Tag Archive | Essentialism

Essentialist 3

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How do you want to feel consistently?”

“I love Brian Johnson‘s way of phrasing it:

Radiantly alive and in love with life

Does doing x help you achieve that?

“If I’m to be honest with myself, not really. It’s just highly pleasurable.”

“Tell me, would you consider eating sweets pleasurable?”

“Yes, I would.”

“Yet you choose not to eat sweets.”

“That’s different.”

“Is it?

My point is, you’re willing to forego something pleasurable for a higher end.”

“But doing x does not detract anything from my higher end.”

There’s an opportunity cost to everything we do.

Something that does not directly detract from your goal may still detract by distracting you from pursuing your goal, so by diverting away precious resources (time, energy, mental space, willpower).”

“Reminds me of the core tenet of Essentialism:

Whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, ‘What is essential?’ ELIMINATE everything else.

That’s so hard.”

Self-Actualization is all about making the hard choices.

Artful Productivity

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What do you do for entertainment?”

My work is my entertainment.

This is a profound instance of life-stacking [<link; medium read], and an essential aspect of my Life-Art.”

The pleasure of NOT satisfying your desires

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Why do you desire x?”

“Because it’s pleasurable.”

“Pleasure is not a good guide for action, and neither is desire, because they can lead you astray.”

“Then what is a good guide for action?”


Ask yourself always:

Is this a beautiful desire / pleasure?
Is it good for you? (Does it interfere with other systems of your life?)

If the answer is no, ELIMINATE it.

Is it useful / meaningful?
Does it grow you?
Does it help you achieve your deeply important goals?
Does it beautifully fit into the larger tapestry of your masterpiece life?

If the answer to all these questions is no, ELIMINATE it.

I call these filter-questions.”

“Easier said than done.”

“You can cultivate desires, and you can cultivate pleasures.

An important aspect of the Art of (Playful) Living is cultivating the right desires / pleasures.

Cultivate the desire to not be a slave to your desires/pleasures, to have the Willpower to let go of ANYTHING that does not serve you.

You’ll discover the deep pleasure of being in control of yourself. It’s one of the most beautiful pleasures there are.”

Masterpiece Days

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

Make the day a work of art, today and forever.

But I don’t have the autonomy to do that yet.

“The ultimate Artistry is living your masterpiece days regardless of external conditions.“


Imbue the day with Meaning.

Create a beautiful context for the day, a beautiful content, and a beautiful structure.

In terms of context, have a meaningful Quest you strive every single day towards.

You mean like a goal?

More like an ideal. Something you can’t possibly reach, but guides your every action.

As Tal Ben-Shahar beautifully put it in The Pursuit of Perfect,

Our ideals are more like ‘guiding stars’ than ‘distant shores.’

Or in the words of Leonardo da Vinci,

Fix your course to a star […]

If you don’t have one, make it your Quest to find it.

In terms of content, there’s a question I love from Alan Watts:

What would you like to do if money was no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?

This question is worth thinking deeply about, and making central to your life until you discover.

Another Quest.

Yes. A practical way of approaching it is by playing the little game I call ‘No day without [<link; short length]’

What are the essential things that every single one of your masterpiece days must contain for you?

There’s a beautiful practice I know from Tim Ferris:

Before you go to bed, write down one thing that if you accomplished tomorrow, would make that entire day a win.

He said it in the context of a to-do list, however I’ve expanded it in scope.

For me, doing all the things on my ‘No day without…‘ list makes the day a win.

What if time does not allow you to fit all of them in?

You don’t find time for important things. You make time.

In this particular case, doing them is non-negociable and I prioritize them over anything else.

However, for a system to be antifragile, it needs to be flexible. Flexibility in this case is given by the amount of time I allocate each. That is, they expand or contract based on the time I have available.

In terms of structure, masterpiece days must strike a balance between structure and flexibility. A beautiful idea I know from Brian Johnson is that of ‘bookends‘. The idea is that we have most control over the beginning and end parts of a day. These are the AM and PM bookends.

Treat your bookends as something precious, for they form the bedrock of the day. Optimize them to perfection, and seek to make the most of them every single day.

No day without…

Make each day your masterpiece. (John Wooden)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What does a masterpiece day look like?”

“The answer is personal and idiosyncratic. One way to think of it is by asking yourself:

What are the essential activities that make up your masterpiece day?

I like to answer it in the form of a little game I call ‘No day without…'”

“What does the answer look like for you?”

“No day without…

– Playing
– Loving
Beautifying [<link; very short read]
– Appreciating

– Growing
– Giving

– Creating (and Creating Value)
– Learning
– Moving

All these are deeply meaningful practices based on things completely within my control.”

Time, a precious resource

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I wish I had more free time.”

Are you making the most of the time you do have?


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

I’ve given up Spellweaver.

Really? How come? I thought you loved the game.

I do. I still think it’s a beautiful (collectible) card game. It engaged me both mentally and creatively. It was a difficult decision, but I’ve decided to focus exclusively on what’s essential.

Can’t you juggle both?

Afraid not, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it’s the opportunity cost: the time spent playing Spellweaver means time not spent doing something else. I’ve spent a few hundred hours playing it. Add to that the hours spent with it while not playing (evaluating cards, making strategies, conceiving decks, writing on the game’s forum, watching the games of better players to learn from them) and you get a humongous amount of time.

Secondly, it frees up mental space. This is not one of those games you think about only while playing them. I was constantly engaged with it, even while not playing. This kind of engagement is wonderful, but I’d rather save it for what’s truly important.

Thirdly, it’s a commitment to changing my life.

Was it hard to let go?

Not as hard as I imagined it would be, though it still lingered in my mind for a while. I managed to let go completely the moment I realized it will always be a part of me. It’s a comforting thought.

And maybe a strategy you can use elsewhere.

P.S. This is a dialogue from two years ago, which marked a very important step on my Journey.

Essentialist 2

The quality of the output is dependent on the quality of the input.

Discipline is Freedom. (Jocko Willink)

SEE the Macro in the Micro.

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“My mind cannot stand still.
I pick a flower of my thought and gently lay it down on paper,
and three more grow to take its place.
Creating has become for me like breathing.”

“You weren’t always like this. What’s your secret?”


I’ve structured my life around my Art, and eliminated EVERYTHING extraneous. I’ve turned my life into my Art.

There are many little things that compounded to this outcome, but I’d say, above all, was Discipline.

Discipline gives you wings, and you grow your wings moment by precious moment, one micro-decision at a time.”

Why do you desire what you desire?

Freedom is attained not by satisfying desires but by removing them. (Seneca)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

Why do you desire x?

“I don’t know. I just do. It’s part of who I am, I guess.”

Can you recall a time when this desire was not part of who you are?

“Yes, I can.”

“So the desire was acquired at some point along the way. It very likely started with a singular experience.

Who you are, your identity is a construct. And, as you very well know, by looking back at who you were at different stages of your life, identity is ever changing.

Identity is yet another instance of compounding.

One day you do something different. A new experience, an experiment. At that point, it feels insignificant. You get some benefit out of it, however small, so you repeat the experience. And then you do it again, and again, and again, and again… At every point, it feels just as insignificant, but, in time, their cumulative effect brings about a significant change:

I am the one who does y.

That initial action, apparently insignificant, was the SEED for a thousand subsequent actions.

If you think of their combined effect in terms of energy expenditure, time and money spent, physical and mental impact on your future-self, the result is dramatic, for better or for worse.

Given the significance of that first action, was it a wise choice?

“If am to be honest with myself, no, it wasn’t. I did it unthinkingly.”

“I think most of us have a tendency to go through life unthinkingly.

One important facet of Wisdom is taking full ownership of the Process. ‘Living Intentionally’, as Cal Newport put it. Or, as someone else put it, ‘Living by Design, not by default’.

This means, among other things, scrutinizing ALL the things we take for granted, and ELIMINATING those that do not serve us, or serve us too little.

I view it in aesthetic terms. I call it Life Artistry.”

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I’ve finally managed to eliminate non-essentials from my life. What’s next?”


Eliminate excesses, of any kind. Be the Artist, always with an eye out for balance and proportion.