What is implementation?
im·ple·men·ta·tion /impləmənˈtāSH(ə)n/ (noun)
the process of putting a decision or plan into effect; execution.
As a creative business owner who loves what you do, you are probably inundated with great ideas every day. You probably get them in the shower, as you’re driving, while you’re sweating on the treadmill. But how many of those great ideas do you put into action and see through to fruition?
That’s what I thought. I know, I know, it’s hard! You’re so busy running your business. It’s hard to find the time for something new. A new idea may require you to learn new skills to bring to fruition. It may involve getting help, spending money, investing time.
And new is scary. What if it doesn’t work out? How do you know if its the right idea at the right time?
Of course, there are no guarantees. But think about it. What if Steve Jobs had never moved forward on the iPod? What if Ford never invested in the assembly line? What if John Adams and Thomas Jefferson quit before writing the Declaration of Independence?
What world changing, business revolutionizing, life impacting idea have you set aside because you just don’t have time?
So, how do you, as a ridiculously busy entrepreneur make your ideas a reality?
“It is not always what we know or analyzed before we make a decision that makes it a great decision. It is what we do after we make the decision to implement and execute it that makes it a good decision.”
Create the Structure for Implementation
If you are not implementing ideas, it is likely because you don’t have an existing system or structure for taking an idea, developing that idea into a plan of action and then implementing that plan. So the seed of the idea floats around for awhile but doesn’t find the fertile ground to settle into and begin to grow.
Put a few simple structures into place and your ideas will have a place to land:
- Have a notebook (online or a physical notebook) to record your ideas when they come to you.
- Schedule time in your week – every week – to explore and develop new ideas. Back in the day (they aren’t doing this anymore, I don’t think) Google used to allow their employees to take 20% of their time to work on ideas. You don’t need to spend 20% of your time – but set aside an hour or two every week. It’s the quality and consistency more than the quantity of time that’s important.
Implement One Idea at a Time
I recommend serial monogamy when it comes to projects – 1 project at a time! Too many projects means you won’t effectively deliver on any of them. So pick one idea and for all the rest, keep them in your idea notebook for the future.
So how do you decide which idea to pursue?
- Remember, you’re jotting down your ideas in your notebook – is there an idea you’ve written down more then once? Is there an idea that keeps popping up, over and over? That might be the first one to go with
- Maybe go through your list and pick the one that seems most exciting, most shiny to you.
- All your other ideas, go into the notebook for later. Keep writing them down – but don’t let them distract you.
Once you’ve picked your idea:
- Use the system from the One Page Business Plan, by James Horan to evaluate your idea – this will give you a really good sense about it’s viability.
You may discover from this process alone that your idea isn’t really going to work. That’s OK – it’s not wasted effort. Because you will have learned a lot – and you may find a way to pivot your idea or this may open up other ideas or clarify ideas you’ve already had. Just pick the next idea and move forward.
Put Your Idea into Action
Once you’ve made the decision that this idea is the one you’re going to move forward on, make a specific schedule in your week for when you will work on it. Get coaching and support and most importantly get into action.
- Use the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. methodology to develop the idea to an actionable plan
- Implement the plan!
Let me know how you do in the comments!
When clients admit to procrastinating on an action in session, they are usually shrouded in shame and embarrassment. As if somehow they are a failure, because they’ve been procrastinating.
Does this sound familiar:
It feels like there’s a part of you that knows you “should” be doing this action and that part even wants to be doing it. But there’s another part of you that’s like a whiny 3 year old, stomping your foot, saying, “I don’t WANNA!” You beg and plead with that 3 year old inside of you, but you just can’t get into action. And the more you push against it, the stronger the resistance.
Some of my clients think that, as their coach, I can fix them, force them, make them take action. But here’s the thing – they’re not broken and neither are you. And the more you push against resistance the stronger and more powerful it becomes.
Procrastination is a symptom of something. It’s not evidence that you’re broken. It’s evidence that your unconscious is staging a rebellion. And in order to bring your unconscious back into alignment with your conscious mind – you have to understand what is causing the rebellion.
Why shaming doesn’t work
Imagine if you went to a doctor and told him you have a sore throat. And instead of the doctor examining you and running tests and prescribing treatment, instead, he told you that you were bad and wrong for having a sore throat.
Would that fix your sore throat?
Wouldn’t you just feel bad about yourself and still have a sore throat? And yet, that’s exactly what you’re doing every time you beat up on yourself for procrastinating. It doesn’t work. Cut it out!
Procrastination is a symptom
Procrastination is the key to finding out what your unconscious is trying to tell you. So instead of shaming yourself – start investigating. Become Dr. House and investigate what is causing your procrastination. Get curious.
What is the root cause of your procrastination?
What Causes Procrastination?
There are many different reasons for procrastination. And if you tend to procrastinate on a lot of different things – you may have different reasons for each thing. Here is a list of common causes and some suggestions to counter them:
- Your goals are unclear – you’re not sure why you should be doing this thing
Get clear on your goals – what specific goal does this action serve?
- There is a learning curve for this action and you don’t know how to do it
Find someone who can show you how. Take a class to learn how. Google it! Take the action and be willing to do it badly while you’re learning.
- The action is too big, too vague or too general (overwhelming)
Break it down and get specific.
- You have a lot of different actions you need to take and they all seem of equal priority or importance
Make a list and knock them out one at a time – if they are truly of equal priority, just pick ANY one. Learn how to manage conflicting priorities.
- No matter what you do, it’s never enough. And you’re not allowed to play until you finish your homework!
Celebrate each accomplishment, each baby step. Make sure you take breaks to play, exercise, just breathe. Not allowing yourself to celebrate is a recipe for burnout. This is critical!
- The action feels like a big risk and you’re afraid to take that risk
First ask yourself, “Is this true?” In other words, is it really the risk you think it is? You may find that your fear of the risk is making it seem bigger. Get support or coaching around overcoming your fear.
- When you imagine taking the action, you anticipate that it will be difficult or frustrating or even just boring
Just do it for 15 minutes – you can stop after 15 minutes. Put on some really great music. Reward yourself for having done it by doing something really fun next.
- When this action is complete, the next obvious action is either invisible (if I do this, then what?) or really scary (if I do this, then I’ll have to do THAT!)
Very often the next step will become clear when this step is done. And you don’t have to do it alone. Work with a coach to help you through the scary stuff and figure out what’s next. And remember – just focus on the action in front of you – the next action will be dealt with when it’s time to deal with it!
Diagnosing Your Procrastination
Do some of the above suggestions ring true for you? Here are a few more questions that might help you uncover the underlying cause of your hesitation and/or resistance. First, don’t ask “why”! “Why” just gives you reasons to procrastinate more!
- When I think about taking this action, I feel ______________ (fill in the emotion word – anxious, sad, angry, etc.). What am I thinking/believing that has me feeling ______________?
- When I imagine taking this action, I think it is going to be _______________ (easy, hard, frustrating, boring, overwhelming, etc.)
- How long will this action take me?
- What are the specific steps to accomplishing this action?
- What fear, concern or consideration is stopping me from taking this action?
- What will taking this action do for me? What outcome do I desire from taking this step?
- What outcome am I afraid of, if I take this action? What’s the worse case scenario? What if I do nothing? Is that worse?
- If I break this action down into its smallest component steps and just contemplate the first of those steps – how does that feel? Can I take that baby step now?
- Am I celebrating each baby step or am I only allowed to celebrate when I have the big goal and I’ve done it perfectly?
Sometimes simply asking some of these questions can actually clear you enough to get into action.
Procrastination can fundamentally undermine all of your time management systems. So figuring out what is causing you to procrastinate is a critical first step in managing your time well.
What are you procrastinating? Share what you discover about your own procrastination in the comments, or ask for help figuring it out!
In my fifteen years as a business coach for the professionally creative and creative entrepreneurs, I’ve seen a lot of incredibly smart, very talented people struggle to bring their dreams to fruition.
When I first started – I believed that this was largely due to a lack of knowledge in business fundamentals and business skills. Which is why I created the Artists Marketing & Business Academy – to help you close that knowledge gap.
And while I still believe that’s part of the problem, I’ve come to the conclusion that you could have all the knowledge and skill training and still struggle.
Because there’s a piece missing – and that’s ACTION!
What is Action?
Much to my surprise – it turns out action is a pretty complex word with many different meanings. But here are the ones I think are most useful for this conversation:
1a: thing done, a deed
b: the accomplishment of a thing usually over a period of time, in stages, or with the possibility of repetition
c: behavior, conduct
d: initiative, enterprise
2: an act of will
So, its what you do, right? Not what you say, not what you think, not what you wish, but what you actually DO.
You may remember a movie that came out several years ago — The Secret — which showed this guy sitting on his couch dreaming about a car – and then magically that car appears. I’ve always found that to be a misleading and possibly destructive portrayal of the Law of Attraction. Which led me to begin tweeting this:
The Law of Attraction without action is just the Law of Attr! Put the Action BACK!
It seems so simple – then why do we struggle so much with getting into action, staying in action, and choosing which actions to focus on?
What Blocks Action?
And why is it that some people seem to be completely stuck and stopped by these obstacles and others appear (at least from the outside) to be unstoppable?
You might think, “Well it’s just a difference in personality.”
Or, “It’s just easier for them than it is for me – they don’t have this problem with resistance or procrastination.”
Perhaps you even think, “I’m just … broken.”
Poppycock! I say! Utter HOGWASH!
Okay – you might notice that this is a pet peeve of mine – you’re not broken. They’re not better than you. And it’s not some character flaw that you have no choice in!
What stops us is a bit different in each person.
- It may look like procrastination.
- It may look like analysis paralysis.
- It may look like perfectionism.
- It might feel like resistance, fear or overwhelm.
And it’s a useful exercise to examine what that dynamic is for you.
How do you know its time to stop? How do you know its the right time for some procrastination? (Wonder who’s tagged me on Facebook…) Understanding what your triggers are that begin this spiral into inertia or active resistance can help you disrupt that pattern. But understanding the pattern isn’t enough – you have to then have the tools to shift out of the pattern into something more productive.
What Allows or Even Motivates Action?
I believe that the primary difference between the folks that get stopped and the ones that seem to be unstoppable in their action is in their response to that stimulus. It’s not that they don’t get overwhelmed or experience fear. It’s not that they never question their choices or play the “Yeah, but…” game.
It’s that their response to that happening is to move forward into action.
You can think of it as simply rocking backwards and putting your weight in your heels. Or rocking forward and putting your weight on your toes. Try it – stand up and rock your weight backward just enough to sink into your heels. Then rock your weight forward to just slightly come up on your toes. Can you feel the difference? Can you feel the need, the desire, the irresistible urge to step forward when you rock forward?
So, when something seems to knock you off balance. When you feel stuck or stopped or resistant. When you are overwhelmed or stuck in perfectionism. Stand up and lean in.
What Makes a Successful Resolution?
Every year, people make New Year’s Resolutions – losing weight, exercising more, swearing less – all different kinds of resolutions. And usually, by about 3-4 weeks into the year, those resolutions have fallen by the wayside, to be chalked up as “Oh, well, better luck next year” (if you’re an optimist) or as proof of failure (if you struggle with that inner critic). It’s 2 weeks into the New Year – how are you doing so far?
3 Keys to Resolution Success
- Limit yourself to 3 resolutions or fewer
- Be clear, specific and measurable with your resolutions
- Make resolutions that are tactics and actions not goals
Limit Yourself to 3 Resolutions
Too much change, too fast is a recipe for failure.
As human beings we resist change and we especially resist radical change. Smaller, more incremental change can short circuit this resistance. So limit yourself to 3 specific behaviors that you think would make a significant difference, but make them smaller in scope.
For example, if your goal is to improve your fitness:
- If you never work out at all, resolve to work out for 10 minutes a day (Instead of 2 hours a day which would be too much)
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator. (A specific behavior)
- Park at the back of the parking lot instead of the closest spot you can find. (A tactic to increase your daily step count)
These are 3 simple, small steps that will improve your fitness level without changing everything all at once. And notice, each choice was clear, specific and measurable. You may find that the 10 minutes expands naturally. Let it – that’s OK – but don’t mandate a huge chunk of time that you won’t be able to live up to.
Choose Clear, Specific and Measurable Resolutions
This seems pretty self-explanatory on the surface – so why do we have so much trouble with it? For example – do you have the words “less”, “more”, “longer”, etc. in your resolution? Those are comparative words and are inherently NOT specific.
To make a resolution specific, use a measure that you know you’ve either done or not done. For example, instead of “Exercise more,” how about “Exercise 3 times/week.” Can you feel the difference between those two things?
If you’re not sure if your resolution is clear or specific enough – give it the success test. Will you know on any given day if you were successful in fulfilling a resolution? If not – get more specific.
Resolutions Are Tactics and Actions Not Goals
In Goals and Actions and Strategies, Oh My! I clarified the difference between those terms. You may find it helpful to read that post as well before crafting your Resolutions.
an action or method that is planned and used to achieve a particular goal
So to be clear – a resolution is not an objective or end result. It is the action or methodology that you believe will put you on the path towards your goals. So take a look at your resolutions – are they in alignment with a goal or goals? Will they move you forward towards what you want in your life for this year?
How to Implement your Resolution
Baby steps, baby steps, baby steps. You’ve chosen 3 (or fewer) simple actions or behaviors. You’ve made them clear, specific and measurable. You’ve clarified that they will indeed lead you in the direction of your goals for this year. Now what?!?
Whatever day today is. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or the 15th. It doesn’t matter if it’s June!!! Today is the first day of the rest of your life, right? Isn’t that how the saying goes? Start today.
If you choose not to keep your resolution one day. Or maybe you forget. Or you only get to part of it. That’s OK – forgive yourself. If you use that as an excuse to stop, if you use “doing it perfectly,” as a reason to not do it at all, then you are not going to reach your goals.
Are you willing to not reach your goals?!?
Instead, say the following, “I recommit to doing this resolution now. I’m starting again, now.”
I heard somewhere (I wish I could remember where), a story about how this person quit smoking cigarettes. At first he decided to quit once a week. On Monday. “OK – It’s Monday, I’ve quit smoking!”
At first, it only lasted one day. He was smoking again by Tuesday. But after a few months or so of quitting every Monday, he had gotten up to 7 days without a cigarette. So that next Monday, he quit again… Pretty soon, he was only having to quit on the first of the month. Then, the first of the new year. Then he stopped thinking about it all together – because he didn’t smoke anymore.
So, just keep choosing the action or tactic. There is no failure. This next moment is another opportunity to choose.
But also – you can think of each resolution as an experiment. You choose a particular resolution because you think it will have a particular impact on your life. But what if you’re wrong?
This year, I made a goal to read 1 book a month that is not strictly entertainment – they can be self-improvement or inspirational or skill building books. They could be biographies or histories or science books. But not mysteries or romance or science fiction!
Then, I resolved to read these books on my lunch break. (Notice the difference between the goal and the resolution)
But here’s the thing – I don’t want to read stuff that’s “good for me” on my lunch break. On my lunch break, I want to be ON A BREAK!! And so the resolution lasted about a week and the second week, I just couldn’t get myself to do it. Does that mean I’m a failure? Should I give up on that goal? No, I need to choose a different tactic. Find time slots that are not break times to do that reading. I didn’t fail – I just chose the wrong tactic. A different method can still get me to my goal. But if I look at it as a failure, if I judge myself harshly – then I won’t even try a different tactic. The key is to think of it as an experiment – if it doesn’t work, try something else!
So please share with me in the comments – what actions or tactics are you choosing to make this your best year ever? And come back and tell me how it goes!
Do you know what your boundaries are? Most of us have some vague notion of what a boundary is and how it feels when someone has crossed our boundaries. But what are they really?
Boundary – Something that indicates bounds or limits; a limiting or bounding line.
In the context of time management, your boundaries can have many references. It could refer to:
- The beginning and ending of a block of time set aside for a particular activity.
- The difference between your needs and another’s needs
- The defining line between different projects or jobs in your life
- The bounds between work and play, activity and rest, inner and outer focused energy
All of these are critical concepts when it comes to your ability to manage your time well. Understanding what your boundaries are can help you prioritize, make decisions and create a sustainable business. Burnout is generally caused from insufficient boundaries. (For example, working too much or putting other people’s needs/demands over your own needs)
Three Steps to Creating Time Management Sanity
1 – Creating A Clearly Defined Schedule
If you don’t know your boundaries – how can you defend them? The simplest method of creating clear boundaries around your activities is working with a schedule or Time Map that has clearly defined time blocks in it. This is different than a task list. This is an organization of your time in which you have decided what category or area of your life you will be focused on during a specific block of time. I go into more detail about exactly how to do this in The Artists Marketing & Business Academy – Track 3B Classes.
Once you’ve created a schedule that allows for balance and clear beginnings and endings, then you can practice maintaining those boundaries for yourself. Also, when someone comes to you with a request for your time, you will be very clear on your availability. And if you choose to say “no” to their request (see #2), you don’t have to tell them it’s because you scheduled to do laundry during that time. You can just say, “I’m sorry, I’m not available.” (Practice that answer by yourself over and over if this is difficult for you!)
2 – Making Clear “Yes” or “No” Decisions
It is human nature to want to say “yes” to the people we care about, to the people we want to think well of us, really to most everyone. Saying “no” is not a skill we’re taught as children. In fact, quite the opposite, we’re taught that saying “yes” is rewarded and saying “no” is punished. This is a skill you MUST learn as an adult.
As small business owners and solopreneurs, particularly those of us who work from home, we often receive requests for our time.
It is easy to say “no” to the stuff you don’t want, those are not the “no’s” we are talking about. We are talking about the challenging “no’s”, the ones that come when you have to say “no” to something you DO want, or to someone you care about, or want to help.
But if you know your schedule (see #1) and you’re clear on what your goals are and WHY you created that schedule and want those goals, then saying “no” becomes easier. As Indrani taught me, when you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to everything else. So, you better be clear on what you are saying “no” to when you say “yes”. Here’s what I recommend when someone asks you for something that will take your time away from your goals (even when it’s something fun and fabulous):
- What does the request entail? Specifically, how much of your time, energy, and resources will it take?
- When do they need your answer by?
Then end the conversation WITHOUT GIVING THEM AN ANSWER. Promise you’ll get them an answer before their deadline and walk away (or hang up the phone). Give yourself time to think, time to make the decision away from them.
In order to make this decision, ask yourself:
- If I say “yes” to this, what am I saying “no” to, specifically?
- What are the benefits to me personally if I say “yes” to this?
- What will I lose if I say “yes” to this?
- What will I lose if I say “no” to this?
These questions should help you come to a decision that enables you to honor your boundaries.
3 – Managing Expectations – Yours and Everybody Else’s!
Our tendency, particularly if you are a new or struggling business owner, is to promise your prospective clients the moon. This can damage both your own life as well as your business. Because you promise more than you can realistically achieve within the time allotted, you will either kill yourself to keep your promise, or break your promise and kill your reputation.
There is a saying, “Under promise and over deliver.” I actually recommend, under promise and deliver on your promise with excellence. That doesn’t necessarily mean over deliver. It just simply means, promise only what you’re absolutely sure you can deliver and then deliver it with excellence.
Setting clear time boundaries is another important aspect of managing other people’s expectations. For example, if someone calls you and asks if you have a minute – you know that they’re asking for more than a minute. But you can respond with, “I can give you 5 minutes.” And when that 5 minute period has ended, you can say, without guilt, “I have to go now.” and hang up. Because you managed their expectations at the beginning of the conversation, ending that call becomes much easier. I often do this when calling for technical support. I start the call with, “I have a client in 15 minutes.” And it’s amazing how much less time I now spend on these calls!
But you also need to manage your own expectations. For example, creating a To Do List for today that has 16 hours of work, but you only have 4 hours available is a habit that can kill your self-esteem. You will never get all of those things done, and every time you don’t, you feel like you’ve failed. Have a master To Do list (ideally organized by category, see #1). And then put on today’s task list ONLY what you are confident you can accomplish in the time available. Hey, having to go back to the master list because you finished faster is a happy problem, right?
So how are you doing with your time management boundaries? Let me know in the comments what new insights you got and any questions you have.
[RANT] I am sick and tired of reading articles and blogposts that scream out
“… doomsday – the sky is falling, the music industry is dead – it was killed by the internet. Blah, blah, frikkin’ blah!”
Enough already! It’s just so much crap! The music industry isn’t dead. IT’S CHANGED! What’s dead are the companies that refused to change with it. And I am just so over the reporters and bloggers who are much more interested in talking about doom and gloom. What’s failed, dead, dying. Instead of looking at what’s actually working now.
In The Recession-Proof Business: Lessons from the Greatest Recession Success Stories of All Time, Victor Cheng gives us specific guidance about how to create a successful business in the midst of great upheaval and change.
And I think we can all agree that the last 15 years has been a time of great upheaval and change for the Music Industry. The last 6 years have been a time of great upheaval and change for all industries. This is old news.
So what’s my point? We can whine and moan about what’s past and gone. We can doom and gloom about how HARD its going to be for you to create your successful business given the challenges of the time.
But I say – To HELL WITH THAT! What does that give you? It certainly doesn’t help you move forward towards your goals and dreams. Instead of focusing on all of the obstacles and challenges:
- Look at who is making their business work for them.
- Look at who your specific target market is and what their needs are.
- And look at where your fans are currently spending their money.
“Forget the overall macro economy numbers; look for where the money is flowing to and position your business to piggyback off it.” Victor Cheng
And then innovate. How can you uniquely solve their problems?
Apply your creativity to creating a promise that will not only solve your target market’s problems, but shows them how deeply and clearly you see them, understand them and serve them.
In my class “Internet Marketing & Social Media – a Complete Waste of Time or the Key to Your Success“, I use Jonathan Coulton and Amanda Palmer as case studies of 2 artists who did exactly that. They saw the opportunity of the internet and social media and put themselves in front of that wave. There are companies and artists who are making a fine living in this world. I say find them, study them and then apply their lessons to your unique voice.
You can either ride the wave of the future or be wiped out by it. What will you choose?
I recently had a very interesting conversation with a client who called for some in-between-session support.
He called because he was feeling completely stuck. He was swamped with having so much to do, so many opportunities he could be taking advantage of, and he felt completely overwhelmed. He had no idea how to prioritize all the multiple options of actions he could take.
As a result he was paralyzed and unable to pick any of the multiple possible actions to take or any of the many opportunities to pursue. And he also felt panicky because he believed he was in danger of missing out on opportunities because of being so totally stuck.
Does this sound familiar to you?
I know it did to me. In the past, I’ve gone for weeks feeling completely powerless to take action because I couldn’t figure out which action to take first.
I suggested two solutions to this problem, a short-term right-now band-aid and a long-term more permanent fix. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful as well.
One of my teachers, Johnnie Cass, gave a brilliant bit of advice, which he shared in an off-the-cuff remark during my NLP training. It’s stayed with me all these years, “When you’re feeling overwhelmed, narrow your focus.” I love that and have used it often — just pay attention to the thing right in front of you.
And that’s usually really helpful, but when you’re overwhelmed by opportunities, how do you pick which opportunity is the right opportunity to focus on right now?
Here are a few re-frames that might help:
First, when confronted by too many opportunities, take a moment to be grateful. Too many opportunities is a happy problem!
So much better than too few, no? So, take a moment, to just breathe in gratitude for the abundance of the Universe!
Great, now that you’re in an appreciative state of mind ask yourself these clarifying questions:
- Which of these opportunities brings me closer to the “right-now” money?
- How much time do I have available, today, to take action?
The first question has to do with the low-hanging fruit, the short-term funds that will help you pay the rent immediately. There’s no shame in pursuing the low hanging fruit, in fact it can be vital to your business’ survival.
My client, though, had a valid concern – what if I’m pursuing “good” and sacrificing “great,” which is where the second question comes in. If you only have time today to take one action or pursue one opportunity, because you have other obligations, appointments, etc., then pursue the “right-now” money.
Keeping yourself solvent will empower you to pursue the “great”, visionary and long term opportunities when you have a bit more time. But in the meantime, you have to eat, right?
If you have more time today – see if you can split it in half – spend half of the time on the low hanging fruit/right-now money opportunities; and half on the longer term opportunities that are more long-term goal oriented. I’d recommend a minimum of 1 hour for each – so if you have less than 2 hours, pick the low-hanging fruit. (If you find you never have more than an hour, try taking turns alternating between low-hanging fruit and long-term goal oriented opportunities.)
If you have 2 hours or more, pick ONE for each category to pursue within that time frame. Just pick, flip a coin! Whatever you choose is going to move you forward and you will learn as long as you take action with an experimental mindset.
But if you can choose with your long-term goals in mind, your choices will be so much easier to make! And you will be much more likely to choose opportunities that will advance you toward your vision! This leads me to the more permanent fix (which you may want to choose as the long-term goal oriented action…)
The Permanent Fix: A Clear, Specific Vision and Plan to Guide You
Part of what caused the overwhelm for my client was the lack of a clear, specific long-term vision and a plan composed of milepost goals to guide his journey.
Without these strong roots in place, you are very much at the mercy of the winds.
And two things can happen. First of all, from a Law of Attraction standpoint – you have not placed a clear specific order with the Universe and while it’s doing its level best to send you great opportunities, without clear goals, the opportunities you’re attracting can tend to be pellmell and haphazard.
It’s like going into a restaurant and ordering cow – you just don’t know what you’ll get!
But secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, without a clear vision of where you want to get to, it’s so much harder to evaluate and prioritize the opportunities coming your way.
If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you gauge the effectiveness of one path over another? How can you decide which are the good opportunities and which is the one great opportunity that will thrust open the doors of success for you? Even enough to take a guess?
The sooner you design your long-term vision and plan, the easier it will be to switch from overwhelm into overdrive!
The Fundamental Shift in Perspective
Both of these strategies have one thing in common – they shift you from:
Opportunity Focused Reaction —> Goal Centered Response
And you always want to choose being Response-able over being Reaction-ary. When you can make choices from a grounded, centered and focused place, when you have cleared the noise so you can hear your inner, intuitive voice, you will be able to make powerful choices with ease.
And nothing clears the noise better than a strong vision, specific and measurable goals and a clear plan to achieve both.
Will this guarantee that the opportunity you choose to pursue will be great? Or even good? Will it guarantee success?
There are no guarantees – all you can do is make the best decision with the information you have – and having the courage to create your vision and goals will create a lot of clarity to inform your decisions.
Please share with me – what opportunity you will choose to pursue today? And let me know how it works out – OK? Just leave a comment below.
Oh, and if you’ve been thinking, “Yeah, but…” Please share your “yeah, buts” with me too!
This article is a sequel to the July 2013 Newsletter Article, When Bad Things Happen. Of course, I meant to get back and complete the article the very next week. Ah, the best laid plans…
But better late than never, right? I recommend you go back and read that article to give you the back story and context for this Part 2.
In Part 1, I talked about 2 things I learned from an experience that helped me get out of the Pit of Despair. Here is the third and perhaps the most deeply profound learning for me.
What Are You Making it MEAN?
Its important to understand how your brain works. The human brain is a Meaning Making Machine. The brain takes in literally billions of bits of information every day from your physical senses.
It is the brain’s job to interpret that information, to make sense of it so that you can survive, both literally and figuratively.
Which means your brain has to do two primary things:
- Determine what information is important or deserves your attention (think signal to noise ratio)
- Determine what that information actually means in terms of you, the world and your place in the world.
It’s that second step that usually gets us into trouble. As I mentioned in the first part of this article, we are very uncomfortable with the unknown. That’s just human nature.
And we have survived and evolved as a species because our brains successfully made life and death decisions with limited information. (The bush is shaking, there’s probably a lion waiting in ambush!)
So our brain has evolved a predictive capacity or the ability to extrapolate based on limited information, using your expectations, beliefs and past experience (which together make up your context – the environment in which meaning is determined).
But this extrapolation is mostly happening at the unconscious level and is presented to our conscious mind as “The TRUTH.” Unfortunately, it is often these “truths” that propel us into the Despair Pit.
It is useful to remember that these truths are anything but. They are constructs based on limited information plus your self-constructed context.
Don’t mistake the map for the territory!
Instead, approach these “truths” with curiosity and ask good questions. Here are a few that I’ve found useful.
“Now What?” Instead of “Why Me?”
When hanging out down there in the despair pit, we are often asking really poor questions. The most common is some version of “Why me?” Instead, try asking, “Now What?” That conversation might go something like:
Now that these circumstances/challenges/obstacles have happened, now what? What can I do, right now to:
- protect myself?
- feel better?
- change my circumstances?
- continue to pursue my goals? And so on….
Can you see how asking these kinds of questions instead of “Why me?” could show you the path out of the despair pit?
What is the belief?
Once you’re in a more stable place and you’ve taken care of the business you need to take care of, and you’re ready to do some transformational self-examination, a good question to ask is
“What is the belief that’s being triggered?”
(If you don’t know what that means, click the link and read a good article explaining the concept around triggering).
In my experience, when I’m having a really strong emotional response to my circumstances, there is often a belief underlying that response that is being energized by the current circumstances.
If you’ve ever been in a musical instrument store when someone strikes a tuning fork, you’ve heard how the different instruments will vibrate in harmonics to that tone. A similar thing happens when your external circumstances trigger your inner beliefs. It may not be logical, but in some way your brain has created a connection between what you are perceiving and your past experiences and/or beliefs.
So, if you can identify which belief, expectation or past experience has been triggered at the unconscious level and make that dynamic conscious, you can use that awareness to begin to understand it and even shift it if you choose to.
One of the best ways to make that internal shift is to remember that the context you are using to create your experience of your circumstances, to make that meaning is a subjective framework and not TRUTH.
What could you make it mean? Because if it could mean many different things, could you choose a different meaning? And if you can choose a different meaning, why not choose a meaning that creates a more positive and functional experience, a meaning that guides you out of the despair pit, or even allows you to avoid the pit altogether?
This is called reframing. You are seeing the picture of reality in a new context.
Think about a circumstance you’ve had recently that was perhaps painful. How could you reframe that experience in order to feel better and more empowered to be constructively responsive to those circumstances?
July was a tough month. It started out well, but one morning I woke up in pain. I’d done something to my wrist in my sleep. As that day wore on, the pain got worse until I gave in and went to the ER and after an x-ray they told me it might be broken! WTF?
It turned out to be a bad bone bruise, but for a week, I didn’t know if I was facing 3 months in a cast above my elbow or possibly even surgery. Seven long days of uncertainty, pain, and to be honest, freaking out!
As I teach in How to Use Feedback and Criticism Constructively, throughout this experience I was alert to the question, “What is the learning here?” The more I looked at it, the more I discovered that the lesson wasn’t about the details of the experience but how I managed the fear and uncertainty, as well as the self-defeating beliefs that surfaced.
Here are some of my lessons:
Sliding Into the Pit of Despair
Yes, doomed, I say!
Where nothing works out and all is lost.
Overly dramatic? Or eerily familiar?
There were moments, particularly in the first few days of the injury, when I just wanted to throw in the towel. Why does everything have to be so hard? Why is it just when things start going my way, does something always go wrong to block my efforts?!?
The old “Why Me?” conversation took pretty solid hold there for a minute.
A therapist I worked with during my 10-year bout with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome gave me this poem and since then I’ve often used it when seemingly lost in the Pit of Despair:
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
So, while I did fall into the deep hole for a little while, I didn’t stay long. I recognized it for what it was, asked for support and climbed on out.
Here are some of the things that helped me climb out.
Staying in the present moment
Much of the content of the despair pit for me this time had to do with the future. How am I going to finish the Multiple Streams of Music Income Self-Study Program if I can’t type? How am I going to take care of my Dad if I can’t use my arm? How am I going to continue losing weight if I can’t exercise?
All of the things that I wanted this summer to be about seemed in dire jeopardy.
But the key word in that statement was “seemed”. Because I didn’t know. That’s probably the hardest part – the uncertainty. I didn’t know if my wrist was broken, if I’d need surgery, if I would be wearing a cast for months. I didn’t know. But not knowing is so uncomfortable, that our brain fills in the gaps. We are so frightened of the dangers implied in the unknown that we fill it with scenarios, as if we know.
The best way to stay out of the despair pit, then, is to sit in the uncertainty. As agonizing, uncomfortable, and scary as the uncertainty is, staying in it is the more powerful choice.
But that’s the illusion, isn’t it? In the future-thinking, contingency-planning, scenario-making place, you feel like you’ve got power, like you’ve got control. But you don’t, because as long as you’re there, you’re not in the present. And if you’re not in the present, you can’t adapt to what’s really happening in this moment. So breathe through the discomfort and stay present.
How much contingency planning is too much?
The truth is that contingency planning is an evolutionary advantage. It’s one of the things that makes us successful as a species. It’s what motivated the birth of agriculture – storing food during the abundant growing season so you have food when that season is over wouldn’t have happened if someone hadn’t thought, “Gee, what will we do for food when winter comes?”
Contingency planning is thinking about what the future may hold and making a plan to handle the various or even worst possibilities.
But contingency planning can lead to what is known in psychology as Catastrophic Thinking. This kind of thinking is the wallpaper down in the Despair Pit! When you are thinking of all the awful things that could happen and you become obsessed with them, you begin to interact with those thoughts as if they were real. And that’s the danger.
It is helpful to simply ask yourself, “Are these real possibilities?” And if the answer to that question is, “Yes” or even “Maybe.” Then ask yourself, “What can I put in place today to manage those possibilities?” Take those self-protective actions and then set it aside.
Because beyond taking those steps, all those dire thoughts are just energy sucks. They’re just the stuff that keeps you up at night and makes it hard to concentrate during the day. They don’t add anything to your ability to manage the uncertainty or even the contingencies – if and when they happen. Those thoughts can actually make it worse!
In this instance, the contingency plan meant doing a bit of research on voice recognition software, just in case I wouldn’t be able to type, notify my virtual assistant that I may need more help in the coming days, making sure that I was seeing a good hand specialist and then set it all aside.
It helped that I knew I would have an answer to the uncertainty within a few days. But the principle still stands. And whenever my brain started to slide into catastrophic thinking — see it, name it for what it was, and breathe into the discomfort of the unknown.
[End of Part 1 – Part 2 coming next week! Stay Tuned!]
What do you do when bad things happen? Please share your techniques for staying out of the Despair Pit!