Less But Better

Thursday September 21, 2017
Patrick Cummings

Katrin Davidsdottir is different. You know that. But do you know why?

Is it because she’s gifted, or lucky, or smarter?


But those are only pieces of the puzzle. Those are the obvious ones. To grasp the full picture, you have to go deeper. You have to recognize that she’s a two-time Games champion because she decided to be. You have to recognize how much power lies in that decision, and how incredibly difficult that decision is to live up to.

In the book “Essentialism,” author Greg McKeown asks, “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”

That sounds easy. But embedded in that question are a series of compromises that few are willing to make. Katrin Davidsdottir is different because she’s been willing to make them. McKeown writes: “Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, ‘What do I have to give up?’ they ask, ‘What do I want to go big on?’ The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.”

Consider the below graphic, pulled from the book:

It should be obvious which side better describes Katrin Davidsdottir.

Katrin doesn’t become the best by saying yes to everything. Over the course of the year, she probably says no to 99% of the opportunities winning the CrossFit Games affords person. She knows that almost everything is a distraction because she’s made the decision to go big on only one thing. (McKeown reminds us that clarity is the key to empowerment.)

Most of us aren’t willing to make that kind of decision — the kind that eliminates all the other decisions, all the other options, all the other what-ifs and what-abouts. Most of us are living lives filled with the nonessential because we haven’t yet made the commitment to our one big thing. We want to taste all the flavors in the ice cream shop even if that means we never savor a single one.

Katrin Davidsdottir picked her flavor. As a result she’s living by design and not default. She’s different because she’s decided to do less and do it better.

Each of us holds the power to make this kind of decision. When we don’t, somebody else undoubtedly does it for us and we end up expelling our energy in a hundred different directions.

We could all get better at something McKeown calls deliberate subtraction, which he defines as, “[Getting] rid of options or activities that may be good, or even really good, but that get in the way.”

In order to identify what stands in the way, we have to first identify where we’re going. And then we have to dedicate ourselves to the path no matter the distractions or the noise that call for us from the bushes.

Those of who can pull that off are destined to be different.