Essentialism Part 2: Discern the Trivial Many from the Vital Few

Home/Essentialism Part 2: Discern the Trivial Many from the Vital Few

Essentialism Part 2: Discern the Trivial Many from the Vital Few

Oct 6, 2021

Do you want to live a life of purpose and meaning?

A life defined by your decision to choose less and have it mean more?

You’re in the right place.

I’m discussing Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less with my friend Karen Backway. Karen is a physician turned life coach and we enjoy talking about what we study and how we use our studies in our lives.

In this episode, we focus on Part 2 of McKeown’s book- the section titled ‘Explore’ to distinguish between the trivial many and the vital few concerns in life.

Grab a copy of the book and read for yourself OR just listen in. You don’t need to read the book to benefit from listening to our discussion.

In future episodes, I’ll be featuring questions from listeners- other life owners like you. If you have a question, topic or situation you’d like for us to explore, email me at with ‘podcast question’ in the subject line.

What You’ll Learn From This Episode: Essentialism Part 2: Discern the Trivial Many from the Vital Few

  • Key pieces to being a GREAT owner of your life
  • “It’s such a fantastic book. It has the power to transform your day. And anything that can transform your day has the potential to transform your life.”
  • Does this land differently for introverts, extroverts and those somewhere in between? And I share my personal phrase for the “somewhere in betweeners”
  • The importance of creating space
  • AND the importance of play
  • AND the super-importance of sleep
  • Why I think we all need to have an orange bicycle

Featured On The Show | Essentialism Part 2: Discern the Trivial Many from the Vital Few

Connect with me online!

Enjoy The Show?

Like what you’re hearing? I would greatly appreciate your review in Apple Podcast!

Don’t miss an episode- listen and subscribe via Anchor | Spotify | Google | Breaker | Pocket | RadioPublic | Apple Podcast | Stitcher | iHeart | Castbox | Listen Notes | TuneIn | Podchaser | Overcast | Downcast | Podcrucher | icatcher | Castaway2 | Podcast Republic | BeyondPod | AntennaPod | doubleTwist | Podcast Addict | PlayerFM

Learn More About Tracey
Contact Tracey
Follow Me On LinkedIn

Essentialism Part 2: Discern the Trivial Many from the Vital Few

Hey, I’m glad you’re here. This is Episode 16 and the conversation continues between me and my friend Karen Backway as we discuss Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism.

We’re talking about this book because it addresses key components to being a good, hopefully even GREAT, owner of your life.

Karen is a physician who is now a life coach. She’s super smart, a lovely person and a terrific friend.

We’re talking about part 2 of the book today. Grab a copy of the book if you haven’t already and join in our discussion.
Here we go- part 2 of Essentialism.

Music Intro:

Hey, I’m glad you’re here. This is Episode 16, and the conversation continues between me and my friend Karen Backway as we discuss Greg Machen’s book Essentialism. We’re talking about this book because it addresses key components to being a good, hopefully even great owner of your life. Now Karen is a physician who’s now a life coach. She’s super smart, a lovely person and a terrific friend. We’re talking about part two of the book today. Grab a copy of the book if you haven’t already and join in our discussion. Here we go. Part two of Essentialism welcome to an owner’s Guide for Your Life, the podcast that combines psychology, coaching, common sense and fine. I’m Tracy Browning, an entrepreneur, life coach and a lover of people. Now let’s talk about how to live, live, make money and change the world.

Tracey: I’m back with my fabulous friend Karen Backway.
Karen: Hello, hello.
Tracey: So we are gonna keep on talking about Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism because we both love it so much. I love it as I’m being exposed to it as I’ve just finished reading part two. Karen, why do you love it? Why do you keep coming back to it?

Karen: Because it’s an essential book.
Tracey: Oh, you’re welcome for that set up.

Karen: It’s such a fantastic book. It has the power to transform your day. And anything that can transform your day has the potential to transform your life.

Tracey: Ah, beautifully said,
Karen: Huge difference. It really can.

Tracey: That was beautiful. And if you’re listening, you should probably hit that little button that takes you back 15 seconds to listen to that again. That was good.

Tracey: So we’re going to start with Part two. The title is Explore, and chapter five is that first section in there, and the chapter five title is Escape. And these are like, ooh, kind of intriguing words to me to use to talk about Essentialism- to explore and escape.

One of the quotes he uses to start off the chapter is from Picasso, “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
Now, I think that’s probably music to an introvert’s heart to have great solitude be required to have great work.

Karen: Now, do you consider yourself an introvert?

Tracey: Here’s the term I use. I do not like the term ambivert because I think that sounds like a name of a deodorant. I don’t want to be an ambivert. So I decided that what I am is a situational extrovert. In some situations and honestly, yes, in many or most situations, I’m an extrovert, but in a lot of situations, I’m an introvert, and some of it depends on what my energy levels are like. If I’m just tired of being around people because I’ve been around people so much and I need to go to my quiet place to restore and rejuvenate. I am my father’s daughter in that I like to take a walk in the woods. Being surrounded by trees and nature restores my soul. So that’s what I think of, that’s the picture I get in my head when I see this quote “without great solitude..” I think about talking, walking and talking, just being alone in the woods, talking to myself, thinking my thoughts. That’s where if I really want to come up with ideas, I want to just go walk in the woods.

Karen: You know, the concept of introvert extrovert to me isn’t actually on what you’re putting out there. It’s actually what recharges you and an extrovert is fueled up and really gets driven by being out there up on stage, being all that over-the-topness and that recharges them versus an introvert who can go and do all those things. But then they have to go back and be alone to recharge themselves. So from what you just said. I’m with you, get out in nature whenever possible, preferably with your dog. That’s how I recharge, too. It’s like I need to be quiet and on my own with my own thoughts.

Tracey: But when I’m ready and the time is right and it’s called for, I really can be charged by being around people, being in front of people. I like to speak. I like this kind of thing. So I think I’ve got a good term with situational extrovert.

Karen: I love where he goes in and he talks about space to design.

Tracey: Yes.

Karen: And he talks about this design school where they have a room that the hall goes nowhere except to this room. And there’s nothing in the room, not even chairs.

Tracey: Right.

Karen: Or they might have a chair or two that you can sit on. But you go there explicitly to be in the silence and to think.

Tracey: Exactly. And he spent a good bit of time talking about you have to be purposeful. You have to create this space to escape. I mean, especially in society now where we’re deluged with just all the bells, the literal bells and whistles and alarm tones and pings and noises and notifications.You have to create, you’ve got to set your boundaries up so you’ve got that space.

Karen: And the distractions. And the noise in society now is more than over the top. It is excessive. And like you said, you have to consciously shut it off.

Tracey : Right. Right.

Karen: It’s not easy to do.

Tracey: No, it’s not.

Karen: A lot of people. I don’t think you and I are one of these but a lot of people. But the idea of sitting quietly with their thoughts can actually be a kind of a scary thing.

Tracey: I think you’re spot on with that. Yeah. Why do you think that is?

Karen: I think it has much to do with the direction that society has taken since our devices are with us all the time, and we no longer know how to, I’m going to say, endure boredom because standing in the socially distanced grocery lines, which are now very long, what do you do? You pull out your phone, send a text, you do whatever. We no longer sit and do nothing right. And I think he mentions this. I have a couple books on the go right now. I may be mixing up the books, but it’s true. We no longer sit and do nothing, right?

Tracey: But what do we know about what happens in that space? Physically, psychologically, emotionally, what happens when we give ourselves that space? When I personally, I know what happens with me. Some of it is I get room for rest and physically I am restored. I just shared with you earlier that I’m tired. It’s been a long weekend. We’ve had a lot of emotion. We just did a Memorial service for my father-in-law. We’ve had a lot of emotional events and there’s been sadness and joy and grief and all kinds of things. So I have had space this afternoon to just be by myself. And my immediate reaction, though, is to fill it with reading. Just, just stop. Just BE, right?

Karen: And to me, the gift of boredom, you said it gives your mind and your brain the opportunity to wander and to wonder. It allows your mind to actually sort of drift off to your daydreams. And if you don’t take the time to do that, your brain is not going to cough it up on its own. You have to pause.

Tracey: And I’m flipping my page to find it because I can’t access my notes right now. So I’m flipping my page in my book to find what that’s making me think of. It’s actually a little bit further on in the book to an Albert Einstein quote, who said, “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” Albert Einstein said he thought it was more important to have the gift of fantasy, which, to me, you can’t have the gift of fantasy or play, you can’t have that without creating space for some boredom, for the space where there’s not just a continual goal, focus, I’ve got to get this done and this done and this done. But Albert Einstein thought fantasy was more important than his positive knowledge.

Karen: And probably he was a violin player, right?

Tracey: I’m not sure about that. Yes, you would be sure about that.

Karen: YeahSo he was a violin player. And without his music, I don’t think he would have come up with all of his, you know, theories that MC squared- E equals MC squared

Tracey: All I can come up with is MC Hammer and that’s not right.

Karen: No.

Tracey: That’s something that’s near and dear to both of our hearts because we’re trained musicians with lots of years of experience of knowing what music theory and the practice of music and just the playing of music, what that does to your soul. And I don’t think we want to get into a contest of how many hours over your life have you spent playing scales?

No, I don’t need to talk about that. A lot of time.

Tracey: A lot of time. Yeah.

But I was just looking down at my book and it opened up to the section on play. And he gives the definition of play as “anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end”. And music absolutely fits that definition.

Tracey: Right. Right.

Karen: Absolutely. And we, as a society, are very goal oriented nowadays. People don’t do anything just cause anymore, either.

Tracey: So rare

Karen: There has to be a purpose behind it.

Tracey: Right. Right. So I’ll tell you kind of what’s happening in the background for me. One of my neighbors has a basketball goal and, every once in a while, it’s not every day, but it’s fairly often, I’ll hear some of the kids out playing basketball. So right now I’m hearing the thump thump thump. And, you know, they’re just shooting around just now. It may be they may have the ultimate goal of getting on the team at school, but I don’t know.

I like hearing the noises of play. I like it when the little four year old across the street rides her little orange bicycle. She rides by and I’m like, “Oh, I like that orange bike”, and she says “It’s my favorite color. It makes me go faster.”

Karen: And play is something that adults get embarrassed about.

Tracey: He’s got this whole section on that what happens within our heads with the ideas of play. Now we are different in this respect in that I love to play and you know, this, you know, I love it. I love to do kind of goofy things and to just, I don’t know why. And I don’t know how, but it just, it’s very freeing. I think one of the reasons why I just kind of popped in my head because one of my really strong heartfelt values is joy. Just having and experiencing joy, kind of a peaceful joy that I can tap into whatever’s going on around me. To me, happy is kind of fleeting and circumstance dependent. But joy is- I like being joyful and being able to play. And that doesn’t always mean, for the most part, I guess it kind of does mean, like childlike play. He’s got some examples of different ways that I mean, like CEOs in the book who how they incorporate play and different things they’ve done. And I’ll tell you, I look up and I have put up on my shelf- my mother-in-law, we just found this collection in their house. As we’re going through kind of cleaning things up, she had a basket full of- do you remember the California raisins that the raisin company had that they would do, like, the little animated California raisins that would sing Heard It through the Grapevine? And anyway, I guess it was maybe Hardee’s or one of these fast food restaurants put out these little California raisin figurines doing all kinds of things. I’ve got 20 of these things across the shelf now and it’s just kind of fun to go real funny.

Karen: Yeah. I don’t think we have those up here.

Tracey: I guess you didn’t. Canada is different than the US.

Karen: No California raisins here.

Tracey: No wonder you’re looking at me going, “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about”. There are so many benefits of play. As a homeschool veteran mother, one of the things that was really important to me for my sons was something that they were not getting in the public school system- the time to be relaxed and to have play. Because I could see they were very energetic boys and to ask them to sit in their seat and to be very academic and focused and not play…And it’s not just Tracey’s opinion. Greg McKeown talks about it in the book. He also, oh, I don’t have it. Is it Sir Ken? Yep. I just went by it. Sir Ken Robinson, who has studied creativity in schools as his life’s work. “Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement.” In schools, the way they’re set up because they’ve got to control crowds. Right? One teacher, maybe a teacher and an assistant with a large group of children. Of course, you’ve got to do things in a group without a lot of play and distraction. But our schools just are not set up unless you go to an artistic school later on. They’re not set up to fuel creativity. But without creativity, without play, where are we going to be in this world?

Karen: Oh, what’s her name who wrote the book Mindset? Her name is escaping me.

Tracey: Carol Dweck.

Karen: Carol Dweck. She talks about how every four to five year old believes that they’re an amazing artist. And then by the time they get to grade one or grade two, they no longer believe that, right? Because they’ve already learned in that couple of years the compare and despair game. Like, maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was because little Susan uses more colors or somebody has a bolder better print. Or maybe she’s a left handed little girl. And that’s just, you know, my finger painting’s backwards. We adults suppress the creative imagination of the kids.

Tracey: We do. And that’s so sad. That’s so sad. I think we all should be like my little neighbor girl who says, “I love my orange bike. It makes me go faster.” So do you play?

Karen: Do I play? By his definition of play, doing stuff simply for the joy of it? Yes, I do, because I started to learn how to play the cello in the last few years. And you can bet that that’s just for the pure joy of it. Not to meet some goal. It will be a long, long time before I’m ready to play, even with, like, a community orchestra. But I like it, I really do. And in my case, I can get lost in it.

Tracey; Yeah, I think that’s part of it. What do you get lost in when you’re doing it now? I am not a fabulous painter by any means, but I can get lost when I’m painting.

Karen: Real painting or paint by number painting?

Tracey: Painting. I create things that I see in my mind. Let’s just see what happens. Er, let’s see. Probably about ten years ago, I bought a dulcimer and started learning how to play the dulcimer. So, like you with your cello, I’m not to the point where I get lost in it. It’s kind of agonizing, but it’s just kind of cool to kick back and not grade yourself, not rate yourself. Oh, this is performance worthy, no,it’s just messing around listening to the different tones.

Gardening. You’re a gardener.

Karen: I feel like I’m more of a weeder because the garden has got so many weeds. But, yeah, gardening. And I don’t think of that as fun. It’s just something that I do. But and by that definition, there’s no particular end to it.

So the other thing that he talks about in here and he calls it ‘protect the asset’.

Tracey: Yeah.

Karen: And he specifically zeroes in on sleep and sleep is a good thing. And I suspect he zeroed in on that one because when this book was written, which was, I think, 2014. So seven, eight, seven years ago, sleep was considered a luxury. And sleep should be mandatory, not a luxury because it is when your brain reboots itself.

Tracey: Yes.

Karen: And it’s the first casualty when life gets busy, right? The first thing you give up is your sleep and the next thing you give up is eating properly. And then depending on what you’re doing, the next thing can be your family when life gets busy. But if you prioritize your sleep, we actually function better during the day.

Tracey: I am nodding my head up and down so hard, I bet you can hear my brains rattling. I love sleep. Just LOVE it. And I can tell the difference if I get six and a half hours of sleep versus seven and a half hours of sleep, I don’t usually get eight, but seven and a half hours of sleep it’s really a night of good sleep.

Karen: I love that he considers that essential. Yes. It probably certainly back then was probably revolutionary.

Tracey: Right. Right. And we are starting to hear- maybe more people who read this book and went, “Holy cow, sleep really is important, huh.” But from a medical perspective, you’re no slouch when it comes to understanding what happens in the human body. And it really is important, just the rejuvenative things that happen in your brain when you get a good night of sleep.

Karen: Oh yeah. In residency we were routinely up for 24 to 36 hours at a time. And there’s research from way back then- I don’t want to talk about how long ago that was- from way back then that shows that being awake for 24 hours in a row is actually the equivalent, if not worse than having a blood alcohol level that is considered too much.

Tracey: Right. And I want to say that’s a sobering statistic. I did it without thinking.

Karen: It is a sobering statistic.

Tracey: Okay, right there. See what I did? I worked in a little bit of play to say something just for the joy of it. But it’s something that puts it in perspective. But it’s not like this badge of honor. Oh, I’m so busy. I can just function and you get a lot of that in the high performer culture. I only need 4 hours of sleep. And no, honey, you need a lot more than that.

Karen: There’s a lot, there is famous people, I think Ronald Reagan, he used to boast about how he needed, like, no more than three or four hours of sleep. Margaret Thatcher, same story, very little sleep. But later on in their life, they actually were, they had really severe dementia. There’s some new evidence coming out now that certain forms of Alzheimer’s disease have a sleep component, and it could very well be a subtype that sleep disruption actually predisposes you towards certain types of dementia. So that’s kind of scary.

Tracey: Oh, my goodness. Yeah. So for anybody again, we both are very interested in dementia and Alzheimer’s and what can we do to live better, to live younger longer to use your tag line? I like that so much. Well, what can we do? You can sleep- good sleep.

Karen: How hard can it be?

Tracey: There’s another question. How hard can it be? Because so often, okay, what are the things that affect your sleep? The racing mind? The worry. As soon as your head hits the pillow. Wait a minute. What about this? What about that?

I love a good dark room, and I like it a little bit cool. And I like to have my foot sticking out of the cover because that’s how I regulate my temperature. But I’ll confess a weird little thing, it can’t hang over the edge of the bed because I think something may grab it. And that is such an unrealistic thought, because I’ve never had a monster under the bed reach up and grab my foot. I’ve had one of my dogs lick my toes.

Karen: I was going to say you have dogs that would lick your toes.

Tracey: I do have a dog that is tall enough to come stand beside my bed and lay his head on my pillow. But there’s so many things we can do for good sleep hygiene.

Karen: And those are the basic ones. Yeah, very basic ones. Another really good one is to get up and outside in the early morning sunshine because it helps your circadian rhythms get reset. I try to do that even in the winter, get outside for ten minutes, preferably before 08:00 in the morning. Not always easy. But it really can help.

Tracey: I think it helps when you have pets that you have to take care of because they demand it of you as an adult who doesn’t want to play and who is just very focused on your job. If you have to take care of a pet who says, sun’s up, let’s head out.

Karen: Yes. And that is a problem when it comes to daylight saving time, when the dogs don’t care, they don’t.

Tracey: No, they don’t. No, no. So what else in this section? What else really speaks to you in this Explore section? I think one of the things that speaks to me is just that we’ve got to take control and make sure that we have space for these things, to protect our boundaries.

Karen: Yes. And how do you make space? You have to be aware of the clutter that is creeping in. So you need to again, you need to be clear about what are the things that are important to you. And he wraps up the section on Explore by talking about, he calls it the power of extreme criteria. And the first time I heard ‘extreme criteria’, I thought, “I’m already disciplined enough. Thank you.” Right. Really what he’s talking about is like how to get you out of what I call indecision purgatory.

Tracey; Yes.

Karen: If it’s nine out of ten, you do it. If it’s seven out of ten, it’s a no. So the extreme criteria is like, do I absolutely want to do this? Then the answer is yes. Otherwise, thanks but no thanks. We touched on that a little bit last time. Where is like, what is your hell yes. Right. Right. It’s not a hell yes. Thanks for asking.

Tracey: And I got really excited last time thinking about the power law theory that certain efforts that you have are going to have exponentially greater results. I think this ties into that. Because if it’s a hell yes, your passion is going to be there, you’re probably going to have a little more creativity. You’re going to want to create those boundaries to protect your efforts. It’s going to have so much more going for it. So again, that gets back to the well, sometimes you’re going to have to come in, if you want to have this kind of life, the essentialist kind of life, you’re going to have to say no to some good things.

Karen: And be okay with it.

Tracey: Right. Right. Because if you’re ranking something on a ten point scale, a seven is a good thing. That’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. But it’s not your nine out of ten. It’s not your “Oh, man, this is it. This is my orange bicycle that helps me go faster.” I love this little girl, but you’re right in that extreme criteria. And the way he walks you through being able to figure out where are the essential things that your desires, your abilities, how you’re going to work in the world- where they all converge in that little center part of the Venn diagram. Where is it? It’s in those nine of ten, not the five of ten. Quit being lukewarm.

Karen: The fives and under are easy to identify.

Tracey: Yes.

Karen: And the nines can be easy to identify. It’s that six, seven, eight range- maybe this is important?

Tracey: Yeah, that’s where a lot of the shoulds are. I should do that. Should. Yeah, that’s a cuss word. It’s more than four letters, I know, but should is a cuss word.

Karen: You could spell it S-H-U-D. And then it’d be okay.

Tracey: There you go. All right. That’s probably how it sounds when I say it.

I think that he really does just a marvelous job of helping us figure out what are these essential things? How to define what it is, how to create the space to protect what’s essential for you. And like we talked about before, if the change, and change can feel because it’s different, it feels uncomfortable. And we might think, oh, it’s hard because it’s different. But I think the more we do it, this is what I’ve definitely experienced for myself, the more we do it, the better it feels. And so we can go, oh, those nines, those things, this feels great to be pourng our energy and our passion and gathering those people to us that feel the same about what’s going on in their life. It picks up the momentum,

Karen: For sure, for sure. And he sums it up with how to make that decision? Yeah.

Tracey: Yeah. So this isn’t pie-in-the-sky, let’s just read a book and go,”Those were nice words.” It’s very practical here. Do these things. Think about what’s happening in your life. Are you playing? Are you resting? Are you having time for creativity? Are you getting sleep? Are you getting good sleep? Go to sleep. Oh, so good. So good.

All right, that’s part two. Now I’m going to go read part three because I told you, this is how I’m doing it. It’s so weird for me to do it this way. It’s kind of like I’m playing a little bit with how I read things. So usually I would just wolf this thing up and just have it done, and I’d be on my second reading, but I’m very slowly going through going, “Ah. Okay. What about this?”

Karen: You’re playing with it.

Tracey: I am playing with it! And I like to play. And I like to sleep on it. So good things. Good things we’ve talked about. All right, my friend. Any parting words?

Karen: No other parting words.

Tracey: All right. Thank you so much.

Karen: My pleasure.

By |2021-10-06T08:06:14-04:00October 6th, 2021|Podcasts|0 Comments