3 Essentials of Essentialism


Two years ago, I began my journey into mindfulness practice. More than a buzzword, mindfulness began seeping into every nook and cranny of my brain. It was at conferences, on television, and in my private practice. Taking more conscious control of my attention I realized that I had too much to attend to in my daily life, and most of that was my own fault. I noticed I was hording projects, extending myself beyond my capacity, and by the end of the week I was exhausted.

The realization that I was doing too much was not a new “aha” for me. Maybe it sounds familiar to you too.

What was new about my realization was a growing awareness that there was another way to do life:  One that was less about cramming it all in, and more about enjoying the moment. Doing less is harder than it sounds, but feels better than you can even imagine when you are still in the “do more mindset.”

It is time for spring cleaning, let’s clear the mind clutter.

My mindfulness quest has resulted in a growing bookshelf of inspiring reads. This month I have been somewhat obsessively reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (2014). This book is filled with some “essential” wisdom that adds tools to my toolbox and shapes my thinking.

There is so much to reflect on in McKeown’s book, but I wanted to highlight three essential wisdoms:

  1. If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

There are many things we can do with our time every day. But what if today is all that you have? Are you spending your time in meaningful ways? I once read an article that was written sarcastically encouraging the reader to find their one true passion . . .  and then do everything possible to avoid spending any time on it. Schedule meetings, wash the car, watch mindless television, ANYTHING but pursue that passion. I can identify with that weird logic some days.

Essentialism has mindfulness at its core. What do you choose to do with your time? One of the examples  was about an executive who was “majoring in minor activities.” We have all been there before. Essentialism reminds us that we have a choice, and we need to always be aware of the ability to choose.

  1. You can make a millimeter of progress on many things or “go big” on just one.

With multiple opportunities knocking at regular intervals at our inboxes we must be intentional on what is “the most essential.” What is the one thing that will drive you today? We can’t do it all, that is clearly a myth that motivates multi-tasking to cram everything in.  Essentialism is a form of mindfulness through choosing to intentionally do less, but do it with more of you. Your whole creative, attentive, loving human self.  In trying to put essentialism into practice I am often shocked to realize how long something takes when I allow myself to be immersed in it.  Instead of skimming the surface we can learn to do things wholeheartedly. What would it feel like  to do less with more heart?

  1. Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles.

Technology has learned how to track our habits, and we are a habit based species. By planning what we have prioritized with our time, we reduce the noise of nonessentials. My iPhone knows when I go to the gym, and it kind of freaks me out, it is clearly a habit. What helped me develop the healthy habit is that by writing my gym class into my schedule I avoid planning anything else during that time. The habit helps me to say no to other requests for my time and attention. By making that one decision, I have made future decisions so much easier.

My one complaint about McKeown’s book is that it is written with a business narrative. Inside of every story of the harried executive who learns to trim the to do list and prioritize the right things is a wisdom that applies more globally to life, but you must work for the insight. In my opinion it is well worth the work. I am almost through my second reading of the book and the application is getting easier.

The tools of essentialism are helping me create a schedule that more accurately reflects the life that I want to live.

Like tiny homes and Marie Kondo’s magic of tidying up, essentialism reflects a growing awareness that we need to simplify and be satisfied with less.

Less is the new more. If these wisdoms resonate for you please consider prioritizing Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less for your TBR (to be read) pile.