Essentialism

Today, people believe that they should fill up their days completely, accomplishing everything that they can in order to widen their perspectives and make their lives better. In this day and age, since we have an abundance of everything, we believe that we must have as well as accomplish everything. However, this kind of mentality contradicts that fact that we can’t do everything.

We can’t be the best in everything, we can’t have every gadget, and we can’t have every single experience. Additionally, even if we could have and do everything, that wouldn’t necessarily make all of us more happy. In reality, our wardrobes are filled with things that we never use, and our to-do lists are filled with things that we will never actually do, or do well, at the least.

As a result, on the other hand, we need to pay attention to the things that we are supposed to do, thinking about what is key to our happiness and our mental health.

In this text, you will learn how to figure out what they key things are in your life and what steps you can take to eliminate everything else, which results in being in a good place both in your mind and in your emotions in order to accomplish the most important tasks at the utmost of your abilities.

In order to avoid drowning in unnecessary work, you need to adopt the principle of essentialism

Our days are so filled with jobs as well as responsibilities that we find it difficult to figure out which one is a larger priority than the other ones. Although we attempt to sort through the jobs and select the most important ones, in the end, we still have more than we can manage.

Having too much to do really decreases our productivity. Fortunately, on the other hand, we can learn to prioritize better with essentialism.

Essentialism concentrates on four main points.

  • Accomplish less things, but do them to the best of your abilities. The foundation of essentialism is always looking for the less important things in your life, eliminate them, and do what is actually important.
  • Get rid of the idea that you have to do everything and instead, select certain directions that you will definitely succeed in. In essentialism, you don’t need to succeed in every direction. On the contrary, select a direction and do the most that you possibly can in the things that you are the most passionate about.
  • Always question yourself and change your plans with it. You should always be deciding whether something is worth doing or not. Essentialists are always figuring out whether they are doing something that is beneficial to them or whether they should put their time and energy into something else that would benefit them more.
  • Lastly, as soon as you’ve decided which tasks are the most important out of all of them, the essentialist will immediately make sure that alterations are made so that time is not wasted.

Although that may all seem simple, a lot of us are surprisingly so far from it. In the next few paragraphs, you’ll find out how far most of us actually are from the essentialist method.

If we become overwhelmed by our tasks, then we lose our ability to make choices for ourselves

Do you typically say that you “have to” instead of “choose to”? If that is the case, then you are pursuing the non-essential route.

As a result, a lot of people forget how to select through “learned helplessness”. In other words, we get so used to feeling overwhelmed that we go about or lives thinking passively.

Let’s dive a little deeper with an example.

“Learned helplessness” was first introduced from experiments made on dogs. In them, dogs were electrocuted. A few were given a lever that would get rid of the shocks, while others got a lever, but it didn’t do anything. The last group wasn’t shocked at all.

A bit later, all of the dogs from each experiment were put in a giant box that was separated in two. One of the halves had shocks while the other one didn’t. All of the dogs from the previous experiments that could either get rid of the shock or never got shocked, ran to the area without any shocks. On the other hand, the ones who couldn’t control the shock remained in that half with the shocks and they didn’t adapt. To conclude, they learned to be helpless.

When people start to believe that their hard work is useless, they react in one of two ways: Either they completely give up or they become very active. In fact, they take advantage of any opportunity that goes their way. Initially, it may seem that their activity may mean that they haven’t yet developed “learned helplessness”. However, they actually just aren’t using their power fully to select the opportunity that is the most beneficial to them. They just do everything.

The ones, on the other hand, who offer several selections are the ones who have the real power.

Embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life

If you could go back into the past and make yourself a fortune by investing in a company, which company would you select? Would it be, for example, IBM, Microsoft, or Apple?

Although the success of the companies would make it the most popular selection for a few, the most ROI (return on investment) would’ve actually come from Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines actually showed an incredible level of success during a time that was really worried about one of the main principles of essentialism, which is to do only a few things the bes that you can.

Instead of giving their customers a large selection to choose from, like first class seats, meals, as well as seat reservations, they focused on one thing, which was to fly people from one location to another, without needing any frills.

They understood that if they attempted everything, the would most likely fail. On the other hand, if they focused on a couple of things, but did them well, such as getting travellers to their locations, then they would succeed.

Incorporating this method meant that you were willing to and able to make trade-offs, which, in the long run, is more difficult than you’d think. Although it does seem fairly easy to get rid of the jobs that aren’t important and only keep the ones that are, in reality, we just come to the conclusion that we are capable of completing everything.

For instance, when people found out about how successful Southwest Airlines had become, Continental Airlines thought that they could just copy their strategy. However, they didn’t get rid of a few essentials. Instead, they thought that they were capable of accomplishing everything. They decided that they would keep their original brand, but just make a new one called Continental Lite, that would have a budget service.

Sadly, though, their operational incompetence, that was a result of going after both strategies, caused Continental Lite not to have competitive prices. As a result of not sacrificing the nonessential and paying attention to all of the essentials, they lost millions of dollars.

Now that you have a better idea of how far away from the road to essentialism many people get, they next couple of texts will help you figure out how to get back on that road.

Giving yourself space to escape and seeing the bigger picture will help you pick out the vital from the trivial

Today, not many people have the time to be bored. Modern technologies, such as our smartphones, give us access to a large means of communication as well as entertainment. This obviously seems amazing, since no one sincerely enjoys being bored.

On the contrary, though, boredom can actually be beneficial to you. The times when you don’t have anything to do can give you some time to think clearly about what all you need to do.

To make sure that you have time, make sure that you give yourself a break in your schedule once a day to give yourself some time so that you can lose yourself to think.

Finding some time in your schedule just to contemplate your life, such as your options, some issues, or some challenges that you are going through will help you figure out which ones are important and which ones aren’t.

In the past, a few of the smartest minds that this world has ever seen, such as Newton and Einstein, used this method. They both gave themselves some space in order to lose themselves, which let them contemplate their revolutionary theories.

A lot of the successful CEO’s of today do exactly the same. They give themselves some time of “blank space” each day in their schedule so that they can think.

However, you don’t only have to use lose yourself as a means of figuring out what is the most important. Additionally, you can use it to make sure that you stay focused on the greater image.

People tend to get lost in the less important, daily jobs that in the end, they forget about why they are doing what they are in the first place. Therefore, if you want to stay focused on the things that actually matter, use essentialism to teach you to forever think about the greater image.

One way that you can do that is by having a journal. However, instead of writing down all of your experiences, only write down the things that actually matter. When you look back through your entries, you’ll start seeing the greater image.

Get your creative juices flowing by playing- just don’t forget to give yourself time to rest

Sadly, our generation of adults often have a clear differentiation of work and play. We’ve come to the conclusion that play is insignificant and unproductive. In its entirety, it is only a source of entertainment, but it doesn’t help us get closer to our goals. To sum it up, it is just a waste of our time.

An essentialist, on the other hand, understands that play is very important when it comes to inspiration. If you want to figure out what is truly important in your life, use play to your advantage to free your mind so that you can creatively look into this topic.

Play can be beneficial because:

  • It helps us create new links among ideas that we would’ve never, in another way, come up with;
  • It is the cure to stress, which, as we mentioned earlier, is one of the main ways that decreases our productivity;
  • It aids us with figuring out what jobs are the most important.

The environment of companies such as Twitter, Pixar and Google all are examples of companies who find play an important factor, so they encourage it by offering improv comedy lessons or dressing up the office with either large dinosaurs or many Star Wars figurines.

What is the reason behind this? Well, they understand that a playful employees is both inspired and productive.

However, although it is important, it should never be more important than rest or sleep. Non-essentialists think that sleep is the same thing as play. They view them as luxuries, things that could ruin your productivity.

That mentality is completely upside down, though, since sleep actually makes you better at thinking, connecting ideas, and you make the most out of your hours awake. Just one hour of sleep can give you more hours of better productivity the next day!

There are actually studies that prove that not sleeping for a day, or sleeping on average about 4-5 hours every night, makes you have a cognitive impairment that is similar to you having an alcohol level of 0.1 percent, which is just enough to have your license suspended!

Be ruthless in cutting away things that aren’t essential

Often times, we get caught up in believing that all of our jobs as well as responsibilities are essential for one reason or another.

You’ve most likely been through something close to this when you were sorting through your closet for spring cleaning. You probably started off by thinking that if you don’t wear it, you are going to get rid of it. However, after about an hour of cleaning, you realize that you’ve been making many exceptions because you think that despite never wearing a shirt, for example, you will wear it eventually. As a result, you end up with almost the exact number of clothes that you started with.

How can you stay away from getting yourself into such situations?

Overall, you just need to have a set of very narrow criteria. One way that you can do that is by using the 90-percent rule. Begin by thinking about what the most crucial criterion is for the decision that you are trying to make. In the example above, the criteria could be, “Will you ever wear that again?” Afterward, rate it on a scale from 0 to 100.

As the name suggests, if anything is less than 90, even if it is 89, it is zero. After looking through all of your options, get rid of anything that was rated under 90.

Another technique is to figure out if something is a concrete yest or no. You can figure that out simply by listing the three minimum requirements that something needs to have in order for it to stay, and the three ideal criteria that it has to meet.

Afterward, when you are selecting which ones to keep and which ones to toss, it has to pass the three minimum requirements and at least two out of the three ideal ones.

If you have this kind of mentality, it’ll be easier to avoid letting questionable things slide by. In the example earlier, the shirt that we kept because we thought that we may wear it in the future probably wouldn’t pass the three minimum requirements of:

  1. Is it stylish?
  2. Would you wear it everyday?
  3. Would you get laughed at for wearing it?

Say “no” to nonessential tasks and plan the essential ones carefully

What is the next step now that you’ve made a list of everything to toss, or of everything that isn’t essential to you towards achieving your goals? It’s a bit easier to let go of a shirt that you never wear, versus when it comes to people, because things start to get a bit more complicated. We are often afraid of saying no since we being to feel socially embarrassed and we are constantly put under pressure not to let down the people that surround us. We are also afraid that saying no could ruin our relationships.

On the contrary, though, a lot of times we do need to say no and hold our yes only when something actually matters. In order to do so, you need to be able to differentiate a decision from a relationship. Saying no may make you regret your decision at first since you are afraid of disappointing someone or that you are afraid of missing out, however you don’t want to regret saying yes for a much longer time.

Don’t forget that not saying no to the things that aren’t important could cause you to miss out on the things that actually are.

As soon as you’ve gotten comfortable with saying no to the things that aren’t beneficial to you, you can put all of your energy into working on the important things that are left over.

Make sure that your goals are apparent by making sure that what you’re aiming at is inspirational as well as clear.

Suppose, for instance, you want to end world hunger. This goal is definitely inspirational, but it’s not very clear, therefore, it doesn’t meet your essential intent. If you try to reach a goal of this size, it will be difficult to accomplish since it’s so unclear.

However, what if you wanted to construct 150 affordable, environmentally friendly, and storm resistant houses of families that live in the lower ninth ward. Your goal is very clear since it’s not only inspirational, but also it’s concrete.

Another way to see if your goal is concrete enough is by asking yourself whether you’d know if you actually accomplished your goal. If you can give an answer, then you know that your goal is straightforward and to the point.

Stop doing unnecessary things by withdrawing from failures and setting boundaries

Did you ever decide to do something, knowing that it was actually a waste or your time and energy, but you went through with it anyways because you were committed to it? Many people go into that sunk-cost bias.

The sunk-cost bias is the proneness to always invest your money, time, efforts, and energy into things that we just know from past experience, we won’t succeed in. Sadly, every small investment makes it more difficult for us to let go. At the same time, we are going to end up losing more. For instance, think about the great failure of the Concorde Jet. It may have been a revolutionary engineering accomplishment, but it was highly unprofitable, and was destined to be a commercial failure. Despite it, both the French and British governments went into the sunk-cost bias, and they didn’t stop investing in it for four decades. They did it knowingly that they wouldn’t get their money back.

You can simply stay away from this situation by working on your courage to own up to your faults and mistakes and never letting them go. If it is obvious that something isn’t going to go as planned, get up the courage to remove your losses and leave the project.

Additionally, you can stay away from that situation entirely by giving yourself concrete boundaries. Non-essentialists view them as unneeded constraints, despite the fact that they are actually freeing on a fundamental level.

For instance, suppose that a schoolyard is located on a busy street. The kids from the school are only allowed to play around in a small part of the yard, not far from the building. The teachers have to look after them as they play, to make sure that they stay within the boundary.

However, what if a fence was put to mark exactly where the kids could play safely? That would let them use their time more wisely instead of taking on the huge responsibility of making sure the kids don’t get too close to the traffic. They could just play around as they wanted within that market space.

Boundaries aren’t there to limit you. On the contrary, they make your life simpler and fun. For instance, you could think about creating a boundary between work and family. If your kids aren’t supposed to be in your office, then your work shouldn’t be at your house.

Keeping on top of what’s important requires that you eliminate what slows you down and that you prepare carefully

Now that you’ve got the hang of how to implement the rules of essentialism, let’s take a look at the last one which is execution.

In order to become an essentialist, you need to be able to figure out what it is that is holding you back. Then, get rid of it instead of trying to find ways to deal with it or work around it.

For instance, suppose that you are a boy scout leader that needs to bring back his troops before it gets dark. If you want to make things fair, every scout is has to carry an equal amount of weight in their backpack. However, suppose you have a problem. A few of the scouts are faster than others, so your group starts to spread out and you could potentially lose the ones who are trailing further behind.

Your initial, non-essential solution is to make stops every once in awhile so that those who are behind, can catch up. Then, you try to fix it by putting the slower ones in the front so that everyone stays as one group, but this just slows the whole troop down.

Finally, though, you realize that the essentialist solution is to remove some of the weight from the slower scout’s backpacks and put it into the ones who are faster. By thinking this way, you’ve gotten rid of the problem!

Additionally, you can remove any unneeded hurdles by making sure that you are prepared. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is making the assumption that everything will go as planned. An essentialist thinks quite the opposite, though. They just assume that something could go wrong and as a result, makes sure that they are prepared and equipped.

Regardless of what you do, whether you are taking your children to school or giving a presentation at work, make sure that you give yourself a cushion of 50% of the time that you expect it to take to give you some room in case something ends up slowing you down.

An essentialist life centers around yourself, a routine and proceeding step-by-step

If you’ve ever accomplished something on your first try, then you’ve definitely felt luck before because that is typically not what usually happens. Instead, you accomplish things after making small steps that lead up to the accomplishment.

Little wins give you strength, which increases your confidence to keep accomplishing more things. Additionally, they help you stay on the right route since they are ways that you can check and see if you are moving in the right direction.

Although it may be a bit aggravating to take little steps, keep in mind that the result of taking little steps can make a huge difference. For instance, take a look at the police department in Richmond Canada. They’ve tried for years to decrease the rate of recidivism to an extensive degree. It got to the point where the laws were incredibly strict and the punishments were very harsh. That, though, was not helpful whatsoever. Afterward, they decided to completely change up their reform by making small steps in the direction of crime prevention:

When they noticed a young child doing something positive, such as putting the trash in bins instead of out onto the street, they rewarded them with little things such as free movie tickets or youth events. After a decade of having this policy in place, more young people have stayed off of the streets and the rate of recidivism decreased from 60 to only 8 percent.

Regardless of your approach, though, you need to make sure that you keep agreeing to it by creating a routine.

Routines are great to make habits, which makes complicated things simpler over time. As a result, it’s important to make a routine that is both a reflection and is in line with your goals.

For instance, the coach of Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, made him follow a routine while he trained. Each time that he either went to bed or woke up, he was supposed to visualize a slow-motion video of what he considered the perfect race. Then, Phelps attempted to replicate that video as he trained.

As a result, he did that so often that when the Olympics came, his habits are what guided him and helped him swim his perfect race repeatedly, which garnered him a large number of medals.

Final Summary

Despite what you may think, there are only a few things that are actually important for our goals and well-being. The rest is completely irrelevant. However, if you only focus on the crucial things and learn to do better by actually doing less, then you can create a life for yourself that is more efficient and meaningful.

Practical Advice:

Sort things out.

Instead of always adding more responsibilities and physical items to your life, figure out ways to remove things. You can get rid of the questionable things in your mind and routine, and improve what is left, which is what actually matters.

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