Ever feel overwhelmed, like you’re slowly (or rapidly) drowning, in life?
That’s the first thing; just stop.
Whatever you’re doing right now is no doubt adding to any overwhelm and confusion; fuel on the fire.
It’s an easy cycle to fall into…
Life get’s busy, tasks and responsibilities pile up. It’s easy to get caught in a storm of ‘to-do lists’ and ‘shoulds’; I should work out more, I should eat better, I should get more sleep, I should be more motivated, I should have that conversation, I should be doing something I’m passionate about, I should be more driven and fulfilled, I should procrastinate less… I should, I should, I should.
Urgh, how much obligation is loaded into those shoulds?! Yucky.
Add to that all of the things outside of your control, including concerns over past and future events, the opinions, words and actions of others, and the constant stream of ‘monkey brain’ stimulating activity (news, US elections, gossip, social media, etc).
All this does is pile on top of each other. Soon the feeling of overwhelm and general confusion of how to best use your time and energy is, well, crippling. Ultimately this can lead to rejection of what we’re working on, due to this obligation and disorientated feeling.
It’s like being caught in a fast flowing river, the rapids are moving you but it’s kind of aimless, you feel out of control. Plus, there’s a helicopter overhead throwing you a ladder, but all it’s doing is spraying water and noise everywhere, enveloping your senses. There are people on the bank shouting instructions and demands at you, there are rocks constantly bumping you from underneath, and you’re taking in gulps of water. It’s all just too much.
So what happens?
Well, something might happen, but it’s usually glorified nothing; aimless action for the sake of it. You get into the flow and rapids and let them take you. A lack of concerted directed action.
That or action backed up by justification, aka lying to yourself about why this current course of action is seriously just, like the most important thing to do be doing right now, honest. Totally.
Sometimes called procrastination; you’re fighting the rapids, but you’ve tied your own hands behind your back.
Know what I mean?
I certainly do, because I’ve been doing it with this piece right here for the last hour prior to typing the first word.
It’s so easy to get into this spin of action for the sake of action when there seems too big a mountain to climb, or, simply no action at all, but instead ineffective thoughts and feelings of guilt and shame for not doing anything.
One leads to the other, which in turn further leads back to the other, and so on…
A self-perpetuating cycle.
Does this resonate?
It’s understandable, life can just get so hectic at times, and it can be hard to see the woods for the trees.
Anyone can look ‘busy’ while going downstream, but is it effective?
This is why we have to stop. We have to purposefully plant our feet, walk to the side of the river, pull ourselves out of the fast flowing rapids, and create a strategy to get to our desired destination.
We need to silence all the noise that makes it hard to find direction; shut off to the people shouting, wave helicopter away, and simplify. We have to take control of the things we can control.
It can seem hard to see how while you’re taking on water, but simplifying is an absolute must.
How to simplify and make purposeful progress
Firstly – Stop reading and watching the news about things that don’t impact your life. Stop scrolling social media. Stop gossiping and talking about things outside of your life.
Beyond that, as with almost anything in life, it depends. It depends on what you’re doing, on the direction, the desired outcome, and the individual situation. However, let’s go for something generic; you have a project you’re working on (work, business, relationship, physical, household maintenance, YOU…).
Therefore, this has a desired outcome, something to do or achieve.
This is where to start; drill down into what it is you really want to achieve. Is it a certain level of excellence in a project at work? Why? Is that so you can gain recognition, maybe a promotion? Is that so you can gain a higher income? Why? Is that in order to have more security? Why? So you can know the bills and ‘survival’ is covered and you can spend your spare time doing the things that are most important to you, with the people most important to you…?
See where I’m going with that line of thinking? You have to dig deeper into the real reasons WHY you want what you want.
Once you have this, you’ll establish clarity around why you will actually execute the required behaviours that will get you there. This is essentially the basis of intrinsic motivation; the tasty desirable juice of the fruit is worth all the effort to squeeze it.
Month to month, week to week, day to day
Once you have this ‘north star’ – the thing (or feeling that the goal with gives you) you’re working towards – we can reverse engineer a step by step plan to get you there. No matter how big or small the target, you can break it down in this manner.
Is your outcome 12 months away? Then what needs to be happening or reached in eight months time? Four months?
Don’t have a timeline? Make one up. As arbitrary as it may be, it’s the working towards something that matters most, not the specifics of time as such (it’s all about the behaviours it sets off, more than the specifics of the destination).
Break down the goal into stages and points you can measure. You might find it hard to know what progress is possible or plausible in that time. If that’s the case you have two options; guess. That’s fine. Secondly, ask someone who might have more of an idea than you.
Outcomes and behaviours
This will invariably lead to a bunch of desired outcomes. Outcomes are great; they are ‘mini north stars’. However, outcomes only happen through a series of behaviours that get us towards said outcome.
As a simple rule of thumb, set yourself the challenge (and expectation) of setting two behavioural goals per outcome goal. That is to say, work out specific behaviours you need to execute that will get you towards your desired outcome.
For example, you want to be able to deadlift 200kg. Nice, you’ll be pretty damn strong if you do and will benefit from it in many areas, including your hormones, musculoskeletal system and overall health. Plus I would imagine a healthy dose of self-respect and pride.
That’s a simple measurable outcome.
What behaviours will get you there?
Perhaps following a specific training program and completing all sessions, mobility and recovery work (insert specifics here). It could also mean eating the required fuel, e.g. four cups of vegetables a day and two fist-sized servings of protein, etc. It might involve ensuring you get minimum seven hours quality sleep a night.
See how this works? Take the goal, break it down into behaviours that you can, and must replicate every day (or whatever suits). Saying “I must” is much more powerful than saying “I should”.
Then you might have to break down further. For example, above, the seven hours quality sleep is an outcome in itself, so will require its own set of behaviours, e.g. no work in the hour before bed, brain dump before sleep, meditate, get to bed by 10pm, etc.
Once you have the bigger goal, break it down into monthly, weekly and daily short-term outcome and behavioural goals. This way at the start of any month you know what you’re working on, then each week and each day.
Boil it down to the most important behaviours, tasks and things to do; the things that will get you the most gain and progress.
Sounds simple, right?
Well, with a clear enough goal and set of behaviours, it actually is.
However, it’s not necessarily as easy as that. Often times we can’t do things alone. If we could, we probably would have, right?
Enter external accountability
One of the most important parts of making progress is to know yourself and how you operate best. If you look at your required tasks and behaviours for a specific day and know you have three covered, but the other two maybe not, then ask for help. Find someone that can hold you to account for those things. They are to check in later in the day (or whenever suitable) and ask if you did what you said you’d do.
Not only will this sharing capitalise on our desire not to let people close to us down, but it will call into account your own personal respect and integrity.
If you say you are going to do something, then in order to be in integrity, you must follow through on that. It’s a double whammy of progress; self-respect and the actual thing.
Share what is it you’re working on each day with someone and treat it as if you must get it done. You must.
Build achievements, no matter how small
All of these little goals and executed behaviours now become the source of further momentum. Each one is a small achievement and can be recognised as such.
Every day, week and month, look back at what you set out to do for that period and acknowledge each one. This helps to keep you aware of continual progress and/or lessons in areas you miss or ‘fail’ in achieving.
Be sure to continually align expectations with yourself too. No one is going to achieve everything they set out to do, and that’s ok. Find your level of give on this, and hold yourself to it. Then when you miss something, be kind to yourself, and ask “How can I do things more effectively next time?”
Before you know it, having a consistent series of small wins leads up to larger and larger wins. If we’re periodically assessing the relevance towards the North Star, then you will continually be making your way to wherever it is you intend and desire on moving toward.
This would be something like enjoying the process; continually achieving. Every day being able to go – “I did good stuff today, made progress and feel great about having done so. Nice job me.” – would be enjoying the journey, which will do wonders on leading you to destinations.
Life can get cloudy, grey, difficult and hard to manage, when we allow it. To step out of the rapids and take control of our own direction is a sign of personal leadership. It shows someone who knows what is important to them and is willing to live their lives in accordance with that.
The key to this is to cut out the noise, simplify to what you can control, and then execute.