Key Points on the Power of Cumulative Behavior:

– Be intentional about the physical, mental, financial, relational, personal, and spiritual areas of your life by changing small daily habits, and continuing to pursue those small changes every day, which will create a large impact down the road.

– The absolute key is small change in the daily life.

– Write down the things you want in your life on a day-to-day basis that won’t just happen, and in doing that it will help those things actually take place.

– Writing to bring awareness to the events in your life, so that you can be conscious of the important tradeoffs you need/want to make.

– Many of us have a hard time focusing on daily habits that we do just for ourselves, but make up our personal impact. What is one small thing that you can take time to do every day to pursue your essential intent?

Show Transcription:


[00:18] Welcome to the Ziglar show, where we inspire your True Performance — mine too! I’m your host, Kevin Miller, and today we go behind the scenes with Essentialism best-selling author, Greg McKeown, for our habits show. If you didn’t catch our main interview with him two days ago in episode 492. go listen — you won’t want to miss it. Today I walk through the seven spokes of success and the Ziglar Wheel of Life with Greg to see what his habits for success are. And I’ll tell you now, I bet you’ll hear some new ones! I should add for starters, he keeps a daily food journal and just from that alone, with no effort, he lost ten pounds. He does a lot of trampoline with his kids, as I do — love that. He is intrigued by all that Jesus didn’t do. You have to listen to the show to understand that part. He fasts monthly, and has compiled a journal of ten thousand items he’s grateful for; he says because of that it’s really hard not to feel joyful and grateful. He was really completely thoughtful, open, and a hundred percent authentic. It was a tremendous joy and we shared some fun in the interview, as well. I could tell you more or less just dive in and listen to him.

[01:34] So nice to be with you

[01:36] Great to be back with you, Greg, and in the main show that we did in episode 489, you talked a lot about the small, incremental daily things that we do which is perfect; that is the essence of habits, and what we want to do here, and kind of get a behind-the-scenes on your own journey in your personal development, the things that you do to lead this essentialist life. Well, that’s dive-in number one, the physical: the body, the thing that we live inside, what is a part of your habits to keep that well.

[02:12] Well, I mentioned the idea of writing down, you know, what you’re going to eat each day, because this is a nontrivial habit for me. I just keep an actual log of it. So I’m not saying everyone, that works for everyone, but I actually have a checklist that I’m carefully curating over time — my daily aches. And on that are things that you think, sometimes you think, Well wouldn’t you remember to do that? but I find I have a terrible memory and often don’t remember to do things unless I have it on there, and then I remember to go and do it. And also because I track it I can see myself honestly with how long it’s been since I’ve actually done that thing. So I’m not doing especially well on exercise, I can tell you that for a fact, but I can also say when it is happening, and I can see that it’s happening in small ways better now than it was six months ago. So the other thing I do that’s on a little, I have that daily habits list, is I’m back to just drinking water and nothing else. That’s just a small change. But it means that instead drinking juice or drinking whatever, it’s just water, and that that’s me —  I can’t always imagine adding something extra into my life, but that’s removing something and my health goes up,  so…

[03:45] I love it. Next one is family. I know you are at your home right now, married and four kids, and at least one dog that we heard a little bit ago. So, what are the other intentional essentialist investments you make into your family?

[04:02] One of the things that’s on my everyday list is to play with my children. I think play is something that doesn’t just happen. And I don’t mean on a video game, I mean on the trampoline or or sitting-down, playing a board game together, or something like that. And when I come to evaluate my life from anything like a long-term perspective… so, for example, I started writing, reading my journal much every day. I don’t think I’ve missed a day in about the last six years. And not many in the last ten, fifteen years, but, as I reread those, I’m amazed how many of the things I’ve written that don’t really matter to me now. But the things that do, of the moments when I’ve written about playing with my children, and specifically what I’d done that, if that memory comes flooding back…so now it’s actually on the daily list, go play with the children. I notice that when it’s on there I do it, and when I don’t have it on that it’s easy to go and you don’t do it, because there’s so many other things to do.

[05:40] Next one is mental. Just what of those habits that you do to strengthen yourself, make yourself well mentally…and I gotta put in there myself, almost the fact you’ve journaled every day for almost six years, has got to be a dramatic part of that. But what falls in that category?

[05:57] Yes, you’re right about that, that writing, to me, is a small habit but disciplined one now for me. Every morning reading my wisdom literature, which, for me, is Scripture. But, you know, there’s a lot of great wisdom literature out there. What I think the primary criteria is something that has really stood the test of time. Something that wasn’t written in this current culture, because I want to be challenging the assumptions in my current culture, which will occur in cultures, are invisible to us — kind of see them like fish who discover water last; last thing we’ll see as our own culture. In fact, I think that’s a definition of culture. It’s exactly the things that are invisible to us. And so, by reading something that was written that has lasted a long time so it’s a high value, it’s timeless principles to it will help challenge my current assumptions about how the world ought to be and how my life ought to be.

[07:19] Can I ask where you’re studying in the Bible right now?

[07:21] Well, I received a challenge recently. By a leader in church, a man who had read every single reference to Christ in the Scriptures, just every single reference. And I combined that with something I heard I am. Philip Yancey wants to, as he said, “Well, what if I’d never read about Him? What I’d never read…the news hasn’t, what, I just had to come to it with no preexisting assumptions, who would I find?” And as he did that, he found a character so different, and the One he often heard people talk about, certain self written about, that he was really surprised that he found somebody more emotional than he expected, more — I mean, this is somebody who is — it was due to his best friend, you know, “You know get behind me,” that is pretty bold, right? That’s sent directly to the current political and religious leaders of us, as you know you are completely of the devil; you’re wrong, and everybody’s wrong, I mean, this is a radical figure. As I’ve been doing this, there has been lots of observations, but one of them is breathtaking for me. And that is everything He didn’t do. Breathtaking to me. All the places He didn’t go, all the people He didn’t see, or people He didn’t hear. The Scriptural basis of less is a path less traveled by, but it doesn’t make it less Scriptural. In fact, I think the non-essentialist isn’t something that gets in the way. It was even easier to read Scripture, because we’re bringing so much of the baggage with us that we emphasize certain verses over other things, certain stories or other stories. When you read it with an essentialist mindset, you find it’s everywhere divine, trade-offs on every page.

[09:49] That’s dramatic, and if you’re not contemplating a book on everything Jesus didn’t do, it’s worth considering. I would read that book. I would buy it immediately. It’s a completely different paradigm.

[11:51] The next spoke, which is spiritual. Maybe we just covered that — your daily reading of the Scriptures, or anything else that you would share with us. That is a significant part of your daily continual habit, habitual walk, to invest in your spiritual life.

[12:10] You know, I mean, I fast, at least monthly. That’s not unusual, but it’s a very sensuous practice. So just, first of all to the physical, is obviously seven areas that Zig identified it. It is simply a fact that people who lived through the Depression lived longer. So along the time that people are reaching at least, at the time when poverty was the highest in the country, that’s when people live longer. Something is missing there, isn’t it? And a key part of it is literally just less calorie intake. So, this idea of fast image is a lot of research now about this, about to eat less than five hundred calories a day. It is extreme low-calorie diet. Results are off the charts, in terms of health, time over time. And so to me, sometimes that feels a bit overwhelming. So it seems to me that if that feels a little overwhelming, we can just go back to this thing that we’ve talked about, I think, in the last, in the first interview, which is write down everything you eat.

[15:47] Absolutely. We know that the the people who live the longest in and around globally, eat better food, of course, but they eat less. Often they’re so much in a world of wellness.

[18:46] Ok, friends, I trust you’re getting value from this conversation with Greg McKeown. Again, the book Essentialism is available wherever you buy your books, and you can connect with Greg at

[22:02] Well, so let me go to the area of finance. It’s such a big area of challenge for a lot of people, in stress and anxiety. What have, what’s been part of your journey habits in the area of finance?

[22:19] Well, I don’t actually find that the big key. I mean, I think about finance when you said “with friends.” I actually I’m not just thinking money broadly; I’m thinking the management of the money that you have. What you mean by the word finance  — or do you mean money broadly?

[22:38] No, well, if it’s the area of focus for you on, honestly, It’s where you found an avenue of financial health, and that can come from different varieties, different places, because we all have different areas of challenge or strength or weakness, so no, go with with where your mind is.

[22:56] Well, it’s back to the daily — if you haven’t change something, if I haven’t changed something in my daily ritual that’s sustainable within range of every day for the next fifty years, and I haven’t discovered anything, and I haven’t changed anything, it’s just pretend. If I get all pumped up, I’m going to work for an actual goal of some kind, I’m going to go for it and I can only last for a week or a month doing…or even a quarter,,,doing, you know, you’re doing it. I haven’t done anything, yet I want to be doing something I can — fifty years from now I’m still doing that. Because that affected humans, I think. Mentally bad at understanding the power of humility and behavior. So, we massively overestimate what we can do in a day, and massively underestimate what we can do in a decade or over fifty years. And so, for me, it’s literally I have checked lists of specific things I’m doing so I’ve broken down business. I run down into just a few items and I want to do each of those every single day. You know, a  big area for me is a big trade-off. A year ago it was time to write the next book, and I want to, and the agent’s reading, publisher’s ready, and got lots of ideas, but when I do all that, that spiritual work, I can feel, you know, the prompting. You know, it’s nice to be doing — that is, supposed to be doing, of all things like television. I haven’t spent twenty years focused on television; I spent twenty years focused on teaching and writing. And one says, I can understand how television would make sense, because it’s a tremendous platform to be a teacher to teach him back. I mean, I can see the benefits. I can see it being a higher point of contribution, but I can also see it’s absolutely not what I was, you know, focused on. And the trait of it felt very clear — make that trade-off — and I did make the trade-off, but it wasn’t easy, and I have to admit it’s burned most days since to not writing the next book. But it felt right in its place. Television, you see — I don’t know what to do. And what I found is I had to put it as the intent. So, first of all, just an intent, no plans to happen on an intent, and secondly, you then make a space on your daily checklist. My daily checklist — do something for television. That’s all I’ve got, I’ve got no plan. I don’t even know where to stop.

[26:30] Well, one of the spokes here, get to next, is career and business, and I start to feel like you just gave us an incredible insight into that, and a schooling in that which is significant. So the last one, that is personal, is just the personal side. And the way that I frame this, Greg, is really, these are the daily habits that you do to make all those withstanding, but to make Greg the fullest and best Greg that you can be, and they may be just some things you do just for you. Hobbies even, or interests, or could be disciplines. What’s in the personal spoke to make Greg Greg?

[27:11] You know, I think I did a few lines covered it. Well, we’ve covered it, and to me the only thing immediately comes to mind is that, you know, is the journal. But I can’t really explain how important that is to me. It started off as a tiny thing, too few sentences, and that’s how I got to be consistent. When I moved into the I-don’t-want-to miss-it-a-day over the long long period of time. The format that I used was the gratitude. So every entry, every paragraph or entry, begins, “I am thankful for…” and that’s not…the course needs to be. That’s very, you know, lots of people recommend that. I’ve been doing that now, as I mentioned, for six years. I’ve estimated recently that there are now ten thousand items written down that I’m thankful for. I could hardly believe that. That little, tiny practice has grown into ten thousand things. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself if you can point to ten thousand ways in which you feel like you’ve been blessed over a six-years period. So, I find it it’s a very important principle for maintaining a sort of equilibrium in life. The lows get corrected faster and the highs don’t ruin you, either.

[29:17] That’s significant. Thank you, Greg, thank you for walking us through. That is so incredibly — really, it’s insightful, but it’s also empowering to hear the strength, the weakness, the struggle and the reality. And, yeah, we’ve got multiple points to jump on into another show with at some point. So thank you again for letting us look inside your life.