On Becoming an Essentialist vs. a Nonessentialist

My sister gave me a copy of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown for Christmas and I had put on the night table beside my bed.  I had a number of books to finish and so postponed starting it until two weeks ago.

It was a good thing that I began to read it sooner than later. It has helped open my eyes. I like several key messages which are so true. These are some of the ones that resonate.

Yes, I want to be an essentialist! Am I investing myself in the right activities? Which problem or opportunity do I want? That depends on what my immediate, short-term and long-term goals are. I suppose that I was, sometimes still am, guilty of wanting to have it all. With limited resources, time being the most important, I must admit that it makes sense to make hard choices about what to focus on. This starts with discerning my most important goals, and activities follow. Less but better. There’s no point in trying to do to many things and not doing well in the most critical ones. Better to focus on a few that make a difference and where I can make a difference.

Cut out the trivial many. This will be quite a challenge. After taking the HarvardX Course on Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A new Approach to Personal Improvement, one of the the things I realized was that I just had too many activities lined up and it wasn’t easy to decide which were real priotities. Now, also realizing that, let’s face it, the reality is such that there are always trade-offs and that we can’t choose to do everything, I’m able to help myself eliminate more of the activities that matter less.

Now, this one is a gem among gems. Apparently, Peter Drucker had told Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, that he could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both, and that Collins chose ideas. McKeown continues with the observation that Collins still has only three full-time employees in his company, yet his ideas have reached millions of people through his writing. I started to think, well couldn’t he do both? Hold on, that’s precisely how a nonessentialist thinks: I can do both. Again, there are, and will be, trade offs. So, better to make a choice, avoid spreading oneself too thin, and instead to maximize one’s success and contribution. Less is better. Less is more.

Create space to escape and explore life. Space to read. Space to concentrate. Space to think. This I think I am a little better at, but there is always room for improvement. It’s encouraging to know that some very well known and famous entrepreneurs deliberately carve out such space regulary to help them refresh themselves, discover new ideas, and learn new things. A good tip is to plan and schedule creating space in your calendar and stick to it.

I have a long way to go to being a true essentialist, one who thinks that almost everything is nonessential and being able to distinguish between the vital few from the trivial many. I am nevertheless happy that I’ve become more self aware of my nonessentialist beliefs, assumptions, and actions.  Telling myself that my “big” nonessentialist assumptions are not true (e.g., “Everything is important. I can do everything.”),  I can gain distance from them, test and modify them.  I can be less captive of my big assumptions, overcome my immunity to change in this area, and move a few steps closer to an essentialist “self-authoring mind.”

Free HarvardX Course: Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement

Hello 2015!  Time does fly too fast!  Every year, many of us make New Year’s resolutions on self improvement, yet how many of these do we actually realize? If we pause to reflect and honestly admit to ourselves that we often fall short rather than succeed, then learning about and applying the Immunity to Change process to yourself can make a huge difference to help you be more successful with your goals.

I’ve finally had the opportunity to read the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.  I decided to check the authors’ website http://mindsatwork.com/ at that time and discovered that they were just about to conduct an experimental research based online class on the Immunity to Change (ITC) process and how effective it might be if taught in an online course. It was a free course by HarvardX on https://www.edx.org/. What a great experiential way to learn about the Immunity to Change approach and process, in addition to reading about it!

I signed up to the course HarvardX: GSE1.1x Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement and completed the 13 weeks, starting September 16 and ending December 15, 2014. I enjoyed the learning experience with Kegan and Lahey giving many short video lectures throughout the course to explain the key concepts,  and with volunteer students who are sharing their Immunity to Change X-rays as they create them one step, one column, one week, at a time…in class.  The discussion forum was a great way to learn from and with other course participants. The online Change Diary was a truly a useful tool in helping us learn and apply the ITC process to ourselves.EdX_Login_Immunity.to.Change

I learned a lot from the course.  These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • How to create your own Immunity to Change Map or “X-ray” and how to apply the ITC process to yourself.
  • One reason we fail at our self improvement goals is that we often apply a “technical approach” to change when what is needed is an “adaptive approach.  That is, we try to change our behaviors without first learning and observing our assumptions that impact our efforts. We need to realize when each approach may be appropriate for us.
  • The assumptions that we may not be aware of may actually be acting as our ITC immune system because they support other goal(s) that are competing with our expressed self improvement goal.
  • It is only when we become conscious of such assumptions, when they may or may not be true, and how they affect us, that we can begin to free ourselves from their hold on us.
  • It is more effective to focus on “the one big thing” that really makes a difference for us and work on that, rather than trying to unsuccessfully tackle several self improvement goals simultaneously.
  • That personal change takes time, we can backslide, and it helps when we are kind to ourselves as well.  How much time? It depends on your self improvement goal…and be ready to give yourself 3 months to 6 months or even a year to work on it and make the change second nature to you.
  • You need reinforcement and support from your significant others and those who you interact with in the context of your self improvement goal.

The first few weeks focused on helping us identify and choose a self improvement goal to work on during the 13-weeks and completing our ITC Map or “X-ray.”  After completing our ITC Map, we then focused on creating simple experiments to help us observe our behaviors and test our assumptions, how true or false they were, and how they affected us in relation to expressed self improvement goal, and how explore how we might free ourselves from such assumptions that have a hold on us.

Briefly shown below is the focus of each week  of the online course.

  • Week 1: Welcome and Orientation
  • Week 2: Choosing an Improvement Goal
  • Week 3: Completing the First Half of Your Immunity to Change Map
  • Week 4: Completing the Second Half of Your Immunity to Change Map
  • Week 5: Self Observations
  • Week 6: Continuum of Progress
  • Week 7: Biography
  • Week 8: Designing your first test
  • Week 9: Running and interpreting your first test
  • Week 10: Designing your second test
  • Week 11: Running and interpreting your second test
  • Week 12: Hooks and releases
  • Week 13: Ending well
  • Plus a 2-week grace period to complete course activities for those who may have fallen behind.

If you’re interested to learn more about this free online HarvardX course and join the next free run, if there is one, visit these links:

If you just want to watch all the videos and sample the course materials, that’s ok. However, if you want to make the most of it,  make sure you block off at least 2-3 hours a week in your calendar and complete the activities and write them up in your Change Diary.  It’s difficult to catch up if you fall behind because you do need each week to watch the lectures and participant sharing, do the exercises, reflect, observe, write, and participate in the online forum.

In the meantime, you may want to dive into the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.