The Book That Changed My Life

I’ve read a lot of books, studies, newspaper articles and blog posts, and none of them have impacted me as much as this one.

I purchased the book one morning, after having the same dream for the third time in a single month. When I got to work I Googled “meaning of teeth falling out dream,” for which there are hundreds of interpretations by the way, without coming to any specific diagnosis. Then, while aimlessly scrolling through Instagram, I saw a post about Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism, which had been on my list for a while. At the time I didn’t know why I wanted to read it exactly, or why it compelled to me so much, it just did. I hopped over to Amazon and bought it on the spot.

When I sat down to read it one weekend, my eyes welled up in the first chapter. I couldn’t put it down. The advice was exactly what I needed to hear. I realize it may not have the same effect on others, it might not resonate. But Essentialism hit me at the time when I needed it most, as these things usually do. Who knows, maybe it’s the right time for you.

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What could happen if we thought strategically about life, instead of just reacting to it? 

While reading, I realized I was so caught up in living everyday, just trying to get things done and check items off lists that I rarely stopped to think about what I was doing. All the daily things to be done (walking the dog, commuting, working, exercising, blogging, dating, seeing friends, grocery shopping, cooking, eating, sleeping, all of it) … I was going through the motions. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

McKeown points out that maybe there’s another, better, way and he calls it the disciplined pursuit of less. This is the way of the Essentialist. He says that if we don’t prioritize our lives and design them the way we want them to look, someone else will.

He explains how to allocate resources (energy, time, money) to focus on ONE thing instead of everything, to improve our quality of life. Once we define what we truly want, other things matter less.

This book should come with a warning.

Lifestyle design is one of the hardest things a person can ever do. There are trade-offs and tough decisions (more on that here, regarding my personal experience). But sometimes if you want to see real change, you have to rip the Band-Aid off. And holy crap it stings. But the pain goes away, and once it’s over you feel massive relief.

Here are the little nuggets of wisdom that resonated with me the most, to give you an idea of what’s inside. There are a bunch, I know … almost every page of my copy is “carrotted” (my method of marking which pages to come back to). But if any of this sounds intriguing (maybe it’s the right time for you, too?), get your ass to Amazon right now.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed my life.

  1. The disciplined pursuit of less: It doesn’t happen instantly. Aligning with the ‘less but better’ philosophy takes focus. It’s not a reminder, or just one more thing to think about. It’s the perpetual, disciplined pursuit.
  2. The way of the Essentialist: “… living by design, not by default … Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, and then making execution of those things almost effortless.”
  3. Prioritizing: If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. This means asking, “What is the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?” and “Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution toward my goal?”
  4. Trade-offs: “We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs, but we can’t escape them.” Think of strategically giving things up as an opportunity to achieve a specific outcome. Instead of asking, “Why can’t I do both,” or “What do I have to give up?” ask, “What do I want to go big on?” You can easily do two things at the same time, for example, washing the dishes and listening to the radio. What you can’t do is concentrate on two things at the same time.
  5. Options vs. choices: “Our options may be things, but a choice – a choice is an action. It is not just something we have but something we do. This experience brought me to the liberating realization that while we may not always have control over our options, we always have control over how we choose among them.”
  6. Saying ‘no’: It can be done very easily if you know what’s important to you. Separate the decision from the relationship (with whoever you’re saying ‘no’ to). As for professional settings, once the initial annoyance or disappointment or anger wears off, the respect kicks in. “When we push back effectively, it shows people that our time is highly valuable. It distinguishes the professional from the amateur.”
  7. Fear of missing out: The more you define what you want, the less other things matter. The less fear of missing out you’ll have, and all the noise becomes static.
  8. Outside/social influence: “We waste time and energies on trying to look good in comparison to other people. We overvalue nonessentials like a nicer car or house, or even intangibles like the number of our followers on Twitter or the way we look in our Facebook photos. As a result, we neglect activities that are truly essential, like spending time with our loved ones, or nurturing our spirit, or taking care of our health.”
  9. To remove obstacles: “An Essentialist produces more – brings forth more – by removing more instead of doing more.” Here’s the strategy: 1. Define the essential intent (what you truly want). 2. Identify what obstacles are standing in the way of getting what you want. 3. Remove the obstacle(s): “Done is better than perfect.”
  10. Personal quarterly off-sites: every 90 days, schedule a digital-free day for yourself to reflect and set goals for what you want to do with your life. To prepare, keep a (daily) journal and review it at your offsite. In your journal, keep track of where you’re spending time, what you’re thinking about, and what’s really essential. What are the three most important goals in your life? Decide, then work back to a 90-day plan.
  11. The ‘having and doing it all’ mentality: It’s a myth that’s been peddled for too long. “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”
  12. Along these lines: Australian nurse Bronnie Ware recorded the most often discussed regrets among people at the end of their lives. Topping the list: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  13. Remember to play: nothing fires up the brain creatively like play. As a society, we’ve forgotten how to play, and we’re cutting it out more and more.
  14. Being courageous: “Without courage, the disciplined pursuit of less is just lip service. It is just the stuff of one more dinner party conversation. It is skin deep. 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.”
  15. Why is Essentialism so hard? Simple answer = we’re unclear about what’s essential. When this happens, we are defenseless. On the other hand, with strong internal clarity we can develop a force field protecting us from nonessentials. The good news? According to McKeown, who notes he still struggles with the concept, it gets easier as time goes by.


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