While artillery thundered nearby and the rattle of musket fire built to a deafening crescendo, the commanding general of all Union forces sat quietly under a tree and whittled for hours. General Ulysses Grant was famously imperturbable.

His quiet determination belied his maniacal focus on one objective above all else… winning. General Grant was an Essentialist. He knew with crystal clarity what was expected of him and what he needed to accomplish. He had implicit understanding of his essential intent. That was to destroy his opponent, General Robert Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

If we could all achieve even a small measure of Grant’s clarity of focus and truly commit to our own essential intent we could probably reverse every epidemic of lifestyle related chronic diseases and in the process put every personal trainer, nutrition coach, and psychologist out of work.

A truly horrifying battle…

It was early May, in the third year of a war that seemed interminable when two massive armies collided in the most inhospitable terrain in which a battle could be fought. The savagery and horror of the Battle of the Wilderness is so legendary that Civil War historians still assume a tone of reverence and horrified awe when speaking of what occurred 155 years ago in that tangled forest in Virginia.

Casualties mounted to shocking levels as whole regiments were wiped out and entire divisions bled white. Confusion reigned. The fighting see-sawed back and forth for days leaving tens of thousands killed or grievously wounded, many of them consumed in a blaze as the forest caught fire from the fighting.

Throughout the fight, Grant remained in the same spot, outwardly serene as he whittled one stick after another, quietly issuing orders and receiving reports of the battle, allowing his subordinates to manage the details.

It ended in a draw. But, unlike any of his unsuccessful predecessors, Grant did not retreat to recover and regroup. Instead, he ordered a flanking movement, attempting to march his army around Lee’s, which only led to the next unimaginably savage battle a few days later and just a few miles down the road in Spotsylvania.

In a now famous dispatch to update President Lincoln on the Army’s progress, Grant wrote, “We have entered our sixth day of very hard fighting. The results to this time are very much in our favor. I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.”

Lessons from General Grant…

We can all take an example from Grant’s clarity of mission, his implicit understanding of the essential intent. In what must have been the most intensely stressful experience imaginable, he was able to filter out everything that was non-essential and remained locked in on what he and his army needed to get done.

In a previous post, I mentioned busy-ness as one of the Resistance-born justifications that I most often observe as a Fitness Coach and Trainer. Busy-ness is succumbing to the non-essential. It is allowing ourselves to be distracted from our own essential intent.

Who do you know who isn’t busy? We are all so distracted by non-essential “priorities” that we often feel like our lives, as well as our physical and emotional health, are in shambles. How many people do you personally know who have it all together? Who, like Grant, have the peace of mind and clarity of focus to be able to calmly navigate the maddening frustrations and competing demands of modern life, while serenely whittling sticks in the midst of a raging battle?

We do this to ourselves…

Ironically, many of these troubles are self-imposed. When we have priorities, rather than one priority, one essential intent, we introduce all that pressure. Too many of us have wildly unrealistic expectations of what we can get done. We take on too much, most of which is non-essential and little of which serves our purpose.

As you might expect this is pervasive in the business world. Many of my career minded friends and clients struggle with this. But, I observe it just as commonly in many of the retired grandparents and stay-at-home parents with whom we have the privilege of working.

To all these good people I pose this question…

What’s the one, most important thing that you could be doing today, right now, that would have the most meaningful impact on your life and bring you the most contentment and peace of mind? 

OK, that is your essential intent.

Now ignore everything else on your To-do list until you’ve completed that. Or, at least until you have taken a measurable step forward toward that objective. Focus on that priority first, at the exclusion of everything and everybody else. Then, do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and every day until the objective is met.

Where does self-care rank?

I’m willing to bet that for many of us, taking better care of ourselves by getting stronger, eating healthier, and sleeping better will surface as our essential intent.

Imagine how different your life might be if you could focus on those needs with the same iron determination that General Grant possessed!

If busy-ness and chronic distraction have been keeping you or somebody you know from eating healthier, Julie’s 8-week Small Group Nutrition Coaching program represents a substantial step toward that essential intent. She’s recruiting new clients for the session scheduled to begin the week of September 30th. She intentionally timed this session to finish the week before Thanksgiving, hopefully equipping her team to mindfully manage their holiday season nutrition successfully. Use the blue button below to register. 

If this topic interests you and you’d like to explore it in more depth, I recommend the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. 

We are always grateful for your kind support and encouragement. Several have asked how they might help us to reach a wider audience. Sharing these posts on whatever social media channels you follow would be an enormous boost that we’d really appreciate. There are links below that facilitate that. Thanks!

Be strong and have fun!

Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.