Essentialism Part 1
Tracey: Hey, I’m glad you’re here. This is Episode 15, and we’re doing something a little bit different today. I picked up a book last week- that is not different. I’m always picking up books. This book is making such a difference in my life, and I can’t wait to share it with you. The book is called Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I’ve only read Part One. There are four parts in the book. Part one, I’m already applying it to my life and seeing some big changes. So I was talking about those changes with some of my friends, and it turns out I’ve got a friend who loves the book, too. She’s read it a number of times. So I’ve recorded a conversation that she and I have about Part One of the book Essentialism. I can’t wait for you to meet my friend Karen Backway. Karen is a physician turned life coach. She is super, super smart. She is a lovely person. Oh, my goodness, I adore her. And we do have fabulous conversations. So get ready to join us for our conversation about Essentialism.
Welcome to An Owner’s Guide for Your Life, the podcast that combines psychology, coaching, common sense and fun. I’m Tracey Browning, an entrepreneur, life coach and lover of people. Now let’s talk about how to live, love, make money, and change the world.
Tracey: Oh, my friend. We are excited to talk about Essentialism, right?
Karen: Yes. One of my favorite books. I’ve read it multiple times.
Tracey: See, this is beautiful because I’m on my first reading of Essentialism. I’m through part one. That is all.
Karen: And look, you’re already ready to share.
Tracey: It’s so fascinating. This book- I got so excited even in the first couple of chapters, because for me, Essentialism is really, it’s the theme of what I’m talking about with An Owner’s Guide for Your Life. It’s how to be a great owner of your life. The essential parts, right? And sometimes it’s not easy to define. You are correct.
What is it? I mean, you’ve shared you’ve read this multiple times. Why do you keep coming back to it?
Karen: Maybe because I’m a slow learner.
Tracey: Now I know you and that is not true.
Karen: Because every time I re-read a book that I like, the first time I get more and more out of it every time. And I’m a paper person. I want a book. And if I get a book on Kindle version, right, if I really like the book, I will then buy the book. I underline and highlight, and I scribble all over. Right. And I’m doing the same thing two years later when I go back and read it again. Yeah. It’s like, oh, and like, oh, yeah. That’s where I got that thought from. And then you just, it just accentuates what I felt was important the first kick at the can, and then I get more out of it the next time. So there are certain books that this is probably a book that I will visit again and again over and over the next few years. It speaks to me, really. And my favorite quote on it is actually in the first part. It’s actually the title of one of the chapters. Let me just see if I can find it. Here is like the unimportance of practically everything.
Tracey: I’m laughing because I flipped my book open. I thought, oh, which one is she going to choose? And that was the one I thought you would choose. I like it.
Karen: I like it. Really, your life can get so full of stuff. And unless you sort of consciously try to sweep it out, you’re tripping over it, right? As we age, what you’re tripping over is easier to fall over.
Tracey: And then you break a hip. We don’t want to do that. We don’t have to. But you also find that you want to view, for me, anyway that I want to really hone in on what is important to me, a timeline of life.
Karen: Right. Even though we’re still in the messy middle of it all, you’re kind of closer to the tidy endings that you want to get the most out of it as you can. Right?
Tracey: Exactly. And when you were saying that about your stuff, Greg McKeown talks about using this book in your life like you would if you had a professional organizer come in to help you with your closet. Now, I’ve not had a professional organizer. I’ve had my sisters do that. We’ve done that for each other and you’re like, what a mess. Look at all the stuff. And unless you are thoughtfully curating and you have a system to wash your dirty clothes, pick out your outfit. What are you going to wear to the wedding? Oh, what are you going to wear for work? Unless you’ve got a system, then it’s really chaos. So I like his idea and I’ll come back and I’ll read and he’s got this somewhere early on. That what essentialism really is his quick definition. It’s a disciplined, systematic approach to determine your highest point of contribution and then make that execution almost effortless. That sentence packs a wallop.
Karen: It certainly does. You might need to say it again.
Tracey: There’s a lot of big words in that sentence and still going, oh, wait a minute. It’s a discipline. It’s a systematic approach, your highest point of contribution? No, he breaks all this out later on in the book and we’ll talk about it as we’re going through. But it’s figuring out where you really, what is it that you’re excellent at? What is that you love? What is that you want to do in your life and in the world and not all the good things? And I think that’s the danger that so many of us succumb to that I say yes to a lot of good things because they’re good. They’re good.
Karen: You’re right. But his point is that you want to do what you excel at. Right. So I found an easier way to define essentialism. The way of the essentialist means living by design, not by default. Because so many of us live by default, we don’t actually consciously choose what we’re doing. How many people finish high school, get their first job and stay there? I don’t know. I never did that. I made many, many career changes.
Tracey: That is not your history, but we all know that it’s like the easiest way to live life because you’re not having to stop and go through the agony, I’ll just say, of making choices. Choice can be beautiful, but it can be challenging.
Karen: That’s one of my favorite sentences. Choice is a beautiful thing.
Tracey: I think it’s a beautiful thing if you surround yourself with people who think it’s a beautiful thing. And if you can see in your own life evidence that it really is a beautiful thing,
Karen: I wonder if there’s so much we get bombarded so much with information now and so many choices that you end up. Actually, when you make a choice, do you end up with FOMO, like fear of missing out? Like if I choose this, what about all these other things?
Karen: Right. And the thing the essentialist is about is that you almost need, I’m going to say blinders. Yeah, those are good things, too. But what’s best, exactly.
Tracey: Exactly. And instead of having the fear of missing out, what if you have the joy of missing out?
Karen: Oh, that’s good.
Tracey: It’s really good. I am nowhere near there yet. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I can go. Yeah, I have chosen the best thing. And yes, I’ve said, I’ve said no to some good things. I’m saying yes to the really good thing. The best thing for me. It’s such a, it’s a fascinating way to approach living your life. And I think you and I know each other well enough. We know how our minds work, and we know that we like to think, you and I. So I wondered if this is a way of living, being an essentialist, that really fits a little better for someone who likes to think, because you do have to think a lot. You’ve got to evaluate your choices well, and you have to actually make a decision which is different than thinking, right?
Karen: The solid different. I mean, he does talk about in the book how you want to consider a whole bunch of things. Right. And he talks about exploring the various options. Then you can, actually, because if you think about your variety of options, you can then make your choice, knowing that you actually considered a bunch of other things and that you made the best choice, there has to be some degree of thought that is put into this, right? You don’t just marry the first guy you meet, or maybe you did, I don’t know.
Tracey: I did not.
Karen: You need to put some thought into it. Right. Right. So maybe that’s not the best example, marrying the first person who comes along. But you want to know that you did make a thoughtful decision that you’re going to sort of hone in on. Right. Your brain is going to come up and say, Hello. What are you doing? No, no. Change is bad, because we want to.
Tracey: Again, our brains are so energy efficient, they are creatures of habit, and they want to keep us safe. And change doesn’t feel safe. Chapter two, where the actual chapter title is Choose. Oh, that just can feel really difficult. It can feel hard. And our brains, like you were saying, can get that ain’t happening. Right. And that’s because to our brain, safe means familiar. Right. Right. And its job is to keep us safe over and above everything else.
Karen: Yeah. Familiar. Good. Change. Lethal. No. Familiar. Good. Hey, even if it’s sort of average, it’s good. This is good. You don’t want to do that. And our brain is a really good negotiator.
Yes. You don’t want to do that. You don’t want to get up an exercise. Do you remember five years ago there with that jock in the gym who looked at you like you walked into the men’s locker room by mistake. You don’t want to do that? No, I’m not going to the gym. Not a chance.
Tracey: It’s like flinging open the file cabinet. Remember this? And this? See, I love you. I’m keeping you safe. And this is something I know you and I being coaches that we’re really tuned into. We spend a lot of time talking about what to expect from our brain, and not everybody thinks about it as much as we do. So I know, even being as aware as we are of the trash talk we’re going to get from our brain when we go to make a different choice. Even being aware, it’s still like you’re bombarded with all the chatter that doesn’t want you to change. So just the awareness of it.
And I wouldn’t recommend saying, oh, this is hard because that puts a little bit of a negative spin on it. Say “This is new. This is different. This is something I’m exploring”. It kind of softens the blow, and it almost teases your brain to look in a different direction and not hit you as hard with all the “remember that time you screwed up, you’re going to do it again if you make that choice.”
Karen: Well, it’s treating yourself with a little bit of compassion, too. It’s like I get it. I know you’re trying to protect me, okay? We’re not going to die because we get up and exercise, right?
Karen: So that awareness to generate self compassion will make it easier for you to sort of go contrary to what your brain is trying to convince you not to do.
Tracey: Right. Such a good point. Such a good point.
Karen: The other point that he makes, which is actually, maybe I said this already. Yeah. You can’t underestimate the importance of absolutely everything.
Tracey: I don’t think we’ve talked about that.
Karen: Yeah, it’s actually the title of one of the chapters, let me make sure I get it completely because it’s really powerful.You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything, which is if you actually it’s so constraining. Don’t hold me to that, please. But if you’ve considered other options and you’re picking the one that’s best for you, it’s actually freeing, as opposed to constraining.
Tracey: That’s such a good point. And I’m forgetting I’m sitting here nodding my head at you and you can see me nodding my head, but my head thankfully does not rattle up and down when I do that.
Tracey: Such powerful ideas here in this book. And I’m looking at some of the notes I’ve made. Chapter three is Discernment- how to Be Discerning. And he talks about the Pareto Principle, which most people are familiar with. The 80-20 rule, 20% of your effort. Let’s see. Is that right? Yeah. 20% of your effort is responsible for 80% of your results. It works in businesses and works for people. We can all kind of see how that plays out. So to be discerning about where that important 20% of effort needs to be- that ties beautifully in with be aware you’ve got choice and then choose wisely. But also, I had shared with you earlier, one of my favorite ideas in this chapter is the power law theory that some efforts have exponentially more impact in your life. And I think it was, who was it? Maybe the chief technology officer with Microsoft. I don’t remember his name. I think that was the guy he was quoting. That he saw it with Microsoft. That their software developers, the ones who were just, like, head and shoulders above the others. They weren’t, like, ten times better than the others. They were, like, 10,000 times better. They had something in there that was just, it had a huge impact. So for us to look in our own life and go, right, where are the decisions? Where should my effort be? That’s really going to impact to a huge degree. Where are they?
Tracey: What do you think about that?
Karen: Well, no pressure to be a thousand times better than everybody.
Tracey: 10,000 times better.
Karen: No pressure. Yeah.
Tracey: I’m not saying I have that desire. I think that was the CTO’s opinion about his software developers 10,000 times over. But how cool that is to see that somebody can look and, you know, there’s something really important happening here, and I don’t think it’s something that’s reserved for software developers. I think it’s the hope we can look in our life and figure out where are we going to have the most impact by focusing our attention like a laser beam. Where do we focus? Where are we going to get that explosion? I get really excited about the power wall theory.
Karen: Well, it’s like a set of levers.
Karen: Exactly. So that you may not, with one lever, be able to move a 1000 lb rock, but with a series of levers. I remember that in grade six physics or something a long, long time ago, the power of the levers. Right. What are the levers you need to pull?
Perhaps you know, the way that you’re describing that is almost like fear inducing. You really need to hone in on just this one thing, right?
I don’t know that he talks about trade offs in that paragraph in that chapter as well.
Karen: That’s part of the fear of missing out.If you say yes to this, you’re automatically saying no to something else.
Karen: And what if that no is actually way better than the yes you’re saying yes to. And again, that’s fear of missing out all over again.
Tracey: See, I think in my head I’d already kind of gone to the joy of missing out. I am so excited about there’s the possibility that I can focus in on something and get huge effort.
Hey, maybe that’s just me being a little bit lazy. Maybe I just want to conserve some energy.
Karen: Well, that would be your brain.
Tracey: Yeah. So I can make my brain happy. And maybe, like, calm that little voice down on going. But I think it’s exciting that you can hone in and focus in on a few things. And somewhere in these chapters, one of the phrases he’ll repeat periodically is looking at the vital few rather than the trivial many. What are the vital few? Whether it’s the vital few choices, the vital few things. We focus on the vital few over the trivial many. And it’s just really exciting to me to think.
Tracey: And maybe I’m excited because I see that happening in my life now, as I’m putting some of his principles really into effect, I see it happening. I’m shifting things.
Karen: So do you have an example in your own life right now about the joy of missing out?
Tracey: Well, yeah. Which I don’t want to feel like a mean girl saying it, but I was invited to be part of a mastermind, and I’m realizing that this mastermind, I didn’t have ties to the people in it. And while a mastermind is a fabulous thing, it’s a fabulous way for people to come together and work towards their individual goals. But I didn’t have any personal ties with the people in that mastermind. And I have said to them, I’m rescinding my agreement to be part of the master mind. It hasn’t gotten started yet, and I have a lot of joy. And maybe joy is not the right word for that. I’ve got a lot of peace that that was a good choice for me, because that frees up my time and energy to focus on my business in a different way. So sometimes there’s joy. Yeah. I made the right choice. And I’m not having to deal with some of those other things. But for this one, it’s peace, and it’s excitement and enthusiasm that I feel myself really honing in on things that matter. And one thing that really matters to me is my coaching business.
Karen: So joy of missing out actually generates a lot of enthusiasm and energy versus a fear of missing out, which is going to deplete you with worry and anxiety almost because it was better. What if that is better?
Tracey: Yeah. Isn’t it amazing the difference in what happens, the different thoughts and feelings we have, just the actions they come from it. Oh, my goodness.
Karen: And how just a slight shift in your focus can completely change the way that you feel about what you’re doing.
Tracey: Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, I don’t know. I mean, two weeks ago, I was not entertaining the idea of not being part of that mastermind. I was on board with it because I love networking with people. I love working with groups of people and helping build each other. I love being cooperative. I love them for me. I love all these things. It’s a good thing. But I realized last week it’s a good thing. It’s not the great thing. That Mastermind is not where I need to put my time and my energy. So if I made that same decision two weeks ago, there would have been a lot of fear and regret and anxiety, but then which has got a great feeling, right?
Karen: No, it’s not.
Tracey: And I’ve got a really great feeling right now.
Karen: Yeah. So there’s this other concept that I’ve come across in another context, it’s called the idea of keeping a No Journal
Tracey: A No Journal?
Karen: No Journal. And it’s a way that you can actually track to see how much time you’re actually freeing up for yourself when you say no to something in the future. So let’s say, for example, I ask you to come to my best friend’s sister’s daughter’s fundraising event for saving the whales in the Pacific Ocean. It’s really important to my best friend’s sister’s daughter, but it’s really not that important to you.
Karen: But you’re my friend, and you might want to come. So I invite you and you say yes. You’re going to spend 2 hours two weeks from now at a fundraising event you’d really rather not be at if you said no to me. Both 2 hours two weeks from now are now available for what you really want to be spending your time doing. If instead you spend time with Todd or with your kids. That is what you would have been saying no to had you said yes to me and my sister’s best friend’s daughter.
Tracey: Well, for the record, I love whales, but the opportunity cost of yes.
Karen: Right. So it’s actually a white out, you actually ghost out that time. Like if I had said yes, here’s what it would have been so then two weeks from now when you’re actually doing what’s important to you, you’re saying here’s what I’m doing instead of the yes that I turned down. It’s kind of a backwards way to track your time. I said no to this. Yes. I didn’t say yes to going out to this other thing. That’s good. My better thing is spending time with my son.
Karen: So it’s because if you don’t pay attention to it, you won’t know that those 2 hours got wasted that you could have wasted actually went to something else, right? It’s interesting, you know, you just have to do it for like a month to see how you’re reclaiming your own time.
Tracey: Well, you know, in some circumstances, you might not even need to do it that long for it to have a powerful impact. Just a couple of times of going, “Wait a minute. I said yes to this. But here’s what really mattered.”
Karen: Oh, because I mean, just the whole idea of maybe not 2 hours with I don’t know that that’s really powerful. It’s an interesting idea to try to do for yourself to see what time you bought back for what’s important.
Tracey: Exactly. Exactly. And if you’re somebody who is looking to kind of level up a little bit and take ownership of your life, you want to thrive instead of just like hanging on like that little kitty barely surviving. We want to thrive. And in my mind, I’ve got the picture of the tiger thriving wildly and beautifully in the jungle instead of little kitty hanging on by their little claws. But there’s so many valuable resources and ideas to use to really bring it home to take concepts that we’re loving in the essentialism book and not have them just be concepts. But how do you bring them to life in your own life?
Karen: One of the first things you need to do is actually identify what they are. Right? And he gets into that. I think he gets into that in the first bit of the book. It’s like, how do you identify your ‘hell yes’ is what I am saying yes to a hell yes or a polite ‘thanks, but no’ right. If it’s not a nine out of ten I want to do this then the answer is no, right.
Tracey: I don’t think that’s in part one, because as I confessed earlier, I’ve only read part one. I thought this will be an interesting way to do the podcast. Let me just read and not read ahead.
Karen: Sorry, I don’t mean to give away what’s coming.
Tracey: No, it’s fine. It’s having conversation about it, but that is how you can know you’re saying yes to the right things if you actually haven’t thought about what the right things are, it takes wanting to be self aware and being able to do a little bit of self exploration.
Karen: Yeah. Yeah, you’re exactly right. I mean, you got to figure out what your options are yeah. And he recommends that you pick four, at most five, hell yeses. Okay. And a lot of people do that in business. Like, if it doesn’t fall in with this particular principle or service that you’re offering, then no, thank you. This is what I do. And this is what I do. Great. Right. And he mentions some place in the book the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. That’s basically what they do is the businesses that go from good to great focus on the one thing that they do better than anybody else. So this stuff works in reality.
Tracey: It really does. It does something interesting and entertaining to talk about.
Karen: It really does work.
Tracey: And when you apply it, you get to have feelings like “I made a great choice. I’ve got power law operating in my own life”. How do you get JOMO, the joy of missing out, so much better than FOMO.
Joy is better than fear. I like it so much better. So much better. Well, this feels like a good place to wrap up for part one.
Okay. There are four parts in the book, so.
Karen: Well, I’m happy to be back again.
Tracey:I’ve got to read them now.
Karen: Yes you do.
Tracey: Which I will do.
Karen: But that might be one of your power activities.
Tracey: It’s definitely. I mean, look, I started reading this a week ago, and I already see the impact it has had. And, you know, it’s not like it was anything I’d never really thought of. I know these concepts.
Tracey: But the way he has it phrased. And, of course, where I am in my life, it’s a little easier for me to apply at where I am in my life, so it’s really resonating with me. I like it. Essentialism. Well, thank you, my friend, for joining me.
Karen: My absolute pleasure.