Essentialism: A Book Review

This book my friends…this book gave me all the feels ♥

Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is an absolutely outstanding book. Absolutely. Outstanding.

I know this book and the brilliance of it, has been floating around in the personal finance and minimalism blogospheres. I personally first heard of it through The Minimalists and they mention this book quite a lot in their podcasts, so I thought I would give it a go and see what all the hype is about. There must have been quite the hype because I had to wait three weeks to be able to check it out at the library as there were already a queue full of eager readers also waiting to get their hands on McKeown’s book.

“Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It is about getting only the right things done”.

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Basically, we as human beings need to filter out what is not essential in our lives and stop trying to do everything because guess what? We cannot do everything. I repeat. We. Cannot. Do. Everything.

Burnout and running on the hamster wheel, constantly juggling this that and the other. Overwhelmed. No time to do what we would really like to do. Multi-tasking until we collapse in a heap at the end of the day.

Sound familiar?

McKeown espouses that “by forcing us to apply more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less, empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy- instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us”.

Control our own choices sounds amazing doesn’t it? It may seem like we control what we think or do, but how many times have you made a decision out of guilt? *raises hand slowly*

Guilt is a powerful emotion. We give in and say yes to something we really, really don’t want to do, because we feel guilty. We want to avoid conflict or avoid tension. Maybe we felt timid in saying no. Whether it is to a family member, a colleague, a friend, your child, etc… It can be difficult to discern what we should be saying yes to, and what we should be saying no to as well.

“The very though of saying no literally brings us physical discomfort. We feel guilty. We don’t want to let someone down. We are worried about damaging the relationship. But these emotions muddle our clarity. They distract us from the reality of the fact that either we can say no and regret it for a few minutes, or we can say yes and regret it for days, weeks, months, even years”.

Let that sink in for a minute.

We say no, we regret it for a few minutes. We say yes, and regret for days, weeks, months, or even years.

How many times have you felt like this? The guilt? The relationship with the person that you are thinking about saying no to?

I have been there many times. You see, I am an introvert but I am also a mother. So I feel guilty when there are things that other moms ask me to join or help out with or can I do this one thing, and my first inclination is to say no. But then I feel guilty because I know these moms and our kids are friends, and then…I have suddenly spiraled into feelings of antipathy, guilt, and awkwardness. And many times, I give in and do the thing that is being asked of me even though the introvert in me is wondering why we aren’t at home basking in our aloneness.

And when I do give in, I feel regret. As McKeown states in his book, this is totally normal.

“After the rush comes the pang of regret. They know they will soon feel bullied and resentful-both at the other person and at themselves.”

Yes! I have totally felt that. And then to make the downward spiral even more unappealing, I feel bad for feeling that way, and I just end up a mess.

McKeown says to pause for five seconds before agreeing to something which can “greatly reduce the possibility of making a commitment you’ll regret”.

You want to know something interesting? Soon after I read this book, a friend asked me to work on a project with some other people and it was not something that I felt absolutely comfortable with. I took a moment and paused gracefully, and I said…

No.

I said no, I couldn’t believe it! Me, the guilt-ridden introvert, said no! I was proud of myself and realized later, that what McKeown said was absolutely spot-on: I regretted for a few minutes that I was unable to help said friend with their project, but that feeling soon dissipated and I knew that if I had agreed to said project, I would have truly regretted it in the long run.

I could wax poetic about this book for several more paragraphs but I believe you get the gist of what Essentialism is all about  🙂

Some tidbits to keep you going:

*Cut out the non-essential so you can focus on what is essential.

*Filter out what is important and what is not. Don’t get caught in the cycle of “decision fatigue” (the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates).

*The real question is not how can we do it all, it is who will get to choose what we do and don’t do. When we forfeit our right to choose, someone will choose for us.

Have you read Essentialism? What did you think of it?

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12 thoughts on “Essentialism: A Book Review

  1. This is a book I should read. Just reading your review makes me realize that I have to say “No” to something I’ve said I would like to do some day – but that I somehow agreed to do this spring. “No” is hard enough. “I change my mind” is even harder! But I need to say it. Thanks.

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  2. Well, I am 110% sold on this book! We are so alike, Mackenzie. Guilt absolutely slays me and I’m not even Catholic. 😀 But I also feel guilty, often of my own doing and chronically say “yes” because “no” is too uncomfortable. So I endure, sometimes resentfully and bitterly and need to embrace “no” as a kind answer that does not need to be justified.

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  3. I read this sometime last year and like you was instantly in love.

    Last fall at work I actually put in writing for my annual goals/review “Nothing But the Basics” – a concrete goal to NOT join committees, special projects, or anything outside what I trained for (a very physical hands on job that has nothing to do with meetings). This is the opposite of what our manager wants to see, but I went to school to do *my* job, not discuss aspects of hers. SO freeing.

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