Earning a Few Checkmarks on Your List
Understanding Some of the Things that Hold Us Back
Today: Recognize some of the mental blocks that may be holding you back from either getting started on or completing your goal. Acknowledge them and them deal with the issues. I love a good list.
I love to have a list of everything I want to get done in a day – errands I want to run, plans for dinner and what steps I need to get the family fed. Not only do I love making the list, I love checking things off the list. It actually gives me a little thrill. (I have read that there are more endorphins released in checking something off a list than there are from smiling. I have no problem believing that.) Do you want to know the full extent of my addiction to lists? If I have my daily list, and then I complete something that is not already on that magic piece of paper, I write the item onto the list and then check it off. Finally, at the end of the day, when I feel that I have accomplished everything that I can reasonably accomplish during a day, I will leave the completed list in a strategic spot so that my husband can see it – looking for that outside validation that what I have accomplished during the day is worthy of recognition. I know, I need help.
The only problem with my sick and twisted little system? That one item that doesn’t get done. There is usually a pattern in those undone to-do items. Here are some of the things that usually go un-checked off:
• Taking my old clothes to the donation center
• Taking my car to the carwash
• Balancing our bank accounts
• Going to Costco
There are so many item I get done in a day; cooking dinner, writing a chapter for my book, laundry, writing a speech. Why is it there are something that I just put off and put off until I just can’t stand it anymore?
When I take a closer look at the list, and dig a little deeper, I can start to see some of the underlying reasons that I procrastinate. Just a few examples: Taking my old clothes to the donation center A few years ago, I took a vanload of items to our local Goodwill. When I got there, the man who was receiving donations took one look at the back of my van and said is a condescending, and somewhat hostile voice, “You know, we only take items in good condition. We don’t accept junk.” I wanted to crawl under my minivan. Everything that I was donating was in great condition; some of the clothes even had their tags left on them. I never would dream of donating anything that wasn’t in great shape. This man made a snap judgment – based on what? I don’t know. But ever since, I have put off making a donation out of the fear of feeling shamed again.
Taking my car to the carwash
Isn’t it silly that something as simple as taking my car to get washed can seem so overwhelming? Most of the speaking I do is in California, so instead of flying wherever I need to be, I usually just pack up the van. I load it up with suitcases of books and props and CDs for each event. I resemble to Clampetts moving to Beverly (Hills that is. Swimming pools, movies stars…) So when it comes to getting my car washed, I know that I first need to unload the car. But I can’t just unload the car, I have to put everything away. And in putting everything away, I need to deal with all of the projects that go along with that (restocking my book inventory for my next speaking engagement, reordering books, following up with audience members that asked me to send them things, etc.). When I think about all that I need to do to have a clean van, I realize that, in that moment, it feels a lot easier to just put it off.
Balancing our Bank Accounts
Does this one really need any explanation? Facing the reality of where our money is going, looking at some of the poor choices I have made. (Really, how many shoes do I really need? Apparently the answer is always, “One more pair.”) Reality is not a whole lot of fun.
Going to Costco
I never want to make the trip to the big box store unless I have everything prepared: Do we have a list that everyone in the family has added to? (because there is nothing worse than coming back from a $400 shopping trip and having one of my boys say, “Why is there never anything to eat in this house?”) Have I cleaned out the freezer and fridge so there is room for what we are purchasing? Will there be someone at home to help me unload and put away all the 50 pound bag of dog food for the 25 pound dog? As I wait for all the stars to line up and for that perfect time for the shopping trip, my Costco trips, which I should do about once a month, end up becoming a twice-a-year-more-planning-than-an-excursion-to-the-North-Pole nightmare.
Hate it. Wish someone else would just do it for me. In all of these situations, I have had to look at the underlying case of my procrastination and find the more appropriate (ie – the least painful) way to deal with it.
A Checklist (you know I love those) of How to Stop Procrastinating
•Break it Down – It is so easy to become overwhelmed with a huge task – and so much easier to just put off getting started. Break your task into 5 minute doable steps – instead of putting the goal of “Write an article for the local parenting magazine” in front of you, break it down into “Spend five minutes looking at past copies of the magazine” or “Create a rough outline for the article”. Make it something you could do in five minutes to feel that adrenalin rush of a check mark.
•Deal with the Feelings – If you are postponing doing a certain task because you feel that you may not do it well, or someone else will critique you for the way you are doing it, recognize it and deal with it. Now when I am preparing things to take to the Goodwill, I double check everything to make sure it would be something I would be fine wearing (or fine with someone I love wearing.) If so, I donate with confidence, knowing that it is someone else’s issue if they are not happy with my offering. It is the same in areas of performance. We need to give ourselves permission to be messy as we grow in our skills. Everything is not going to look perfect the first time out. Make sure you are showing whatever you are working on to a “safe” person. Someone who is going to encourage you, and at the same time, give you valuable, constructive feedback.
•Settle for Less Than Perfect – If you wait until everything is perfect, you will get nothing done (or even started.) Be willing to be messy in getting things done. So what if you have to go back to the library because you forgot to write a book down on your list. You probably didn’t need 12 books on watercolor to get you started – 11 are fine.
•Imagine the Worst – Then Do it Anyway – I put off so much stuff because of perceived fears and imagined obstacles. The reality of the situation usually turns out to be nothing like my imagined fears. I love this story from Pierce Vincent Eckhart: When I was a Boy Scout, we played a game when new Scouts joined the troop. We lined up chairs in a pattern, creating an obstacle course through which the new Scouts, blindfolded, were supposed to maneuver. The Scoutmaster gave them a few moments to study the pattern before our adventure began. But as soon as the victims were blindfolded, the rest of us quietly removed the chairs. I think life is like this game. Perhaps we spend our lives avoiding obstacles we have created for ourselves and in reality exist only in our minds. We’re afraid to apply for that job, take violin lessons, learn a foreign language, call an old friend, write our Congressman – whatever it is that we would really like to do but don’t because of perceived obstacles. Don’t avoid any chairs until you run smack into one. And if you do, at least you’ll have a place to sit down.
•Quiet the Voices – If you are convinced that the next step is the one that you are supposed to take, don’t worry about what others are going to say if it doesn’t turn out. So what if your dad told you that you were not graceful – take that beginner tap class and thoroughly enjoy every step of it. Have you always told yourself that you are not artistic, but would love to know how to design websites? A lot of the artistic stuff is inborn talent, but a lot of it is just plain knowing the “rules” of art – balance and color can, to a large extent, be taught. Your work may never hang in the Louvre, but your favorite non-profit might just be thrilled to have your unique touch on their website.
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