Book Notes: Things That Matter, Wrap Up

When I first started reading Things That Matter, I said I was going to “study” it. I have a friend who was also planning to read it. A month has come and gone, and my friend and I have not connected. Maybe we’ll discuss these ideas at a later time, but I finished the book last night, and I don’t think I have too much to say about it here. Overall, the book resonated with me. I agree with the ideas the author proposes. The chapters in which I frequently underlined sentences are the ones about the distractions I struggle with most – possessions and technology. Here are some of the highlights:

“Who can go gung-ho after a challenging goal if they’re constantly buying and taking care of a bunch of stuff? Who can invest in things that matter if they’re too busy organizing the garage? We’re drowning in possessions, and all too often our dreams are drowning with us.” (110)

“Look around your home. All that clutter used to be money and time.” (117)

“Minimizing takes effort, but on the other side of that effort is the ongoing payoff of greater freedom to accomplish the things we want.” (119)

“Just imagine what life would look like if you were content with what you had.” (121)

“Do these things promote my purpose?” (125)

“One of the most common excuses for not pursuing one’s goals in life is ‘I don’t have time.’ And every one of the distractions we’ve looked at in this book is a time stealer…. Cut back on your screen time, and you will have taken the single most effective step to opening up more time for meaningful pursuits.” (170)

One night when I was looking at one of my time-stealers (YouTube) in bed, I found videos by a woman named Nena Lavonne that really interested me. I’m testing out some of her practical suggestions. I’ll post about my thoughts on these soon.

Book Notes: Things That Matter, Chapter 2

“Our newer tech- and media-based distractions are actually just add-ons to many of the old diversions that have plagued humanity for countless generations, like having mixed-up priorities or viewing ourselves or other people in unhelpful ways. They’re internal before they’re external.” (pg. 19)

He’s got a point. Sure, there are many new ways to be distracted nowadays, but they don’t seem to be the root of the problem. I can get distracted by my iphone, but why really, am I turning my attention to it? I was thinking of the spiritual battle when I read this chapter and some of the language in it supports this.

“… resisting it is a battle worth fighting.” (pg. 19)

“We wage war every single day to defeat these distractions and align ourselves with greater pursuits.” (pg. 27)

“This can be difficult and requires moments of wrestling within ourselves. But we learn to fight.” (pg. 24)

I (of course) also think of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Discernment of Spirits. Joshua Becker suggests ways to respond when our distractions have become our “masters rather than our servants”. (pg. 24)

One way is through self-examination and frequently sitting quietly with ourselves. This sounds just like the Examen and being within. He says, “Secondly, we can verbally articulate what distractions are keeping us from our best work, keeping us from those we love the most, or keeping us from fulfilling our highest purpose.” (pg. 24) Then a third response is to remove the distractions diligently and intentionally. Identifying and getting rid of inordinate attachments comes to mind.

Here is a list of distractions to be covered in the following chapters of the book:

  1. fear
  2. past mistakes
  3. happiness
  4. money
  5. possessions
  6. applause
  7. leisure
  8. technology

I’m interested in continuing with Chapters 3 & 4 this week.

Book Notes: Things That Matter, Chapter 1

It’s time for another book study. I didn’t think too much about this book choice. I received an email from Joshua Becker, author of Becoming Minimalist and The Minimalist Home, offering me a free six week online course if I purchased the book that day. The words “Overcoming Distraction to Pursue a More Meaningful Life” made the impulse purchase sound like a good idea.

The first chapter is about living life without regrets. He asks, “If you were to die today, what one thing (or few things) would you be most disappointed that you weren’t able to complete?” My first thoughts were: If I die today, then it would be God’s will, so the things I wasn’t able to complete were not supposed to be completed by me. But I see the ideas behind the question. What might I regret? What things are most important to me right now? Well… I would like to continue to homeschool Mary, and to be a wife to Bobby, mother to my children, daughter to my parents, sister, friend, etc. I might wish I learned to trust God more, worry less, and stop wasting time on those stinkin’ distractions.

He also asks, “Do you know your purpose? Or purposes?” Yes, I know mine. The Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises is a favorite answer to this question.

I could also answer more specifically with my vocation and the works that go along with it, and the sharing of my life experiences with those going through what I’ve been through. Thinking that I know my purposes fairly well, this is the quote from Chapter 1 that caught my attention:

“Why aren’t we focusing on our purposes, which would give us joy and fulfillment day by day, leading to a sense of satisfaction at the end of life?” And the answer is “distractions”. I’m sure we’ll dig into this in later chapters.

For people who don’t know their purpose(s), there is an exercise in the back of the book. I did it anyway because I’m funny like that. I listed my passions and abilities. I have loads of them, but I’ll admit they are not very exciting. (Except to me, of course!) They include reading, writing, studying, simplifying, pondering, cleaning, organizing, and more.

I listed some characteristics of the ISTJ personality. Definitely mine: practical, logical, reliable, honest, loyal, responsible, calm, ordered. You can see why “boring” has been used to stereotype ISTJ’s in one word.

I listed others’ needs that I find myself especially touched by, and experiences in my past that give me empathy for others in the same situation. I like how the author recognizes how comforting others gives meaning to suffering and can be a purpose in life.

Lastly, there’s a Venn Diagram made of three overlapping circles for passions, abilities and others’ needs, with the space in the center for your purposes. And there’s a place to list your top three meaningful activities. I expected my purposes to be the ones I currently spend much of my time on, (faith, family, and service work) but I felt led to add another to my list. It’s what I call The Intellectual Life – reading, writing, and studying. I have no idea if I have time for this, or what it might lead me to in the future, but I added it anyway. It’s an activity that I do not spend much time doing currently, but I imagine I could if I am able to remove many of the distractions in my life and have a greater focus on it. I also hope to focus on better fulfilling the first three purposes I mentioned.

I have one more point to share. It’s the idea that our self-focused pursuits might be lesser than our others-focused pursuits. I know there needs to be balance here. It’s good for me to do things alone and just for fun, but it can be overdone; and I don’t want to swing over to the all-work-no-play side either. However, I might regret it on my deathbed if I spend too many hours doing crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles and binging shows when there are activities that would benefit others (and myself as well) to pursue.