There you stand, looking at the freight train you have allowed to slow to a full stop. You know that you must get it moving again, but all of those hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel seem impossibly immobile. You recognize that the amount of energy it will take to get things rolling again feels infinitely greater than what it took to keep the moving train moving. It feels daunting and you would rather just go back to bed.

In mid-October I decided I was going to pause my daily blogging a few days to shift my focus to write more on topics that will help others. Though the idea of a shift was solid, my strategy was not, and it resulted in me not writing at all until today. Perhaps you can learn from the trap I fell into.

To understand where I went wrong, it is necessary to first understand my own personal issues with tension. Like many people, I struggle with anxiety and there is a part of my mind that, when I get overwhelmed, wants at all costs to remove the tension from whatever situation I am in. This causes errors in my decision making and negatively affects projects where I am the sole contributor.

In this case, what I intended was to stop publishing my blog for a week while I thought through my intentions and refocused my purpose. What happened, in reality, was that I pulled the “release valve.” Suddenly I had less tension and less pressure and that terrible overwhelmed part of my brain felt satisfied. If I give in to this terrible instinct too often, it will sabotage any chance I have at making a real difference in the lives of others.

Lesson learned:

It is OK to stop hitting publish on your blog while you reprioritize and think things through. **What you should not do under any circumstances is to interrupt your habit of writing every day.** Writing and blogging are not identical. Even if you are not writing a blog to post you should be writing SOMETHING to keep the momentum and the habit.

Getting Started Again:

Once I recognize what is happening and I summon the courage to fix the problem, I have a very specific way of moving past the inertia. The technique I use for getting back into motion, I call “The tiniest box to your peppiest tune.” It is similar to the idea that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

How to get started with “The Tiniest Box to Your Peppiest Tune”

1. Pick the size of your box.

Choose the smallest reasonable increment of the thing that you need to get done. This is your tiniest box. If it is cleaning a room that has you paralyzed, go to a corner of the room and choose a six inch by six inch square that has something in it. If you want to do ten hours of backlogged data entry, go to one single entry that needs to be accomplished and open it up.

2. Add music.

Make it something that really makes you want to move. Turn up the volume. Really feel the beat. Stare at the tiniest box while feeling the music.

3. Do the thing.

Clean that six inch square. It will feel ridiculous but do it anyway. Enter that one record of data entry. Groove to the music and then move the box a little and do the next thing. Focus only on the box, not on the room, and not on the mountain of data, just on the box.

A few additional notes.

  • Continue this until it feels as though the music is a part of your perspective and the rhythm is a part of the work.
  • Move the box, do the thing, move the box, do the thing.
  • Let it all simmer together until you don’t want to stop doing the thing.
  • If you get distracted by how daunting it all is, go back to the box and go back to the tune. Block everything else out and start again.

If you feel daunted or overwhelmed, give this a try. You’ll find your own way to make it work with the right music and the right sized box.

When I moved into my new home a month ago, the former renter had left all of the plants on the property in a sad state. Some were dead, others were overgrown, and some were blooming beautifully from the ends of long, untrimmed branches. This is what I originally thought was the definition of an untended garden. Dying, overgrown, mishapen, or worse.

This past week I found the metaphor lacking as I attempted to describe a new problem I was having. I was reaching into my writing garden to pull new posts that were close to ready for harvest and I came back with a handful of seeds. Everything I had planted and cared for had been harvested and eaten. There was nothing left but the general descriptions of future posts but they were just seeds and hardly ready to get out the same day.

Because I was spending every morning in a frenzy caused by moving to a new home and starting several new projects, my planting and tending time had vanished. I was now fully at the mercy of my thoughts from that day. The trouble with relying on your day to provide your content is that, if you are not mentally prepared, you can slog your way through and still end up with a wilted radish.

On a good day, because I am an improviser, starting from a seed and growing it on the spot is not an issue. However, combine exhaustion, with allergies, and numerous distractions and suddenly improvising takes on its lesser meaning and becomes something much less than is desired.

Now I have seen the two sides of neglect in my writing garden.

If we are constantly Executing, and doing so much faster than we can Discover, we end up with all of our ideas piled up in the Ideate queue, a pile of seeds with no soil.

At the same time, if we write our posts and Execute them but leave them without Maintaining or Auditing, we will find that the posts are quickly dated or grow to become factually incorrect or misleading. Without time tending to all areas of the content garden equally, we end up with bare soil, unplanted seeds, wilted plants, and mishapen overgrown shrubs.

What areas of your projects might you be neglecting and leaving untended?

Screenshot 2017-10-09 21.11.12

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 

Today I hopped on a video chat with Sebastian Ruf, my partner in improv crime over at improvinaction.com to talk about our plans for the next season of our podcast and the troubles I was having with getting in the right head space for Season Two.

Over the course of our conversation, we broke down my errors in thought so that we can deal with each:

#1 – Future Thought Prohibits Present Action

I was spending so much time in future thought about the project that I was not being present in the project.

#2 – Analysis Paralysis

I was spending so much time thinking about all of the aspects of the work that I wasn’t actually doing the work. I was analyzing and then freezing, with no action being performed.

More from the Todoist blog. 

Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase “Paradox of Choice” to describe his consistent findings that, while increased choice allows us to achieve objectively better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction.

Rather than empowering us to make better choices, our virtually unlimited access to information often leads to greater fear of making the wrong decision, which in turn leads to us spinning our wheels in a seemingly inescapable purgatory of analysis paralysis, all the while getting nowhere on our important projects.

#3 – Sunken Cost Fallacy

I was paying so much attention to how much money and effort we have already put into the project, that I was putting pressure on the project itself to meet a potentially unrealistic benchmark.

More on Sunken cost from You Are Not So Smart.

Imagine you go see a movie which costs $10 for a ticket. When you open your wallet or purse you realize you’ve lost a $10 bill. Would you still buy a ticket? You probably would. Only 12 percent of subjects said they wouldn’t. Now, imagine you go to see the movie and pay $10 for a ticket, but right before you hand it over to get inside you realize you’ve lost it. Would you go back and buy another ticket? Maybe, but it would hurt a lot more. In the experiment, 54 percent of people said they would not. The situation is the exact same. You lose $10 and then must pay $10 to see the movie, but the second scenario feels different. It seems as if the money was assigned to a specific purpose and then lost, and loss sucks.

New Focus: The Next Right Thing

If I focus on making the best podcast possible, I am doing what I can do to reach a goal of greatness. Anything else is wasted wheel spinning. I need to focus on what the next right action would be to create the next best episode.

What is keeping you from your next best action?

 Photo by Alexey Ruban on Unsplash

People who meet me and know me from a speaking or coaching setting often have a difficult time understanding how I could have issues with confidence in the other aspects of my life.

When I am on stage or one on one with a client, I find myself free from self-judgement and at the top of my confidence.

When I am facing social situations that have no set structure or I am faced with an issue that only has one correct and ultra-specific solution, I freeze up.

My confidence in working with my hands has been growing over the past three months as I have taken on projects, each a baby step in difficulty above the last. I have painted a mailbox, installed a toilet flange, painted a bedroom, and installed a screen door handle. None of these sound like particularly difficult things, but each of them required me to face them, push through anxiety, and find a level of focus where I could reach the end goal.

Now I am working on a lawnmower for someone I met a few weeks back. He was the impetus behind the blog post Lower the Ladder and Only Lift Up. I got a free lawnmower from someone who had it in storage for years but accidentally left fuel in the tank that turned to varnishy goo.

So far I have:

  • Replaced the air filter
  • Changed the oil
  • Added fuel cleaner
  • Changed the spark plug
  • Replaced two gaskets
  • Cleaned out the carburetor
  • Replaced the fuel hose
  • Replaced the needle inside the carburetor
  • Beaten my head against a wall because it still doesn’t run

I am so far outside my normal element it is ridiculous. With each step along the way I have tried to give up, and then failed at giving up. Something deep down inside me insists that I need to keep going and make this (*&%^&$ lawnmower live again.

Today I wrote a Facebook post admitting defeat and asking for others to consider giving money toward getting my new friend back to work with a functioning lawnmower. After writing the post and tagging friends, I deleted it while simultaneously reproaching myself for not giving up. “How long are you going to do this”, my mind screams? “Until it is finished”, another part of me replies. “But there are people who do this sort of thing. You could just pay them!”

And yet I continue, step by step, inch by inch, hoping the next small tweak will make it all worthwhile.

During this process, I realized that I felt a level of competence in being able to take a carburetor apart and get it back together again. It dawned on me that it was enjoyable to find the right size hose to replace the one that had dry rotted.

Each turn of the wrench, I am gaining confidence, even though the end result is not a fully implemented solution. The frustration of not getting it working is somehow balanced with the confidence of now understanding what I am doing, knowing the inner workings of a lawn mower, and interacting with the parts in a way that feels less and less alien.

I will leave you with this…

 

Today I met a man for a lawnmower part named J.C. who sits on his porch all day and repairs things with small engines. His arms are covered with tattoos, his skin tan, his hair long, and his muscles like rope. He told me to drop by if I needed anything else. “I never go anywhere unless it is to the store” he said with a smile “I’m always right here.”

 Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash