Have you ever stared down a massive to-do list or a crammed calendar and thought: How did it get like this?
How did I get to the point of feeling crushed by the weight of various obligations? All of this stuff is good, so why am I overwhelmed and ready to quit everything?
If that’s what you’re feeling right now, I get it. I used to feel that way all the time.
I have spent years trapped by the tyranny of good things.
So what changed, exactly? Am I some special unicorn, immune to the pressures of modern life?
Not a chance. As I type, my desk is strewn with Post-It notes reminding me to order this, book that, don’t forget! Plus I’m looking at a long digital list of to-dos that needs some serious organization and prioritization.
In other words, I’m like you. I don’t have my life tied up perfectly in a bow. And yet, I’m not stressed out right now. As I look at the lists, I don’t feel the old anxiety creeping up and clutching at my throat.
Why not? Because I chose to do exercise and physical therapy first today, rather than putting it off until all of my other tasks were done.
In this season, exercise and PT are essential for me. And I’ve discovered that if I don’t make room for them, then I’ll feel frustrated no matter how many other “good” things I do in a day.
Though most of the items on my lists are good, very few are essential.
Here I must tip my hat to author and speaker Greg McKeown, whose book Essentialism introduced me to this concept.
In that book, he makes a brilliant statement, which I’ll paraphrase here:
Often the choice isn’t between good and bad, it’s between good and essential.
Does that resonate with you? It sure does for me.
My daily battle isn’t, “Should I rob a bank or rescue a kitten?” Rather, it’s more like, “Do I answer every email in my inbox, or write a new missive?” “Do I go work out and do PT, or answer this surprise phone call from a good friend?”
As I work with coaching clients and look back over my own life, I see that it’s usually the “good vs essential” choices that trip us up. If we don’t discern between the two, our lives fill up with good things but we go bankrupt in essentials.
- We’re helping others, but we’re not sleeping.
- We’re saying yes to invitations, but we’re not creating any quiet time to think.
- We’re doing volunteer work for worthy causes, but we’re pushing off our creativity.
And then we wonder why we’re anxious and tired and discouraged! It’s not because there’s anything wrong with us. It’s simply because we’re missing some essentials.
Many things are good, but only a few things are essential.
Discerning the Good from the ESSENTIAL
But how do you discern the good from the essential? How do you make that crucial distinction? There’s a simple, five-word framework that’s been helping me a great deal lately.
As I wrote in my new book, You Don’t Owe Anyone:
“Whenever I come to Spirit looking for discernment or direction, she gives me this powerful directive: Go where the life is.
Should I say yes to this invitation or stay home? Should I read or watch TV? Should I reach out or sit in stillness? Go where the life is.
Those five words give me permission to tap into what feels like life to me at any given moment. When I share that phrase with coaching clients, they often start using it right away, to great effect. It helps us all shift from pro/con lists and mental-level analysis to trusting intuition. It frees us to get to the heart of the matter.
But have you ever had a hard time seeing things that simply, that clearly?
“Go where the life is” only works if you give yourself permission to feel how you actually feel rather than how you’re “supposed” to feel. If you feel anxious a lot, then chances are good that you feel trapped between your true feelings and your sanctioned roles; as you ping-pong between them, your anxiety rises.”
1 Question to Revolutionize Your Life
Here’s what I know…
The way out of the anxiety isn’t to keep hustling, doing more, and discounting your true feelings. Rather, the way out is to question the premise that’s keeping you stuck.
Question the thoughts and beliefs and attitudes that are telling you it’s not okay to know what you know and feel what you feel.
Here’s the marvelous truth: Deep down, you already know the difference between good and essential.
The question is:
Will you dedicate yourself to doing the work of discovering that which you already know?
And will you dare to live accordingly?