I am new to the world of inspirational self-help books. Truthfully, I have tried to get through quite a few in the past but always ended up abandoning them before the end. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson broke my self-help abandoning streak. I read The Slight Edge from cover to cover. When I closed the book, I was on fire. I felt ready to take on the world. These inspirational self-help books became like a drug. Every couple of months I needed another hit. The key to these books is to actually implement their teachings.
Three books in particular hit home for me: The Slight Edge (Jeff Olson), Essentialism (Greg McKeown), and Level Up Your Life (Steve Kamb). Although there is some overlap, each has provided an essential piece to figuring out this puzzle of life. They provided a paradigm shift in the way I look at certain things. I was given an awesome new perspective on life. I will give you a summary of each book before I give you the recipe for the Slightly Leveled Up Essentialism Edge.
The Slight Edge
“The truth is, what you do matters. What you do today matters. What you do every day matters. Successful people just do the things that seem to make no difference in the act of doing them and they do them over and over and over until the compound effect kicks in.”
The Slight Edge is about implementing slight disciplines in your life to achieve bigger outcomes. It is about creating simple daily routines that are just as easy to do as not to do (i.e. five pushups every day, five minutes practicing a foreign language every day, fifteen minute walk every day). These small disciplines compounded by time equate to a big outcome. It is small disciplines matched with consistency that give you the slight edge.
“Showing up is essential. Showing up consistently is powerful. Showing up consistently with a positive outlook is even more powerful.”
“Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”
The main point in this book is less but better. Cut out the nonessentials in your life. Stop saying ‘yes’ to everyone and everything. Draw your line in the sand. If your answer is not ‘Hell, yes!’ then it should be no. Saying yes only to the essentials allows you to better apply yourself instead of always being stretched thin.
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.”
Level Up Your Life
“Starting today, that voice in your head is no longer allowed to utter the words: “I don’t have time.” Instead, the voice must use the phrase, “It’s not a priority.”
I must admit that I really loved this book. The presentation of the material and the idea of gamifying life made the content much more enjoyable. I am all about making a game out of life. Steve Kamb, also founder of nerdfitness.com, studied the mechanics used to capture the hearts and minds of gamers and began implementing them in his own life. In the book he uses video games, movies, television, comic books, and pop culture to share this process and to help you design your own Epic Quest of Awesome. Who doesn’t want to be their own superhero?
“Life is meant to be lived on your own terms.”
And now, how to slightly level up your essentialism edge!
In each moment we can have but one priority. We know from Essentialism that less is more, and we know from science that multitasking is impossible. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. I love Steve Kamb’s paradigm shift in Level Up Your Life. He says instead of using the excuse “I don’t have time” substitute it with “it is not a priority.” That simple change in perception brings to light the actual priorities in your life. It makes you question what you are actually spending your time doing.
Despite what you might want your priorities to be, your actual priorities are what you spend time on each day. Maybe you want to spend time with family, exercise, or learn a to play the guitar. Unless you are actually actively putting these pursuits first and making them a part of your routine, they are not your priorities at all.
2. Fully commit and implement baby steps
I like the idea of having a direction over setting goals. If I want to head for a sunrise (a healthier life), I will set my compass for east instead of north, south, or west. But there are times when goals are important, when having something concrete to strive toward is beneficial.
The key to reaping rewards, whether it be seeing a sunrise or being debt-free, is implementing small, measurable, achievable disciplines. As humans, we love progress. It is our consistent actions that eventually reap progress. I suggest developing daily habits. Make these new habits laughably simple, so you have no excuse not to execute. If you want more family time, schedule a time when you turn your phone off for just fifteen minutes and give your family members your undivided attention. Do ten pushups every night before going to bed. Add one serving of fresh fruits or vegetables to your day.
“Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.” –John C. Maxwell
After a while turning your phone off becomes a habit. After a while ten pushups is a breeze, and you start doing fifteen. After a while eating one vegetable a day is a habit, and you start adding more and more fresh foods to your diet. Incremental progress is addictive. Short-term wins actually cause a release of dopamine. Consistency is key. And don’t be afraid to up the anti to keep things challenging.
3. Make it a game
Stop taking things so seriously. Don’t beat yourself up over perceived failures or shortcomings; instead, praise yourself for wins no matter how small. Set up a system of rewards and consequences. Leveling up in a game always has consequences and rewards. That's what makes it so addicting.
My favorite aspect of Level Up Your Life is the idea of gamification. It makes accomplishing tasks fun and a . . . game. How far you go with this idea is up to you. I say the more fun you make a challenge the better. Steve Kamb suggests having several overarching quests (i.e., travel, learning a new instrument, learning conversational Spanish) and to break them down into mini-quests or missions that provide experience points. Maybe you start out by signing up for a music class two nights a week for a month. You commit to practicing for ten minutes each afternoon. You pick a song to learn to play by a certain date. Each mission gives you a set amount of experience points in your quest to learn a new instrument.
These mini-quests and missions are cool and all, but it is also important to have accountability and rewards. Not only should we reward accomplishments, but there should also be consequences for not following through. In games you never concede yourself to a subpar life, you are always trying to become better and stronger. That is because there are rewards and consequences for your actions. Maybe your reward for exercising every day for a month is a new bathing suit or a trip to the beach, but the consequence of missing a workout is that you have to give $50 to your friend (or better yet an enemy). I don’t know about you, but I don't have $50 to spare, so if the bathing suit or the beach isn’t motivation enough, losing $50 is.
The consequences must be harsh. If the consequence of making a mistake in a game is that you lose 1% life when you are at 100%, you might take more risks. But if you know a mistake will cause you to lose a life and have to start the level over, you might proceed with caution. The same goes for rewards. If you have a drawer full of bathing suits, another bathing suit won’t provide much incentive, maybe a new pair of exercise shoes would be better and make going to the gym more fun. You are more likely to gain experience points if you have real rewards to gain and real consequences to face.
“It’s the game of life. Do I win or do I lose.” –Tupac Shakur
4. Confront your fears
“It’s either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” –Level Up Your Life, Steve Kamb
It is important to recognize any fears that are holding you back, for me it is usually the fear of failure. Then ask yourself what is the worst that could REALLY happen. More often than not, the worst-case scenario is not life threatening or even that bad. The discomfort is usually temporary and the reward is potentially life changing.
I remember when I was studying for the bar exam. I was overwhelmed and tired. A colleague and friend put things in perspective for me. She asked what was the worst thing that could happen. I could fail obviously. And she responded that that was indeed the worst thing that could happen, and I would ultimately survive. She was absolutely right. I would not be disowned by my family, lose any friends, or even be prevented from retaking the exam. It would be a hit to my ego, but I would survive. Do not let fear hold you back.
5. Don’t pursue things
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ernest Hemingway
Trying to tie happiness to shinier and shinier things is not sustainable. Once we gain that new shiny thing, it becomes normal and we need bigger and still shinier things to sate our need. Things cost not only our money but our time, a much more precious resource.
“Oh, the things we think we need. . . . that new car? How many payments left? No matter—at least it has leather seats that warm your ass on your long drive home from an eleven-hour workday.” –TheMinimalists
I know few people that are truly more happy with more things. As I get older, I realize that most things are merely a distraction. It is the experience that counts. That does not mean you have to live with nothing. You simply surround yourself with meaning instead of things. Just make sure what you are striving for will actually bring you joy.
Now, take action!
Pick a priority. Choose a direction. Set a goal. Then, break that overarching goal into three mini-quests or missions. These mini-quests or missions should be actionable. Finally, take action now. Do something now, right this minute, that will take you fifteen minutes or less to accomplish that will bring you closer to your goal. Book a trip to a Spanish speaking country. Sign up for guitar lessons. Create an actionable routine. Just do something that gets the ball rolling. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on life. Adventure is waiting.