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Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown is another great reminder that our society today is too cluttered. To many things demand our attention from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. McKeown clearly summarizes the research and uses examples to demonstrate that we can all truly accomplish more by doing less. The lesson that stuck with me the most from this book is the graphic below:

We can progress a little in a lot of different areas of our lives, or we can progress a lot more, and achieve a lot more by focusing on the one area that is essential. Of course, this can bring up fears in many “But what if I pick the wrong thing?” Or “Waste my time on something that doesn’t work out?” To you I say read Burnett and Evan’s book Designing Your Life. But McKeown also does a good job of discussing how we can “learn to discern the trivial many from the vital few.” He reviews the many ways of ‘knowing’ something, such as collecting data and doing research before making a decision. But I also really like how he talks about discernment or intuition. A way of knowing that we only get when we slow down and make space in our lives to truly listen to our values and spirit.

McKeown also has charts throughout the book comparing how an essentialist thinks to how a nonessentialist thinks. This is what we do in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we challenge and change a maladaptive thought to a healthy thought. The nice thing here is that McKeown did all the work for you by generating the alternate thought (the way an essentialist thinks) and presenting all the research supporting that approach (challenging thoughts exercise in CBT).

For example (from page 8):

One of the key skills required to apply the lessons in this book is the ability to say No. Saying No to everything else in order to focus only on what is essential is a skill in setting healthy boundaries. This is easier said than done for many people. Especially those who have experienced abuse (physical, emotional, sexual). Abusive relationships rob you of your power to say yes or say no. Many people end up becoming people pleasers, never saying no out of fear of upsetting others. McKeown’s book is a different way of looking at the importance of learning to set healthy boundaries and saying no to the things that pull us away from what is most important in our lives.

Essentialism is very similar to  Keller’s The One Thing, though I felt it was a bit more theoretical. I will admit it took me two passes to finish this book (I had to check it out of the library twice). It just didn’t have the story telling to keep me engaged for long. But I suppose that can be a good thing. If read little by little, the message of this book can really begin to sink in:


I encourage you to check out the book from your local library! In fact many libraries even have the books available as ebooks for download! All of the books I have reviewed here I borrowed from my local city and county libraries.