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The Journey Of Essentialism And The Benefits.

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I’ve become a minimalist of late and in the last few weeks, I’ve embraced essentialism.

I previously had never heard of this phrase “essentialism” and I’ve since discovered that it’s truly profound and life-changing. The best description of essentialism comes from Greg McKeown. He says what you need to tell yourself and the core truths of essentialism are:

“Only a few things matter”
“I choose to”
“I can do anything but not everything”

The art of being selective.

Some would say I’m very picky. I say no to a lot of things. I probably say no three times more than I say yes. I don’t do this because I’m a knob; I do it because being an essentialist gives you respect.

Saying no to things that don’t matter to me and that I’m not passionate about allows me to say yes to the tasks that bring me joy and fulfillment.

I’ve learned that this practice makes people respect you. When you do things that have meaning, you perform much better. This increased performance becomes the foundation of a newfound respect.

“Less but better.”

Greg McKeown says that phrase is the most fitting definition of essentialism.

“It’s not about getting more things done it’s about better results with fewer tasks”

You can either be mediocre at everything or a professional at a couple of things. Professionals get all the results and satisfaction that comes with being a true master at a particular skill.

It’s pretty simple logic when you think about it – most good advice is which is something I repeat often.

For me, this less but better equals only five things: blogging, looking after my health, family, public speaking and my career. Everything else has had the delete button engaged since I recently became an essentialist.

Essentialism and minimalism are a beautiful marriage I’ve discovered, too!

Am I investing in the right tasks?

That’s the question I’ve been inspired to ask. My addiction to shopping, as an example, took up lots of my time. This gave me less time to create content. When I re-evaluated all the things I was doing each week I realized there were some core tasks that were draining my time:

– Consuming social media like Instagram
– Excessive shopping
– Pointless coffee catch-ups
– Networking events that were nothing to do with what I like

By using the art of essentialism, I deleted these tasks from my schedule. This gave me time to get better at what truly mattered to me. Every place you allocate time is an investment. The more time you put into a task, the more your results will grow.

It’s a similar analogy with money and compound interest. In the beginning, investing in stocks or other investments doesn’t produce much fruit. After years of doing it, the compound effects of interest and dividends begin to shine through.

Think of your time as an investment and reduce the number of tasks. This mindset will help put you on the path to essentialism. Less is better remember?

We shouldn’t be trying to complete more tasks.

Having a huge to-do list of tasks is not how you embrace the benefits of essentialism. The key to all of this is to do less things and focus on getting the right tasks done. Over the last few weeks, I’ve used this idea to focus on the right task: in my case, blogging.

“For years I have been knocking off tasks from my to-do list and hi-fiving everyone without realizing that most of it was BS”

Who cares if I just ran 5km? It’s not one of my goals.

Knocking off tasks from a to-do list is not productivity and it’s definitely not effective or even close to essentialism. In fact, you shouldn’t even need a to-do list. If you are doing the right tasks that matter to you, then they should already be top of mind.

My thought patterns in this regard are like this:

“Did I write a blog post today?”
“Did I inspire someone today through personal development and entrepreneurship?”

If I didn’t, then I’m doing the wrong tasks. That’s when I go back and look at what tasks I’m actually completing.

A word on success and essentialism.

Success can mess you up (I should know I’m Addicted2Success remember?).

When people achieve their big goals, they quickly embrace their success and forget what got them there in the first place. When I had several viral blog posts, I started doing lots of stuff like emails, podcasts, events, etc.

What I’d forgotten was what got me that success in the first place. What got me there was working my butt off writing and inspiring as many people as I could.

Moving away from the very thing that made us successful is how you trade in your good fortune for a lack of fulfillment through disappointment and failure.

Never forget where you came from and what made you successful in the first place. Never forget to be grateful for your success at the same time as well.

Success can become a big distraction because it’s addictive. It gives you a sensational dopamine hit with all the admiration, likes, high-fives and “You’re so cool Tim!”

All of this can distract you from what you really should be doing. That is, doing the thing you love and completing tasks that matter to you.

Finding the core of your own essentialism.

To be an essentialist, you need to find the core activities that are going to occupy your time. Greg McKeown says you should ask yourself the following:

“What do I feel deeply inspired by?”
“What am I particularly talented at?”
“What meets a significant need in the world?”

These questions will lead to the small number of tasks you should focus on. These are the tasks you should go narrow and deep on.

Here are my answers:

“I feel deeply inspired by personal development and entrepreneurship and how it can change people’s lives.”

“I am particularly talented at blogging, social media and making connections with people.”

“What meets a significant need in the world is the tools and strategies required to achieve your life’s work. These are the tools that I’ve learned and want to share.”

Just writing those three answers made me think very hard. I actually got a lot out of that exercise and I’d strongly recommend answering those questions for yourself.

Finding your purpose is very cliché but it’s still fundamental. Knowing what drives you and how you can help people will allow you to be focused and ultimately join the essentialist way of living.

What do you do with the extra time?

This was a question I asked myself. The simple answer is: do more of the tasks that matter to you. For me, that’s more blogging.

“The challenge is that if all you ever do is achieve and that’s all, you’ll never get time to think. You’ll never get time to grow”

The biggest thing that essentialism has done for me is give me time to think.

The temptation nowadays is to use moments of free time like commuting, waiting in queues and time between meetings to look at our phones.

What you should do with the extra time is think more. Thinking allows you to reflect on what you’re doing, come up with ideas and ultimately innovate. Thinking also gives you time to be grateful and be present. You can’t always be “ON” and your mind needs a break.

It’s in these moments of thinking, combined with deep sleep, that new neural pathways are formed in the brain. In simple terms, it’s when all of your thoughts, ideas and activities make connections with each other and contribute to the meaning of your life.

Many of you are so focused on achieving that you never stop for a moment to analyze where you are. This idea of using time to think and do nothing was a very serious lesson I got from essentialism.

We’ve been sold the idea that we need more.

This idea comes mostly from business who want to profit from this idea by selling us products and services we don’t need. Everything in your life takes up space, so the real answer is that less is in fact how you get more of what you want.

Having more has never brought me happiness. Contributing to others has given me all the joy and fulfillment I’ll ever need and that’s ultimately how you have more.

You can’t have more though unless you have time to make that contribution to others.

When someone or something tells you that you need more, ask yourself “What’s the worst that can happen if I do less instead?”

Using this pattern interrupt will stop you from unconsciously trying to accept more into your life. Less is always going to be better.

Almost everything is non-essential.

As you dig deep into essentialism and also personal development, you reach a point where you realize one thing:

“Almost everything is unimportant and doesn’t matter.”

This life-changing moment comes from the realization that we are all going to die and after we’re gone there’s not much that really matters other than our family and our legacy.

So, if nothing really matters, then why not do less so that you can spend time on what matters: your legacy.

When I figured out that almost everything was pointless, I became hyper-focused. It also stopped me from “The Fear Of Missing Out” because I’ve realized that I’m almost never missing out on anything at all.

What can I say no to?

This question is how you get back your priorities. Using the essentialist methodology, rate how you feel about a request for your time using 0-100. If your number is less than 90, then change it to zero and say no.

I’ve played around with this tool a bit and it’s been adapted from other strategies I’ve learned from many books on time and decision making (so I take zero credit).

Choosing brutal ways of saying no is how you force your brain to pick only what is essential. It also stops you from overthinking.

It’s similar to the idea made famous by Derek Sivers idea that teaches us to only say yes to requests that make you say “Hell Yes!” Any other reaction is a no.

This got my attention: using a reverse pilot.

I’d never heard of this idea before until recently. It’s essentially where you experiment with removing a task or habit for a week or so to see if there is any downside. I removed my habit of juicing recently after my naturopath told me to try it.

I used a reverse pilot and measured my energy levels without juice. It turns out the sugar spike I was getting from juicing was more of a problem than I thought.

Taking stuff away can often show you how unimportant something was in the beginning.

A new definition of wisdom: subtract things every day.

Yet another excellent idea from Greg McKeown. Wisdom is simply subtracting things from your life. It’s dead simple, profound and worth thinking about. What if having less, doing less, actually equal more? More of what you want that is.

What if doing less and embracing simplicity is crucial to success?

Have a play with essentialism. It’s certainly helped me.

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

Tim is best known as a long-time contributor on Addicted2Success. Tim's content has been shared millions of times and he has written multiple viral posts all around personal development and entrepreneurship.You can connect with Tim through his website www.timdenning.net

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Stefanie

    Jun 22, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Hi Tim, this topic resonates a lot with me! I’ve always been focused on doing many things and working many hours.
    Some projects require more effort in terms of quantity for sure. However, over the last months, I learned that quality is more important than quantity – in so many aspects of my life! I felt like having worked so much that I was tired of my business I used to be so passionate about, which was a tough experience. The only way I saw was cutting back. Say “no” more often. Concentrate on what really matters.
    I love the thought of “hell yes or no”! Some time ago, my attitude was “why not”, and I felt like losing time doing many things that were not bad but not gorgeous. What a waste of time and energy! 🙂
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

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5 Simple Hacks to Help You Develop the Habit That Will Transform Your Life

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It’s excruciating when we know what’s killing us but we can’t do anything about it because as you know, it is not easy to pull the brake on a high way. According to Napoleon Hill, “remember this always – the best (and one might say the only) way in which old habits may be removed is to form new habits to counteract and replace the undesirable ones”. (more…)

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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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Curiosity is human nature and it’s only natural that humans will lose interest in a topic after a while. This has been a topic that has been extensively explored among children, teenagers and adults by a psychologist with similar results being reported from each of the categories. Human’s minds are therefore prone to boredom, making it important for each professional to spend some time to understand the factors that drive boredom and strategies the individuals needs to use to overcome boredom and focus on their profession and development. (more…)

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