Being an Essentialist

I just finished Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. It’s an eye-opening book in times of digital overwhelm and multi-tasking. There is this unrelenting pressure to take on more. One more book placed on top of the tottering stack. One more appointment edged into a jam-packed day. One more load of laundry before going to bed. This is especially difficult for me as my top strength from StrengthsFinder is Maximiser. I am constantly searching for ways to make things even better. Essentialism seems to contradict that.


Becoming an essentialist is understanding your true north; understanding yourself and what is REALLY important rather than what is important to everyone else. It entails not focusing on other’s expectations but what is truly important to you. From there, you just need to align your actions and thoughts with your passion. Easy? Heck no. Important? Yes.

Thoughts on becoming an essentialist:

Mindset.  “We are facing an unholy alliance between social media, smart phones, and consumerism. It’s not all bad, but certain forces that have come together are producing an unintended result for all of us,” Greg writes. “Our whole society has become consumed by the undisciplined pursuit of more. The only way to overcome this problem is to change the way we think—adopt the mindset of only doing the things that are essential—and do it now.” It’s a mindset of discernment. Selectivity. Culling out the clutter and focusing on engaging what matters most to us. It isn’t flipping a switch. It’s that discernment everyday with everything. It’s a mindset.

Trade-offsFor everything you say “yes” to, you are saying “no” to something else. If you say yes to a business trip during spring break, you are saying no to time off with your kids. If you say yes to finishing that project tonight, it’s a no to dinner with your friend. If you take the job that keeps you home instead of traveling on a monthly basis, it may be a yes to being with family more and a no to making more money or a promotion. It’s time to wake up and realize that you can not have it all. There is always a trade-off. Make sure you trade for what’s truly important to you.

Delay yes.  This hearkens back to the wisdom of my dear friend Janine: “Don’t make a decision until you need to make a decision.” Greg writes, “It’s a good idea to recognize the value of contemplation versus impulse.” This is incredibly hard for someone as impatient as I. I want everything finished…yesterday. All the presents wrapped and under the tree on Thanksgiving. Press pause. Take a breath. Go inside your body and wait. This has paid off immensely for me personally over the last year. I kept trying to push a rope for months. When I leaned back and sat in patience and waited, and waited, and waited. The reward was life changing. Delay yes.

Less. Greg posits, “We’ve been oversold the value of more and undersold the value of less.” The fear of missing out can affect your decisions in your career, entrepreneurial pursuits and your relationships. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. If it’s a maybe, it’s a no. I love Alton Brown and his show Good Eats. He would never have a kitchen utensil that was a “uni-tasker”. He figured out ways to use a garbage can lid and aluminum foil to smoke a turkey rather than buying a turkey smoker. Less can be more.

Endowment effect.  As Lawton Ursrey wrote in Forbes, “The Endowment Effect is the idea that we value objects and also opportunities higher if we own them versus if we don’t.” As Greg writes, “This is a classic heuristic trick—it’s a myth. The idea that you must own something to find value is not true. Not having something or letting go of something has real and sometimes the most value.” I faced this head on over the last nine months as I de-cluttered my life. I only retain what I truly love, truly use and what truly fits. There are the sentimental mementos like a Lego airplane my son made some fifteen years ago and a pillow my daughter made in kindergarten. I cherish these. I’ve dropped some four dress sizes in the last few years. The only thing in my closet are items I love and that fit. If you spent $200 on that pair of shoes ten years ago and they don’t feel comfortable on your feet, they are of no value to you.

Moment.  Our time is the most important commodity. Don’t let Facebook, Instagram or your inbox take you away from the current moment. As Greg writes, “Our phones for example have great utility but there is a downside. As a result, we need to put in place seatbelts—ways to limit the downside. One seatbelt is just turning it off.” I have made a more conscious effort to leave my phone charging on the kitchen counter after I am home for the evening. Limiting my check ins to several times a day. This is not easy as it is an addiction. Leave it behind, turn it off and shut down notifications. You are alright, right now. Wouldn’t you rather experience what’s going on? Be here right now.

I am a work in progress. I don’t need to be perfect at this today or tomorrow. I am just working on it. I left a meeting last week because the value had dropped – it had morphed into a gab session. It was uncomfortable, but I had better use for my time. Lean in and get essential.

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