Can you have too much goodness in your life? Yes, I think so.
What I mean is that you can have too many good things in your life, and they begin to mess with your sense of direction, purpose, and ability to prioritize what truly matters.
- Psychologists call it the paradox of choice. Too many options have a detrimental effect on our psychological well-being.
- Economists describe the impact as the law of diminishing returns. Anything we add to our lives will eventually, at some point, have a diminishing effect.
Now more than ever we need to PRIORITIZE our lives. We can too easily cram our days full of things we can rationalize as “good” or “fine.” Too much of this, though, gets in the way of the things that truly matter. In the words of Annie Dillard,
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
McKeown’s premise is simple, yet profund (and liberating):
- Stop trying to do it all.
- Stop saying yes to everyone and everything.
- Focus your efforts on the things that truly matter.
- Your life should be guided by the idea of “Less but better.”
It’s far more difficult to say “no” to some good things to keep your eyes fixed on a few great things.
McKeown argues, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” If left unchecked, your work, family, community, church & (fill in the blank) dimensions of your lives will wring every bit of you out. This isn’t an excuse to be a jerk (please don’t), but it’s a reality check that you are a human being with limits. All the talents, gifts, and experiences you bring to every “table” in your life will have a diminishing return if you are exhausted, distracted, and/or stressed.
One of the most precious skills to develop is the skill of discernment; the wisdom to tell the difference from the essential things in life from the nonessential. McKeown gives a host of strategies in his book (seriously, get a copy). Here’s an exercise I’ve found to be insightful. It’s painful, but powerful. Take a look at your calendar for a week or two. Write down every responsibility you have scheduled, whether it be officially or unofficially (meeting with boss, working out, coffee with a friend, etc.).
Now, rank them in order of importance. And here’s the important thing: THERE CAN BE NO TIES. Force yourself to rank them.
Now, rank them again, this time in order of the time you spend on each. Again, NO TIES.
Take a look at your rankings. Spend some time reflecting on the following:
- What do they tell you about how you prioritize your life?
- If you were to show these rankings to a stranger, what would they conclude about your priorities?
Worth Reading: Check out author Daniel Pink’s article on why we all need a “To Don’t” list.
Worth Watching: Check out Barry Schwartz’ TED talk on The Paradox of Choice. [Despite the fact that he looks like he just finishing mowing his lawn, this is a great summary of the idea.]
Worth Pondering: “The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”–Lin Yutang
Be about that which is essential this week,