Book Summary: Things that Matter by Joshua Becker

The Book in Three Sentences

This book offers a series of practical steps that, as the title suggests, allow you to focus on the things that matter. Using the principles of minimalism, author Joshua Becker explains the path to having fewer distractions in life. This book will help you be more present, focused, and purposeful.

Things that Matter Summary

Part 1: The Objective and the Obstacles

Chapter 1: A Life with No Regrets

On their deathbeds, people have common regrets about how they spent their lives. We all know death is coming eventually and we don’t want to have any regrets. Yet we still live on autopilot and already have regrets about our day-to-day lives. We’re in need of change and yet, we don’t. The idea isn’t to have a perfect life but to live intentionally.

Things that Matter is about how the foundations of minimalism can help us remove distractions and create a life of meaning, purpose, satisfaction, and intention. The author encourages readers to think about the following question: “if today was your last day on earth, what is the project you’d be most disappointed you were unable to complete?” This question can help you identify goals. Minimalism is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It’s about removing unessential to create freedom. To achieve things in life, you don’t have to be special, you have to be intentional.

Every morning, before you do anything complete this phrase: “Today, I commit myself to …” Distractions keep us away from achieving our goals and cause dissatisfaction in our lives. The enemy of intentionality is distraction.

Chapter 2: Distracted from Meaning

We’re exposed to distractions every day, all day long. But distractions are nothing new and they’ll never go away. People have been distracted for centuries. There are good distractions and bad distractions. The problem is when a distraction becomes a lifestyle and we lose control of your life. Distractions take more time and energy and soon we sacrifice important things for them. To respond to distractions, you have to examine the trajectory of your life and how certain distractions negatively impact your life.

Each chapter of the book addresses one distraction:

  1. The Distraction of Fear
  2. The Distraction of Past Mistakes
  3. The Distraction of Happiness
  4. The Distraction of Money
  5. The Distraction of Possessions
  6. The Distraction of Applause
  7. The Distraction of Leisure
  8. The Distraction of Technology

Part 2: Distractions of a Paralyzed Will

Chapter 3: Dreams Overshadowed

This chapter is about the distraction of fear. Take a risk that might lead to failure (or success) instead of choosing a safe and meaningless environment. Fear of failure can keep us from reaching our full potential. Here are the five signs:

  1. You procrastinate or avoid responsibility.
  2. You don’t take charge of your own future.
  3. You set low expectations for yourself.
  4. You doubt yourself.
  5. Your fear results in physical ailments.

Fear of failure affects the type of goals we pursue and how we try to achieve them. Many people aren’t afraid to die, but they’re afraid to die and not be remembered.

Chapter 4: Wounded

This is about the distraction of past mistakes. The author defines this as anything negative that’s happened to you or that you’ve done to others and that prevents you from moving forward. The difference between those who thrive and those who don’t isn’t their upbringing, but their determination.

If you’ve harmed others:

  1. Acknowledge what you did and ask yourself why.
  2. Allow yourself to feel regret.
  3. Seek forgiveness in god if you’re a believer.
  4. Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  5. Make amends if possible.
  6. You made a mistake, but it’s over. Move on.

If others harmed you:

  1. Acknowledge the harm.
  2. Forgive the person
  3. When there’s no one to forgive, just accept what happened.
  4. Let go of your anger and move on. 

Look for help from a professional. To overcome the guilt and shame, take pride in who you are today. We can’t change the past, but we can change your future.

Part 3: Distractions of the Lesser Good

Chapter 5: The Me Monster

This is about the distraction of happiness. We think we’ll be happy if we focus on ourselves. Humans can be selfish by nature, but we can be happy helping others. Wealth makes people less generous and more isolated and something similar happens with success, fame, sex, and beauty. Self-care isn’t the same as self-centeredness. By fulfilling needs around us, we change two lives: someone else’s and our own.

Chapter 6: Enough Is Enough

This chapter focuses on the distraction of money. Nobody thinks they love money, but everyone wants more of it. Not because we need it, we just want more. We want money to provide happiness and security, but it can’t. Pursuing money changes our values. Yet money isn’t evil, it’s neutral. Even though our basic needs are met, we still desire more money. By saving for potential needs in the future, we might be sacrificing someone else’s needs today. You’ll be prouder of the money you give to someone rather than the money you save for yourself. Giving has emotional benefits to the givers.

Chapter 7: Little On the Road on Purpose

This is about overcoming the distraction of possessions. Regardless of how well you do business, don’t lose sight of what’s truly important. We are raised to believe that the more possessions we have, the better our lives will be. The best part about minimizing is that it gives us time, money, and energy to pursue our passions.

You can divide your possessions into:

  • Trophies of your success.
  • Toys to make your life happier.
  • Tools to accomplish goals in life.

To outlive our mortality, we seek a symbol that has permanence in the world. In capitalist societies, people want to have many possessions.

There are three ways possessions can be distractions:

  1. Tying up our money: in cases such as a shopping addiction or a compulsive buying disorder.
  2. Using up our time: things demand our attention and time (researching, shopping, cleaning, organizing, repairing, replacing, recycling, working to buy them, and so on.)
  3. Redirecting our focus: stuff obscures our focus. Minimalism gives you mental clarity. To find contentment, live with less.

Chapter 8: Trending

This chapter focuses on overcoming the distraction of applause. Don’t base your self-worth and happiness on others’ opinions. This never satisfies you and negatively impacts your decisions. You don’t need to be famous to have value.

Eight things to become known for:

  1. Kindness
  2. Perseverance
  3. Faithfulness
  4. Empathy
  5. Joy
  6. Encouraging
  7. Peacemaking
  8. Loving

Chapter 9: Beaches Get Boring

This chapter is about overcoming the distraction of leisure. You should be drawn to your life because you love it, not look for an excuse to escape from it. We should focus on work. Work doesn’t have to be a nine-to-five job, it could be parenting, volunteering, or helping others, even if we’re not getting paid for it. Work’s biggest distraction is leisure. Leisure shouldn’t be your objective in itself. Leisure is devoid of meaning, so it makes you feel empty.

Work used to be about survival, but it soon became an excuse to benefit ourselves. Work became selfish. Most people are disengaged from work and are looking forward to the weekend, or retirement. The problem with retirement is that people feel lost and isolated once they’re retired. They suddenly find themselves with nothing to do, no goals, and no sense of purpose. To avoid this, you should retire with a purpose. You should also find fulfillment in your career beyond a paycheck. You’ll never regret focusing on the things that matter. There’s nothing like going to bed at night, knowing that you gave everything you have for a cause you believe in.

Chapter 10: Blinking Lights

This chapter focuses on overcoming the distraction of technology. Technology can be a tool that lets you achieve your goals, but it can also get in the way of your values and purposes. Technology can go really quickly from tool to distraction. There have always been distractions, but technology is so ubiquitous that you carry a distraction with you wherever you go. To limit the time we spend with technology and recognize distractions, we need intentionality and effort.

This is how technological distractions have become a lifestyle:

  1. Overusing technology steals your time: to reclaim your time, cut back on screen time and you’ll find yourself with a few extra hours to spend on meaningful pursuits.
  2. Overusing technology makes you feel bad about yourself: social media makes you want to have someone else’s life. Social media posts are fiction, they don’t show people’s real life.
  3. Overusing technology makes you weaker: you may feel depressed, anxious, and suffer from weight gain, isolation, eye strain, and disrupted sleep patterns.
  4. Overusing technology makes you less effective in your work: distractions hurt your performance at work. They destroy your ability to focus on demanding tasks. We’re addicted to technology because it was designed that way. Apart from turning off notifications and downloading apps to monitor how often you use your devices, the author suggests a digital detox, this is an extended break from tech that lasts twenty-nine days.

Five signs you might need a digital detox:

  1. You spend more time on devices than you intend.
  2. You feel guilty after using devices.
  3. You’re motivated by a fear of missing out.
  4. You feel the urge to check again and again.
  5. You never have enough time.

Choose contribution over consumption. We usually do it the other way around because consuming takes less mental energy. Here are some ideas:

  • Write a blog.
  • Share photos or artwork.
  • Learn something practical.
  • Teach something.
  • Help others.
  • Post inspiring images or quotes.
  • Share insightful articles.
  • Recommend valuable books or movies.
  • Start a fundraiser.
  • Give away things you don’t use.

Use technology less like a toy and more as a tool.

Once you’ve spent 29 days without using tech, try to implement the following:

  • Put away your phone when you get home.
  • Create tech-free zones in your house.
  • Disable notifications.
  • Check email once or twice a day.
  • Reduce the apps on your phone’s homepage.

Part 4: Ending of the book, Beginning of a More Meaningful Life

Chapter 11: Live the Story You Want Told

By facing and getting rid of the distractions in your life, you’ll be different. Other people will judge you, be critical, and a few will admire you and feel inspired. Embrace this counterculture. Pursuing the things that matter is about the journey, not about the destination. Share the journey with others.

Further Reading

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