminate what doesn’t make the cut
- Focus on the essential and make progress however we can
#1. Be Clear
It can be hard to know what we truly want. That’s why it’s so easy to let ourselves get distracted by anything and everything. It’s behavior that’s rewarded on a number of fronts thanks to social media and social expectations. And who doesn’t like to be rewarded with attention at work, online, at the store, or while out with our friends?
Knowing what we want means we need to try different things, learn about and think about what makes us tick, and make some choices that deliberately limit our options based on what we’ve discovered. And that’s hard. It’s much easier to let ourselves be pulled in a hundred different directions because it means we don’t need to take responsibility for our success and for our happiness. And in the long run, it leaves us miserable and likely to burn out.
Clarity is refreshing. It’s simple. And it’s liberating because it enables us to make decisions with much greater ease.
According to McKeown, the necessary ingredients to achieve greater clarity include making time for what is rarely rewarded externally in the short term:
- thinking (exploring, observing, debating, listening)
In essence, purposefully slowing down helps us be more effective over the long run.
When we know what we want and why, we need to protect it at all costs. That means saying “no” to a lot of people: to our family and friends, to professional opportunities & demands and more. It also means saying “no” to ourselves when we know that we’re likely to regret impulsive decisions that aren’t in line with what we aspire to most.
[T]he killer question when deciding what activities to eliminate is: “If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?” (pg. 117)
It also means setting boundaries of various types:
- Setting limits on our work hours
- Reducing distractions (media, shopping, gaming, etc.)
- Limiting how easily others can reach us, at least during some part(s) of the day
- Guarding our schedule against unexpected demands
- Setting hard rules around self-care
- Building buffers (breathing room) into our schedule that are off limits
Eliminating the unimportant makes room for more of what is. It makes us better able to accomplish what we’ve chosen to focus on, and that is what makes us better at what we do and happier as a result. We experience an increased sense of control. We feel we’re accomplishing more of what matters, to us. We move from the mundane many to the truly meaningful few.
By choosing what’s most important and making it clear to ourselves and others that we’re making it the top priority, we create the means to focus on it. We distill what we’re trying to achieve down to its very essence. And that’s what makes it possible to “walk the talk”:
- An endeavour receives the professional attention it deserves.
- A hobby becomes a craft.
- A job becomes a career.
- A course of study becomes a passion.
We have the courage to tackle that thing we’ve always known we wanted to do but were too scared or unsure to devote ourselves to.
Anyone can talk about the importance of focusing on the things that matter most—and many people do—but to see people who dare to live it is rare. (pg. 132-3)
With focus, we also actively eliminate barriers and problems that would otherwise have slowed or halted our progress. It’s amazing how many doors open when we want something badly enough. Just as the world pulls us in multiple directions when we don’t make clear what we want, it tends to align itself to it when we do. Limitations and shortcomings transform themselves into opportunities to learn and grow. And, when we get it just right, focus is intoxicating.
Greg McKeown’s book, “Essentialism” shows us that less truly is more. When we stick to the essential, when we do less, we reap the rewards of getting more of what we want and less of the stuff that, in the end, doesn’t matter. That means more fulfillment and, more importantly, less regret.
Other suggested books of this type: “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson, “The Power of NO” by Claudia and James Altucher, “Do Less, Get More” by Shaa Wasmund, and “The Little Prince” by Antoine de St. Exupéry (fiction)
Other great books that address “Essentialism” themes on a deeper level:
- Reducing choice / Increasing Commitment: “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz, “Everything That Remains” by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, “Peak” by Anders Ericsson
- Meaning and Purpose: “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho (fiction)
- Focus: “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr, “Deep Work” by Cal Newport, “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “RAPT” by Winifred Gallagher, “Scarcity” by Sendhil Mullainathan & Elder Shafir
- Creativity: “Out of Our Minds” by Ken Robinson
- Boundaries: “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” by Harry Browne, and “Overwhelmed” by Brigid Schulte
- Business/Lifestyle: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey, “Will It Fly?” by Pat Flynn, “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” by Tony Schwartz
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