Stop trying to be DONE!
A few weeks ago, I had a 3-day migraine and it pissed me off. I was mad at the pain. I was mad at my inability to stop it or fix it. I was mad because I’ve invested time and money and energy into getting healthy and overcoming my pattern of migraines.
What infuriated me more than anything else was that I thought I was done. I somehow believed after six months of watching my diet, taking supplements, taking care of myself, getting plenty of sleep and reducing my stress levels, I would be finished with all that and could live out the rest of my life in perfect health.
[pause for laughter]
Why do I get stuck here? Why do I think everything has a finish line? I’m probably not alone. I imagine a lot of you out there also obsess over to-do lists and projects that can be closed out. There seems to be a universal aspiration for done-ness. A friend once told me that he gets pleasure from peeling the last stamp off a book of stamps and throwing out the empty sheet. I’ve seen the joy and relief that a client feels when they have sorted and organized the last few items in their storage unit, and they get to close the door and walk away.
The trap I (we?) fall into is that not everything has an endpoint. The trick seems to be to know the difference. What are the tangible things that can be tied up with a bow, and what are the aspects of our lives that are a work in progress and never completed? Here’s what I’ve found to be helpful:
For tasks that can be completed:
Double check that it can be done. Is there a clear measurable endpoint where you can cross this off your list and walk away? If not, move this item to the “never done” section.
Schedule it. Figure out how long it will take and if there is a particular time of day it needs to be done, and then find an open spot in your calendar where you can fit this in.
Break it down into pieces. It’s possible that you have an item that has a clear endpoint, but it can’t be completed all at once. Divide the big project up into manageable tasks that you can schedule bit by bit until you cross the finish line.
If you are still struggling to get it done, give up and let it go. Curious words from a motivational life coach, right? There comes a time to be honest with yourself. I’ve seen this have two different effects. Either you double down and commit to actually getting it accomplished, or you accept that this is just not important anymore and set it aside.
For things that are never done:
Write down your ideal and use this to make choices. When NASA launched its space shuttles, they were off course most of the time, but it still reached its destination because the team was correcting course again and again. If you are clear on who and what you are aiming to be, you have guidelines for self-correcting and making decisions.
Make small choices and take small actions. People want to make big brash declarations in hopes that they will manifest it into reality. Or they take giant leaps of faith believing everything will fall into place. I’m sure this works sometimes, but what I think is more effective is making little choices in your day-to-day life and watching these actions add up like pennies in a jar.
Take time to celebrate milestones. Even though some parts of life (some would argue ALL parts of life) are a journey that never ends. There is no reason you can’t take a break and look back on the path you have tread and acknowledge accomplishments along the way. Many people consider themselves life-long learners. That doesn’t mean they don’t cherish graduations, degrees, and certifications.
A little bit of homework.
(This can go in the “never done” pile)
Replace BIG ambitions with small actions.
Of course, it is important to have Big Picture goals, and there is nothing wrong with having grand visions for your future. Create those and write them down, and then each day take small actions that bring you closer to your ideal.
How many people announce on January 1 that they are going to give up sugar? And how many of those people actually give up sugar? My guess is not many.
Who am I to say it is impossible? But it might be EASIER if you make the change incrementally. Decide to reduce your sugar by giving up dessert after dinner or only eating sweets three times a week. Sustainable change happens slowly.
Fill in the blank: “I am someone who...”
I recently offered a client an exercise. I asked her to spend a week finishing the following sentence:
“I’m the type of person who....”
When she came back the following week, she had a list of answers, and it helped her find herself again after leaving a toxic workplace. Then I challenged her (and I challenge you) to do the same exercise again, but this time think about the ideal answer even if it isn’t “true” right now. Now start taking small actions as if you are that person.