“I didn’t do it,” she said. She looked ashamed and embarrassed, the way a small child would look when confessing to a something she knows will earn her a spanking.
I was on one of the check-in calls for my Great ClutterBust, meeting with participants in a private video conference room to share what clutterbusting goals we’d accomplished since the last call, and what we intended to accomplish before the next call.
We clutterbust all kinds of things in the Great ClutterBust: physical stuff, digital files and email, cluttered schedules, habits we’d like to change, as well as tasks that have been weighing on us — what I refer to as “to-do-list” clutter.
Alice was reporting back on the “to-do list” clutterbusting she’d committed to doing since our last check-in. Her goal was to put 15 minutes each day into a project she’d been procrastinating on, her part of a PTA event that several people were waiting on before they could move forward.
That was back on Friday. Now it was Monday. Both Saturday and Sunday had gone by, and she hadn’t even touched the thing, and now she was feeling pretty badly about it.
It was clearly time for some impromptu coaching and a motivational pep talk.
(Officially, check-in/report-back calls in the Great ClutterBust are no more than five to fifteen minutes — just enough time for everyone to check-in and/or report back, before we log out to get down to work. However, the best-kept secret about my group programs is that on our group calls participants often get spotlight coaching or “pick-my-brain” consulting that you’d normally have to book a one-on-one session for. Shhh — don’t tell anyone! 😉 )
Check-in calls for the Great ClutterBust aren’t recorded, so alas I cannot share my spontaneous rally cry with you, but I want to share some of the points I touched on, in the hopes that it will help you keep going after your own big goals, whatever they are.
It’s Not Your Fault, But…
Poor Alice was beating herself up pretty badly about failing — yet again — to stick with her commitment. She was convinced that she was a hopeless case, and she had plenty of ammo to bolster her argument:
- She’s dyslexic (and her commitment involved reading, which is hard for her).
- Her aunt recently died and left Alice in charge of her estate, which takes up a lot of time and energy.
- She’s going through a rough divorce, and has a lot of paperwork to deal with for that, which also takes up a lot of time and energy.
I mean, it’s not really her fault, right?
Well, true and not true. Those circumstances are real, and they pose some pretty big challenges.
However, pointing to these as good reasons for not following through on a 15-minute commitment misses the point entirely.
That is called making an excuse, and I call BS.
Circumstance or Commitment?
The truth is, it’s a choice. Circumstances are always going to conspire to make it hard. You can choose to let your circumstances keep you from reaching your goals, or you can choose to let your commitment rule the day.
Oh, how tempting it is to make excuses, though! We all do it at one time or another. I am no exception.
For a good decade, I never got to my art table to create unless it was at the behest of a client. Every day I rolled my eyes and gnashed my teeth and pouted like a toddler about it, but hey, it wasn’t my fault — I was crazy busy! I had to work so hard to scrape out a living that I simply did not have time to make art for me!
Ahem. I lived with this lie for over ten years, until I finally copped to the truth: it wasn’t a matter of having the time, it was a matter of making the time.
Blaming my circumstances is called making an excuse, and I call BS.
Detective, Scientist, Bodyguard, Cheerleader
The thing is, everyone has challenges and obstacles that get in their way. Some people have ADHD, or chronic fatigue, or other physical limitations, or crazy family responsibilities that tie them in knots. These things are real, and they make things hard, but our job is not to lie down and let those annoying circumstances get the better of us.
Our job is to put ourselves under a microscope and figure out what will help us overcome those challenges and get past those obstacles!
This is hard. There’s no way around it. But if you want to get on with your important work; if you don’t want to find yourself on your death bed, lamenting all the things you didn’t do because you let circumstances get in the way, putting yourself under a microscope is your job.
Your job is to be a detective and a scientist and a bodyguard and a cheerleader all wrapped into one.
Detective: Look for clues as to what helps to keep you on track, and what pulls you off.
Scientist: Experiment to see if this or that tactic is helpful, analyze the results, and tweak, tweak, tweak.
Bodyguard: Build up your “saying no” muscles, to guard yourself against the many and sundry distractions and temptations that perpetually conspire to keep you away from the important work that is yours to do.
Cheerleader: Cheer yourself on when the going gets tough.
And expect to keep stumbling. A lot.
Get Comfortable with Discomfort & Get Back On the Wagon
Here’s the rub:
Stumbling over and over and over again does not mean you are hopeless! It simply means that you haven’t yet found the right combination of tactics and systems and structures.
It simply means you need to be persistent.
This is profoundly uncomfortable, but there is profound discomfort to be found in just about anything worth doing in life.
Success inevitably lies in your ability to get comfortable with discomfort.
And your willingness to get back on the wagon when you stumble, because, as I mentioned, you will stumble. A lot.
Remember: of all the practices we engage in, the most important practice is just getting back on the wagon.
Self-Compassion Is Always Key
Part and parcel with getting back on the wagon is my Golden Formula:
Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good.
When your inner detective looks for clues and your inner scientist experiments and analyzes the data, this is self-awareness. Your inner bodyguard and inner cheerleader are the self-compassion piece, which is just as important as self-awareness — and arguably even more important!
In fact, as Kristin Neff, the world’s foremost researcher on self-compassion has pointed out, there are three elements to self-compassion, of which mindfulness/self-awareness is the first:
- Mindfulness: noticing what you’ve done (or haven’t done) and how you’re feeling as a result.
- An acknowledgment of common humanity: reminding yourself that you are human, and that everyone blows it sometimes. It’s okay to be fallible.
- Self-kindness: forgiving yourself for missing the mark, and offering yourself love and comfort.
When you blow a commitment, your first thought may be, “You stupid lame-o! You blew it again! What is wrong with you?!” but I am here to tell you to stop this kind of self-talk, pronto!
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but my advice is to stop beating yourself up and start loving yourself up. As I told Alice on the call, beating yourself up is never helpful, and is, in fact, counter-productive. Self-compassion is key.
Most people believe that using a big stick (ie, self-blame, beating oneself up) is the only way to keep themselves from dissipating into a pathetic blob. Contrary to popular belief, however, studies (such as this one and this one) show that people who forgive themselves for missing the mark on occasion not only get back on track more quickly than those who wallow in self-blame, but they also achieve much greater long-term success at their goals.
Those who wallow in self-blame when they stumble simply spiral into a cycle of bad feelings and failure, from which it’s hard to emerge.
When I miss the mark and blow a commitment, I used to beat myself up shamelessly. You know what my reaction is now?
“Oops. Time to take a fresh start.”
Whatever commitment I’ve blown — to do my daily meditation, or play in the Creative Sandbox, or meet that self-imposed deadline to get a blog post done — I notice how I’m feeling, acknowledge that I’m human, forgive myself, and re-commit. No lamentations or lashings, just love myself up and correct forward.
Truly, the longer I live, the more I am strengthened in my understanding that self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good.
Alice is just like you and me and every other person on this planet: a fallible human being, facing a unique set of challenges and obstacles that make it really, really hard to achieve her goals.
Alice is going to keep stumbling, as are you and I. This is not the problem. The problem is when we lie down and surrender.
Never surrender. It may take you a thousand tries to figure out how to deal with your unique circumstances. And after you finally figure out what works, it may at some point stop working, requiring you to go right back to Square One!
As the Japanese proverb goes, though, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
Perseverence, baby. Perseverence.
I’m cheering you on.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!