This week we are going to cover Part 3: Eliminate, which is made up of chapters 10-14. If you haven’t read the post from week 2 yet, go read it before you continue on with week 3.
Are you clear about what you want?
Now that you know what it means to be an essentialist, and have taken the time to begin exploring your life, the next step is to begin eliminating the things that are non-essential.
But before you begin eliminating things, you have to get very clear on what your purpose is.
Where do you want to be in five years?
Can you answer that question? Most people can’t. And if you don’t know where you want to be, how can you make the choices that will get you there?
In chapter 10 of the book the author says, “When we are unclear about our real purpose in life—in other words, when we don’t have a clear sense of our goals, our aspirations, and our values—we make up our own social games. We waste time and energies on trying to look good in comparison to other people. We overvalue nonessentials like a nicer car or house, or even intangibles like the number of our followers on Twitter or the way we look in our Facebook photos.”
So what is the solution to this?
According to the book it is to define an Essential Intent. The author says that an essential intent “is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable” and that “done right, an essential intent is one decision that settles one thousand later decisions.”
A key way to help you define an essential intent is to ask yourself the following questions:
- If I could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?
- How will I know when I am done?
While it may seem odd to start off a week focused on elimination by adding something to our lives, it is a key to being able to eliminate the right things, and keep only those that truly matter.
Get Used to Saying “No”
Chapter 11 might be one of the hardest to implement chapters in any book I have ever read. Not because there is anything inherently difficult in the material, but due to the fact that saying “no” is something I really struggle with. I am by nature a people pleaser, and I want to do things that make people happy.
However, this chapter reminded me that some of the reasons we struggle with saying no are:
- Fear of missing out
- Fear of burning bridges
- Fear of disappointing others
Did you know that F.E.A.R stands for “false evidence appearing real”? I am not sure where I first hear it, but I love this definition. If you really think about it, most of the things that we fear are mostly in our minds.
So why should we get used to saying no when we have so much fear? Because according to the author, “failing to do so can cause us to miss out on something far more important.”
Here are a couple of points outlined in the book in regards to saying “no”:
- The decision is separate from the relationship.
- Saying “no” doesn’t have to mean using the word “no”.
- Focus on what you are giving up if you say “yes” and it may make it easier to say “no”.
- Don’t say “yes” if you don’t mean it. A clear “no” is more graceful.
This may be really hard for you, like it is for me. If so, just remember some of the ideas outlined in the book in the “No Repertoire”. Some of my favorites are:
- Let me check my calendar and get back to you. This allows you to take the time to step back and take a look at your schedule. It allows you to remove the emotion from the decision, and only make it based on whether or not it fits into your schedule.
- Say it with humor. I like to make people laugh so this one is pretty obvious for me. Plus saying it in a humorous way helps ease a bit of the disappointment. The only tough part can be making sure that it is understood you are actually saying no, and not just making a joke.
- I can’t do it, but X might be interested. This can be a great option to allow you to still help the person, while making it clear that you can’t be the one to do the thing that they need. However, for this to work you have to have someone you can refer them to, and you have to be doing it for the right reason. Refer them to someone else to help them, not just to get them to leave you alone.
Cut Your Losses
While it is best to say “no” to the nonessential things in the first place, this doesn’t always happen. In fact, I am betting that while reading this section of the book you thought of some things that you wish you had said no to.
Is there anything you can do about that?
Of course! If you have nonessential activities you are committed to, it is time to cut your loss and eliminate them from your life. The hardest part about doing this is the result of sunk cost bias, which according to the book is “the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped.”
So how do you overcome sunk cost bias?
The author recommends that you ask yourself the question, “If I weren’t already invested in this project, how much would I invest in it now?”
Another way to ask this question, especially in regards to getting rid of things we own is “If I did not own this item, how much would I pay to obtain it?”
Both of these questions can be extremely helpful.
Some other helpful ideas that this book points out in regards to cutting your losses are:
- Don’t keep doing something just because you have “always done it”
- Abandoning something you are doing that is nonessential is not wasteful, it is smart.
- Don’t be afraid to admit failure.
- Don’t force something that is a mismatch. If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit. And that is okay.
- Take time to pause before you say yes to something. Even a small pause can give you enough time to avoid giving an emotion response.
You Need to Set Boundaries
The 14th chapter of the book focus on the idea of setting boundaries.
It points out that in our society we are pretty bad at setting boundaries, and much of the issue with this is caused by the inability to say “no”. While I am a huge fan of technology, the author notes that “technology has completely blurred the lines between work and family. These days there don’t seem to be any boundaries at all regarding when people expect us to be available to work.”
He says that boundaries are empowering and that essentialists “recognize that boundaries protect their time from being hijacked and often free them from the burden of having to say no to things that further others’ objectives instead of their own.”
Setting boundaries can be hard. But just remember, we all have limited time and energy.
If you don’t set boundaries that support your goals, you will end up taking on tasks or projects that will stand in the way of your goals. If you want to be in control of your life, and your goals, you have to set boundaries. You also need to remember what the author says about keeping boundaries, “Boundaries are a little like the walls of a sandcastle. The second we let one fall over, the rest of them come crashing down.”
My Favorite Quotes
- If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?
- If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to do to acquire it?
- Remember that anytime you fail to say “no” to a nonessential, you are really saying yes by default.
- To be able to do that you need to be really clear about what your purpose is in the first place.
- When we are unclear about our real purpose in life—in other words, when we don’t have a clear sense of our goals, our aspirations, and our values—we make up our own social games. We waste time and energies on trying to look good in comparison to other people. We overvalue nonessentials like a nicer car or house, or even intangibles like the number of our followers on Twitter or the way we look in our Facebook photos.
- For example, pursuing five different majors, each of them perfectly good, does not equal a degree.
- If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?
- A true essential intent is one that guides your greater sense of purpose, and helps you chart your life’s path.
- The right “no” spoken at the right time can change the course of history.
- Of course, the point is not to say no to all requests. The point is to say no to the nonessentials so we can say yes to the things that really matter.
- It is to say no—frequently and gracefully—to everything but what is truly vital.
- The more we think about what we are giving up when we say yes to someone, the easier it is to say no.
- When we push back effectively, it shows people that our time is highly valuable. It distinguishes the professional from the amateur.
- A clear “I am going to pass on this” is far better than not getting back to someone or stringing them along with some noncommittal answer like “I will try to make this work” or “I might be able to” when you know you can’t.
- We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’
- There should be no shame in admitting to a mistake; after all, we really are only admitting that we are now wiser than we once were.
- Pausing for just five seconds before offering your services can greatly reduce the possibility of making a commitment you’ll regret.
- No is a complete sentence. – Anne Lamott
- Define your essential intent. Take some time to brainstorm what you want your life to look like in 5 years. Ask yourself the question “If I could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
- Cut your losses. Take 10 minutes today to think of the things you are currently committed to. Pick one thing that does not support your essential intent, and cut it from your life. It can be as big or as small of a thing as you want, but pick 1 and do it this week!
- [BONUS ACTION ITEM] Start saying “No” more often. If you are like me, this will be the hardest part of the book. But if you have defined your essential intent, saying no to the things that you now more clearly see as not contributing to your essential intent will be a little bit easier. Re-read the section on the “No” Repertoire in chapter 11 and pick some ways that will help you say no when presented with nonessential things.
Coming up next…
Next week we will be covering Part 4: Execute which is made up of chapters 15-20.
See you next week!