Year of Essentialism

Essentialism

The fall brought me a sense of panic that could have easily escalated into larger problems if I wasn’t careful. My daughter’s mother was once again going to be working in northern Alberta, leaving me to care for our daughter most of the time. The last time this happened, I didn’t handle it very well. Gained weight, felt miserable, and was completely unmotivated to do much of anything until the summer sun started to show up.

This time around, I did not want that to happen again. My biggest challenge last time was finding time to do anything since my daughter was only in preschool at the time (three hours a day.) I knew with my daughter being in kindergarten (six hours a day), finding the time would be slightly easier. The motivation was still a problem.

I find being alone more difficult now than it was when I was a fatherless bachelor working a regular job. So much of my energy goes towards my daughter that when she is absent, I grow restless. I am too accustomed to finding activities to do to help her learn, grow, and, perhaps most importantly, stay busy, that when I am alone, I have no idea what to do with myself.

I found myself doing a lot of things that were not very important to me for the sake of keeping my mind busy. Reading sites to discover new stuff, following the news closely, talking to people that there was no hope of a friendship, let alone relationship developing. I was still, thankfully, pushing myself to workout regularly by lifting my kettle bells or get out for a walk when the weather was cooperating. That kept me more mentally sharp than I would have been otherwise.

Things started to turn around when I started the juicing. There were definite mental health benefits from doing it. I didn’t experience the major weight loss like in the documentary that inspired it, but I was also not juicing full-time. One juice a day was enough to awaken my mind and help me stay mentally sound.

The other important switch was with the protein I was using to supplement my workouts. Gone was the Muscle Pharm Combat Powder, and I said hello to Whey Gainer Punch - lactose and gluten free. It was much easier on my stomach and further encouraged me to be more active knowing the reward afterwards was not going to tax my body heavily.

I thought I was doing pretty well. I noticed a bit of weight loss, muscle gain, and was feeling sharp mentally. Christmas came and went.

In the middle of January, Ryan Holiday released his The Very Best Books I Read in 2014 list. Several books on my shelf come from his suggestions. This year, I purchased two of the books right away: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention 1.

I am 3/4 of the way through Essentialism now. I wanted to write about it after the first chapter, but thought better of it. Getting through the final section, I feel much better in declaring it one of my favourite books that I have read. Each chapter is like a punch to the stomach and opening my eyes to a lot of things that I failed to even think of that I was doing wrong. I could quote several parts of the book, but this last paragraph has stood out for me:

Nonessentialists say yes because of feelings of social awkwardness and pressure. They say yes automatically, without thinking, often in pursuit of the rush one gets from having pleased someone. But Essentialists know that 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. Eventually they will wake up to the unpleasant reality that something more important must now be sacrificed to accommodate this new commitment. 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.

That paragraph is me in a nutshell: I live in a constant fear of letting people down when I say no to them, so I say yes. Often. The next chapter after that paragraph discusses allowing people to make their problems your problem to deal with. It traps you from making the right choices for yourself. Reading these chapters one after the other was pretty much a knockout punch for me.

Everything in the book is helping me eliminate a lot of the unnecessary and discover the necessary for my life, but that one paragraph has really resonated for me. My goal for this year is to say no more frequently, and not take on other people’s problems as much as I have in the past. I still want to help people, but I don’t want to devote so much energy to people when I don’t feel any better afterwards or there is no reciprocation involved.

It is not an easy thing to accomplish, but like weight loss, one step at a time. By the end of the year, I hope to feel more motivated about my own life and not so disappointed when I can’t help others.

Buy the book in the USA: Essentialism

Buy the book in Canada: Essentialism

  1. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, mentions Creativity and its author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, so I’m eager to see how these books relate to each other.