How have you gone with the first couple of weeks of this series on getting unstuck?
I'd love to hear how you're going! We have a thread in our Facebook Group where there's an opportunity to keep us in the loop with your journey so far.
I have the memory of a goldfish!
My family often jokes about my bad memory. I'm constantly:
- looking for keys
- walking into rooms with purpose only to then wonder why I was there
- coming home from the supermarket with everything but what I wanted
The saying is that Goldfish have a memory of 3 seconds. Science disputes this and has found that it is probably closer to 5 months - but either way - I think I fit the bill.
Perhaps it is the 'orange' hair I was born with!
My lousy memory doesn't just pertain to day to day living. I feel like I'm learning and relearning the same 'life lessons' repeatedly.
Take, for example, my current 'stuckness'.
This isn't the first time I've been stuck. It has happened before - several times.
This morning in the shower, I was reflecting on some of those times - particularly thinking about what got me out of being stuck, and it turns out that in most of those times, it was the same things that got me unstuck.
- connecting with friends
- building some healthy self-care habits
- engaging in some creative pursuits
- doing things that made a contribution to others
- being more intentional about mindfulness, gratitude, contemplation, prayer and meditation
- being more intentional about learning new things
I have the same lightbulb inspiration every single time - I need to be more intentional about these things! It's like I've never thought of it before!
The memory of a goldfish!
I already knew what I needed to know to get out of the rut - I just wasn't doing it.
Self Help Conundrum
This is why I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the whole 'self-help' content movement. In 95% of cases, I believe most of us don't really need self-help material - at least not to discover anything new - because most of us already know what we need to hear.
The main benefit of getting this type of content is putting a rocket under us to motivate us to do what we have been avoiding or putting off doing.
I recently heard a story about a life coach who regularly had clients come to him with a problem or problem that he didn't know how to advise. The question he would ask is this:
"What is the advice that you think I should give you to solve this problem?"
The coach said that the person's response was better than anything he could have ever told them in most cases. The person knew what they needed to do already.
The coach's role was to draw that advice out and help the person take action.
Disclaimer: there are, of course, self-help writers, therapists and coaches who have the expertise and the ability to teach us new things. But most of our lightbulb moments will be things we already know to be true.
This brings me to the word that I almost have a physical reaction to every time I hear it.
While I like to blame my bad memory for forgetting this important life lesson, I think my real problem is often more likely to be procrastination.
I'm a prolific procrastinator
- When I was single, I would often not make my bed until just before bedtime (if I did at all).
- It took me 11 years to get my Theology bachelor's degree (it usually takes 3)
- I played more tennis during the weeks before my final year exams in high school than I did study.
- Sometimes I procrastinate starting things, sometimes I procrastinate finishing them, and when I'm really on fire, it's both.
The list could go on, but I had to clean my desk, take the dog for a walk, and research leaf blowers on Youtube before I wrote anything else.
My Favourite Quote
If you've read any of my prompts so far, you'll know that I like a good quote.
Today I have a ripper for you - and it's from someone you've probably never heard of—Jenny Rowse (my Mum).
During the last weeks before I had my end of high school exams, I remember my mum finding me out on the tennis court (again) and being very frustrated with me.
She looked me in the eye and said something that, to this day, rings in my ears when I'm procrastinating.She said:
“Your life will be better if you learn take action on the things you avoid.”
My mum's a wise woman because there's truth in these words.
One of the big lessons I've learned over the years is that breakthroughs happen when we take action on what we know we are avoiding.
Of course, I'm not saying that you'll have a breakthrough when you finally make your bed (although you never know).
I'm talking here about those things you know have the potential to make a difference.
- Like when we procrastinate about eating better and exercising.
- Like when we procrastinate about starting that project that we know could be our next big thing.
- Like when we procrastinate on finishing that project that we know could change our life.
- Like when we procrastinate about having that hard conversation with someone we love.
- Like when we procrastinate about doing something about that bad habit we've developed.
Maybe I'm just preaching to the converted here and writing this for myself, but I'm starting to feel convicted here.
I teared up a little, developed a rather large lump in my throat, started to get sweaty palms as I wrote that list and started thinking about some of the things I've been procrastinating on lately.
So here's my question - my prompt - for us all this week.
What are you Procrastinating About?
It's time for a bit of honesty with ourselves.
Take some time
this week right now to contemplate what you've been putting off. Note down the little things and the big ones.
Create a list of stuff you know will make your life better - but haven't been doing.
Your Someday List
Rather than calling this list a 'list of procrastinations', you might like to call it your 'Someday List'.
It's a list of the stuff you've always said 'someday I'll ....' about.
- Someday I'll learn to knit
- Someday I'll go to Europe
- Someday I'll cut down on eating so much sugar
- Someday I'll call my brother and have that conversation
- Someday I'll see a therapist
- Someday I'll write that novel
- Someday I'll.............
Grab a pen and your notebook, open a document on your computer or phone, head over to the whiteboard and start your someday list now (this is not something to procrastinate about doing).
Pay attention to how you're feeling
As you come up with your list, you may begin to have reactions similar to those I had when I started thinking about my procrastination.
My reactions surprised me a little - I felt a little emotional. I began to feel some regret, and my first reaction was to avoid thinking about it anymore. My gut reaction was also to make excuses about why I've not done those things and why I shouldn't do them in the weeks ahead.
I've already started to look for ways to procrastinate on my procrastination list!
It's natural to have these reactions, but as you put this list together, I want to encourage you to see just the act of adding items to your someday list as a win.
It's the first step - it's movement! You're getting a little unstuck! It's just a small win, but good on you for being honest enough to acknowledge that you've been procrastinating.
The other thing I want to encourage us to do this week is to lean into those feelings you're having as you identify your procrastination.
Pay attention to how you feel as you look at the items on your list.
Understanding these feelings can help us to know WHY we've been procrastinating.
Why I Procrastinate
There are a few reasons I think that I procrastinate.
A big reason for me is fear. Sometimes I don't take action because the result of taking it is unknown or worse still, I find myself imagining worst-case scenarios.
2. Perfectionist Paralysis
Another reason that sometimes is part of it is that my perfectionist tendencies kick in.
I look at the bigness of the challenge ahead and get a bit overwhelmed and find myself saying, "if I can't do it perfectly, I don't want to do it" - and so I don't do anything.
3. Preparation Frenzy
Perhaps tied in with this perfectionism is a different reaction.
I look at the job ahead, don't feel equipped, and begin to think about everything I need to do before starting the task.
And so begins a frenzy of learning how to do it, researching how others have gone about it, gathering tools and getting ready to take action.
Walk into my study at this point, and there are post-it notes all over the walls, whiteboards filled with notes, books open all over the desk, long lists of quotes, 50 tabs open in my browser and mindmaps with hundreds of to-do items.
Ultimately I am going through a prolific period of doing things that look like I'm taking action - but in reality, all I'm doing is avoiding doing the important stuff and doing very little.
I'm sure there are other reasons we procrastinate, but digging into WHY we're procrastinating can help us overcome it. For example, when I find myself going into a 'fear' response and find myself imagining worst-case scenarios, I am learning to tell myself to do two things:
- Develop a contingency play for the worst-case scenario so I am prepared if that were to happen
- Imagine a best-case scenario - because, in my experience, the reality is usually something between the worst and the best-case scenario!
When I go into perfection paralysis, I remind myself that I don't need to take perfect action - just my next best step.
I also remind myself of the many imperfect actions I've taken in the past that led to fruitful outcomes.
When I go into a preparation frenzy, I remind myself that while a bit of preparation makes me more effective in taking action - it will all be a wasted effort if I don't start taking some small tangible steps.
Taking those first tangible steps will help me identify what I don't know and need to learn and which tools I'll need to gather.
Knowing your avoidance patterns helps identify what's happening and can enable you to move through it towards the action you know you need to take.
Take Action on Something on Your Someday List
My hope for us all this week is to see us all take action on at least one thing on our someday list. You may already have that action you need to take in front and centre in your mind.
If you do, go for it. Get it done!
Others may be unsure how to proceed.
I don't want to be prescriptive on how you should go about taking action, but below are a few thoughts that may help.
Prioritise your Someday List
As you look at your someday list, you'll most likely see some of the items are more important and could be more impactful than others.
For example, making your bed (of less importance) vs finishing your taxes (more important) or applying for a job (big impact).
Some of the items on your list require less effort and time, while others are more significant projects that will take a lot of effort.
For example, calling your parents to check-in (less effort/time) vs starting a business (big effort/time).
It can be worth going down your list and giving them some ratings on the scales of
- effort/time needed
A friend of mine, Nicole Avery, uses a similar chart to the one below to plot action items and help work out which to focus upon first.
Get Going with a Quick Hit
Choosing a task in the 'Quick Hit' quadrant may be a good place to start.
These tasks are perhaps more achievable as they take less effort but will have a good impact.
Knocking one of these off in the coming week should help you build a little momentum and give you something to celebrate.
Spare Time Tasks
If you're really stuck - sometimes a 'spare time task' is an excellent place to start in that you at least get a small win.
For example, some of you know I live with depression and anxiety. While most of the time I'm stable, there are from time to time days when it's tough to get out of bed.
I recently had one of those days. It was like I woke up in a fog. I couldn't think, my mood and motivation were incredibly low, and the thought of getting any work done seemed quite impossible. While not exactly 'procrastinating' on this day - I certainly wasn't in a place to be that productive.
I managed to get up and make the kids some lunches and get them out the door to school, but once they'd gone and Vanessa was off to work, I found myself back in bed.
Over the years, I've learned that a few things help me when these days happen. Generally, it starts with some controlled breathing to break the spiralling thoughts that go on in my mind, and then I try to DO something small to get a small win.
My goal for the next half hour was a shower. With that under my belt, I set the goal for breakfast on our back deck in the sun.
While a shower is not exactly a 'spare time task' (my boys might disagree), they were low effort and low impact, and most importantly, they got me moving in the right direction. Thankfully, I could get some more important work done by the end of the day.
Tips for Life Building Tasks
Perhaps there's an item on your 'someday list' catching your eye this week, and you feel up for tackling a life-building task.
Let me share a story of one such instance when I did just that (eventually).
Back in 2010, I set myself the goal for the year to start a podcast.
I was a big listener of podcasts and thought it would be a great way to help the readers of my blogs. I saw it as a big job but an important one.
I then slipped into analysis paralysis and spent the rest of that year brainstorming topics, listening to other podcasts, planning out the first 30 episodes and doing anything but start a podcast.
2011 came along and on top of my list of goals was to 'start a podcast'.
A friend of mine had just launched a course on 'how to start a podcast', so I enrolled, studied, and researched - ultimately doing anything but start a podcast.
2012 was when I started researching and then buying microphones, mixing tools, podcast editing software and again, not starting a podcast.
2013-2014 I was paralysed by fear and self-doubt, decided to work on my self-confidence and didn't start a podcast.
In May of 2015, I was invited to speak at a conference in the Philippines. On the first night, I had drinks and played pool with a group of attendees. I was paired up to play with an attendee I'd never met before by the name of Lane.
As we played, we made small talk for a while and then, out of the blue, she asked me about my goals for the year. A few months earlier, I again put 'start a podcast' at the top of my goals list for the year and told Lane just that.
Then, without skipping a beat, Lane asked me a simple question that changed everything.
It was a question that made me a little uncomfortable at the time but one that I later saw as a gift.
"When are you going to do it by?"
Without thinking about it, I say 'by 1 July'.
Perhaps it was the 'few drinks' speaking, but for the first time in 5 years of goal setting, I gave myself a deadline - and told someone about it.
Stupidly (and importantly), the deadline was only six weeks away, and I had to get motoring. But I got home, and instead of getting stuck in fear or analysis paralysis, I created an action plan of 30 small steps I needed to take to launch my podcast.
Lane didn't remember my goal nor the deadline when on 1 July, I messaged her that I'd just launched my podcast - but I did, and it motivated me to get it done.
Three things were key for me in this instance of getting this life-building task done.
1. I Told Someone about it
For me, accountability is a big thing. I'm motivated by it and stick to most things that involve others.
You, on the other hand, may have more internal motivation.
I know of people who are less likely to do something they tell others about. Telling others of their plans is a distraction from carrying out the task.
But for many of us, accountability is essential (even when the person you tell turns out to forget you even told them).
2. I Set a Deadline
I've always known that deadlines work for me. While I played a lot of tennis before exams - I would study like a man possessed 24 hours before an exam.
Again - I know others who are NOT motivated by deadlines - as in the quote from Douglas Adams...
3. I Broke it Down
I work best at achieving big life-building tasks by breaking them down into smaller achievable bite-sized tasks.
I turn a 'Life Building Task' into 30 'Quick Hits' that all add up into something significant.
This is how I wrote my first book, how I started each of my blogs, how Vanessa and I planned our wedding, how we designed and built our new house, how I passed my end of school exams and pretty much every other life-changing thing that has happened to me.
It's even how I wrote this week's prompt!
The tool I used to break down the writing of this article was a mind-mapping tool called MindNode but you could do it in a list on your notebook, in a journal, on a whiteboard, or in a conversation with a friend or audio notes.
The Silver Lining of Procrastination
At the top of this article, I admitted I'm a prolific procrastinator.
In the main, I've seen this as a flaw and regularly beat myself up about it.
However, I want to finish this prompt with a word of encouragement for my fellow procrastinators.
While procrastination is usually described as a flaw, and those who suffer from it may need a rocket put under us at times, there are some benefits to having a period of inaction before we embark on the action.
I don't want this to become an excuse, but a period of inaction can be a period where our ideas can become refined, and our 'analysis paralysis' can help us when we take action.
I liken it to the process of marinating meat, a period of time where moisture and flavours soak in, and the meat becomes more flavoursome and tender - ready to cook.
For example, in my story of eventually starting a podcast, you'll note that some of the things that I did that distracted me from actually starting were things that would have paid off when it came time to start.
I had years of notes, ideas, learnings and the gear that I needed to make a start.
The podcast I eventually started was better for the preparation that I'd done.
I don't say this to excuse my procrastination (I should have started the podcast years before I did), but I share it because I don't believe we should be beating ourselves up for past procrastination.
The other thing that I've learned is that if you have an idea in 2010 and still have it five years later, it is some confirmation that the concept might be good.
I'm the kind of guy who has 20 ideas a week, most of which die shortly after. If I were to act upon every one of them, I'd never get far with any.
So I'm learning to not just see my 'someday list' as a record of my past inactivity but as a list of potentially great ideas that have been brewing in my mind!
Perhaps I'm looking for a silver lining in a storm cloud, but perhaps somewhere in one of our most significant weaknesses and flaws could lay the beginnings of something life-giving and impactful.
So don't beat yourself up about your procrastination - instead, lean into it - you'll learn a lot!
Today is a new day and a new opportunity to do something that will make your life a little better tomorrow!
So what are you procrastinating about, and what steps will you take this week to progress those things?
This quote is normally credited to Mark Twain but unlikely to be written by him.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this week's prompt. Please drop by the Facebook Group and share your experience, ideas and responses to the prompt so we can all learn from and share in your journey.
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