(2.2) Essentialism: Saying Yes to What Nourishes You

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To which opportunities should you say yes? To which should you say no? This section is inspired by the book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. It’s an absolutely fabulous book.

The key here is that every choice is a trade-off. We do not have unlimited time, energy, etc. “Opportunities” are chances to earn some kind of reinforcement with your behavior, i.e. some need of yours would be fulfilled. But saying yes to an opportunity takes resources (time, energy, money, attention, etc.), so you have less of that resource to apply to something else.

When I was a new dog trainer (almost 2 decades ago, really?), I had lots of time and energy. What I lacked was money to meet my basic needs, so I said yes to every opportunity that came my way. The trade-off was time for money, and since I didn’t have a lot of clients, it was worth it to me to drive far to get to clients.

Over time, I started getting more clients. If I continued saying yes to the ones farther away, I’d spend too much time driving and not be able to see all of the potential clients that lived closer to my school. Later, I had more potential clients visiting my school than I could handle. When I needed the money enough that I would say yes to more clients, I’d trade away quality time with my family. So I hired more trainers, but that meant more responsibility for their wellbeing.

Every choice is a trade-off. Before you say yes to something (like yet another foster or pro bono client or the lure of social media), remember that you’re taking resources away from something else. Your yes is a no to some other opportunity.

Which opportunities feed your purpose? 

Essentialism recommends really figuring out your mission in life, what you want to accomplish, how you want to live, the spirit with which you want to live, and making sure that all of your yesses point in the same direction.

If you offer a delicious, completely artificial treat to a dog, he will probably take that opportunity. He’s not thinking of long-term need for balanced nutrition. He just wants a snack and it smells good. Science has tricked his sesnses into thinking he’s getting his need for nourishment met.

Dogs will even eat things that are toxic for them, we we well know. In other words, they’ll take opportunities (chocolate) that actively block them meeting other needs (physical health). Here’s a video exploring the top 25 toxic foods for dogs (this video is 12 minutes long, so feel free to skip this video if you’re short on time):

I like to think of the Needs Inventory as a list of ingredients for a wholehearted living. Needs are not just about survival, but what helps us live full, satisfying lives. Every opportunity that comes my way has one ingredient, but if I ‘snack’ on opportunities that meet certain needs but make it hard to meet other needs, my emotional health eventually suffers. I’m not taking care of ‘future Grisha’ by saying yes to a narrow range of things and ignoring my other needs.

In other words, I only say yes to opportunities that help me meet my needs in a sustainable way. In particular, the opportunities I say yes to provide (or at least don’t block) the need categories of connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, autonomy, and meaning.

When I say yes to opportunities that meet my needs (including contributing to the lives of my family and society at large) and an authentic, compassionate no to opportunities that block my needs from being met, I feel great. Powerful. Authentic. Not taken advantage of, not like I’m shirking my duty, not overwhelmed with how much I have to do, and grateful to myself for taking care of “future Grisha.”

By having my yesses mean yes and my nos mean no, people can also count on me more reliably. They know I’m not just saying yes to please them, so they can also ask what they need from me, knowing I’ll take my own emotional/physical availability into account. I may not say yes to as many things, but when I do say yes, I’m all in. I’m more creative, productive, and I care.

If someone can’t handle me saying no to them, then what they’ve asked of me isn’t a request, it’s a demand. That never feels good. Demands are maintained by punishment, not reinforcement. Do this, or else (they will yell, guilt trip, be violent, etc.).

Demands are often made when we mix up noncompliance and rejection. File that bit of info away. I’ll talk more about it later.