Yesterday, it happened again. There was a deadline: a friend’s birthday party. And I still had too much to do before I left.
So I did the only logical, sensible thing to do in this situation: I PANICKED THE FRICK OUT.
This situation — too much to do, not enough time to do it — is a trigger for me, a deeply ingrained habit I’m working hard to let go. Fortunately, I wised up. And just recognizing the trigger helped me let it go.
I decided to recover what was left of the day, and spend the next 2 hours figuring out how to let go of my expectations, prioritize what I needed to get done, and let go of the anxiety.
There was only one problem: it only took me about 5 minutes to do those thing.
WHY THIS IS A PROBLEM
Because it felt like it should be harder work.
Here I had spent 4 hours slowly growing more anxious about all the stuff I had to get done, had a big ‘aha!’ moments, and alloted myself 2 hours to figure out what to do next and do it.
And it only took 5 minutes to relax and replan. Because it only took me 5 minutes, it seemed too easy. And easy work doesn’t seem like, uhm, good enough.
THE PROBLEM: MY SENSE OF PROGRESS
My sense of progress is based off of feeling like I’m working hard. More specifically, too hard. If I’m not a little bloody and bruised at the end of the day, I’ll catch myself thinking: well, I still coulda (shoulda) pushed myself harder.
Because progress is hard work for me, I’ve found myself working hard and getting nothing done. Or something done, but taking 5 hours when 2 would do. Because getting my task accomplished is second to working hard. And doing things the simple way — well, it doesn’t feel good, because it wasn’t hard enough.
This is ridiculous but I often pick the hard way over the way that best serves me — the way I want to do it.
CHOOSING MY WAY (THE SMARTER, EASIER WAY)
It happened again today as I was preparing food for work: I felt anxious because I don’t have the money to spend on lunch out until Wednesday so I needed to brown bag it.
But I didn’t want to spend Sunday evening toiling in the kitchen — and that’s what it felt like: I needed to work hard to get this thing done, because it was the right thing to do even though I didn’t want to do it.
I caught myself again. And this time I looked at my goal: Bring food for tomorrow (not make a gourmet 3 course meal. )
This raised a few questions:
- Was there anything that I had pre-made? Sure, some lentils and mashed potatoes from last night. (1 meal)
- Did I have any snacks I could bring? Yeah, I had some cheese that’d serve for a quick bite. (2 meals)
- Did I have 1-2 or 2 ingredients I could throw together? Baked beans — check, toast — check. (3 meals)
- And while I don’t have the money to eat out, don’t I have about a pound in change on my desk? I can buy a can of soup with that. (4 meals)
And I was done.
And it was uncomfortable, because it didn’t feel like enough work. I still felt apprehensive. I’d been gearing up for the virtuous slog, and instead I’d found an easy way to accomplish my goal.
I counted up my meals. I had more than enough food for tomorrow and some for Tuesday. Took about 5 minutes and I didn’t have to do a lick of cooking.
Letting go of working hard to feel good will take me a long time. Key to recognizing this trigger is acknowledging the following:
- My goal: What am I really trying to accomplish?
- My motivation: Am I motivated to do this out of anxiety? Do I really want to be doing this?
- My options: What’s the easiest, most pleasurable way to get there?
- The finish line: How will I know when I’m done? (For the example above, counting my meals when I was done preparing them.)
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
How do you know when you’re making progress?
What are you working hard on right now? Do you need to be working as hard as you are, or is there a better way?