My Notes From the Tim Ferriss Show #355: “How to Master Essentialism”

A Quick Note

Hello everyone! Welcome to my blog, where I synthesize, summarize, compare, and apply all sorts of concepts, ideas, and information that I find on my life’s journey. I’m still working through how to best share my insights with you all, and welcome your constructive comments and feedback.

Who is Essentialism For?

Success leads to options. Options lead to overwhelm.

Essentialism becomes most impactful once you’ve achieved “success” (broadly defined): a state where you have more options than you can execute upon.

The Setup for Essentialism

Greg qualifies what he means by essentialism and why it’s important:

  • You must identify what matters most in your life (or someone else will by default) and what your highest value contributions are
  • Being deliberate with energy, resources, time and action is key to avoid “the undisciplined pursuit of more” (an idea from Jim Collins)

Essentialism is, in my view, a masterclass on disciplined thought and action. Greg McKeown embodies this in his powerful phrase “less but better”.

Principles of the Essentialist

  • Default “no” is better than “default” yes
  • Don’t trade off what is essential for what is merely good
  • Explicitly describing the “why” for an essential project will help to protect it when confronted with opposing forces (decision fatigue, rationalization, emotional costs, social obligations)
  • Setting up strong boundaries and communicating proactively about the limits and expectations for projects agreed to

Helpful Essentialist Questions

Thinking about the elimination step in the essentialist process, the pair discuss how unhelpful it can be to ask oneself “what is this worth to me?”

The reason that’s so is because of the cognitive bias called “The Endowment Effect” whereby one values more highly an item simply because it is owned already.

Marie Kondo has a habit of asking better questions in her work to counter this bias.

Cialdini talks about a permutation of this phenomenon which he names “loss aversion” in that preventing the loss of something already held is more highly motivating in many cases than gaining something new, even if objectively more valuable.

Tim proposes the use of the “inversion” mental model with the following question:

“If I didn’t have this item or opportunity, how much would I be willing to pay or sacrifice in order to get it?”

Essentialist questions are great to filtering and gaining clarity when faced with choices and trade-offs. Here are several more that are helpful:

  • What am I hanging on to because it was once important, but no longer is? (“Stormtrooper”)
  • Who will lose out if I fail to do this?
  • What can you categorically say no to?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do this?
  • What fears, uncertainty, or lack of clarity is preventing you from taking that action?

Essentialist Life Planning

Practice a personal quarterly offsite where you seek to clarify the essential in your own life. Greg begins by rooting himself in rooting himself in grounding texts like classical literature, prayer, meditations, and so on.

If possible, enlist the help of a design partner who is familiar with your life, and even more importantly willing to be a strong active listener and only ask clarifying questions without injecting their own opinion, rhetoric, advice, etc.

If you’re just starting this process, it’s helpful to “place yourself”. The concept is that you need to contextualize your own life, where you came from, and where you are. (Jordan Peterson talks about this idea in his life authoring course)

Specifically, Greg challenges the range of a mere “birth to death” perspective, and asks us to place ourselves inter-generationally in order to adopt a more cogent long-term perspective.

This was a game changer for me, and I’m going to write up an entire post about my application of it.

Here’s a teaser:

  • How much do you know about your great grandparents?
  • Do you know their names?
  • What decisions did they make that had an impact on your life?
  • What generational cycles can I break by talking about and addressing them in my life?

Clarify Your Life with Essentialism

What is an area of your life that you feel is extremely important that you’re currently under-invested in?

Why is that important? Write it down with a statement like “I choose to do this because…”

What do you feel it would take for you to be taking it seriously?

What fears, uncertainty, or lack of clarity is preventing you from taking that action?

What nonessential things are you over-invested in?

How can you make executing this essential thing as easy as possible?

Closing Thoughts

To close, Greg talked about his thoughts on choosing “Light” which comes up again in episode 510. It’s a bit ethereal, but I really enjoy it because of its mindfulness, focus on agency and the now.

For my part, having listened to both McKeown interviews by Tim Ferriss, and working my way through the book Essentialism, I’m absorbing as much as I can and walking myself through exercises to clarify what’s essential in my own life and eliminating what isn’t.

Sources & References

Tim Ferriss Show Episode #355

Published by benjaminpage87

Digital Advertising Manager. Anything French, Literature, Powerlifting, Cooking, Gaming, Craft Beer.

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