I recently received this very beautiful question from one of our STEPpers:
“Do you feel like you had a lot of years of struggle before you finally reached the state you are now, of less busy and stressed and mentally clear, or was it a lightbulb moment or choice? I have literally been at this for years and I really don’t know if I’m actually progressing or just digging my hole even bigger.”
I had a lot of thoughts on this, so I thought it would be helpful to record this podcast episode. Here are some basic principles, and then please add to the conversation in the Comments section!
(1) If you are currently carrying a heavy workload, and you’re trying to make significant change in the middle of that, it’s wise to give yourself as much grace as possible.
We know it’s tricky to shovel snow in the middle of a snowstorm, and if there are a lot of routines on your plate, habits you want/need to change, and minimal support, giving yourself time to change is a gift.
(2) Your efforts are laying a powerful foundation for future change.
I first set up my Command Central in 2008. We had a young family, with children ages one to 8, and I was desperate for mental relief from all the tasks swirling in my mind and cluttering up my planner pages.
When I read Getting Things Done and realized I could create a system that could hold all of the papers, ideas, projects, etc., I jumped in with both feet. I wore pajamas most of the week, served cereal for dinner each night, stayed up until 3am getting my emails to zero, and worked steadily until every paper and task and idea was safely in my Command Central. I could see the vision, and I didn’t stop until it was complete.
I guess you could call that a “lightbulb moment.” However, I’d been using a Franklin planner since 1991. I’d attended all kinds of time management seminars and read dozens of books on the subject. I’d made routines lists and checklists and had lots of experience with trial and error. I’d studied decluttering and worked with friends and family members to help them declutter their areas. And I had a deep “why” because the economy was not doing well, and I wanted to contribute to our family’s overall wellness and success.
So even though I built my Command Central in a week and never looked back, I’d been thinking about and studying productivity for more than 15 years.
(3) Sometimes the right idea is waiting for the right time.
I read a book called “How to Be CEO” back in 2005, and I didn’t let anyone know I was reading it. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mother without a business, and I felt haughty for even thinking about being a CEO. It felt fancy–and so different from my life taking care of little children (which I knew was vital and noble work). But one of the concepts in that book is, “Every idea has its time.”
That stuck with me, and so I took good notes and wrote things down in my knowledge binder, and a decade later, I did become CEO of LearnDoBecome. (Eric and I don’t really use titles, but I call myself the “Chief Encouragement Officer.”)
A few months ago, our 15-year-old son got a job at a restaurant down the street. He loves his job and is doing so well there, and it has freed up an incredible amount of brain space for me. Prior to him getting a job, I felt like I needed to check in with him constantly to figure out what he was doing with his time, and it took more energy than he or I wanted. But now, I’m finding it’s so easy to get things done, read books, and think through problems I need to solve. I didn’t realize how much I had on my plate (or how much pressure I put on myself to “monitor” our son), and now that he’s happily working, the ideas I had before have found their “right time.”
(4) We have the privilege of asking good questions.
“To know and not to do is not to know.”
I love that quote by Stephen R. Covey, and although it sounds a little harsh at first, I like to think of it like this:
“If I am struggling to make a change or to achieve a goal, I simply have not yet learned all I need to know.”
This feels empowering to me.
For example, I’m trying to figure out how to reach some goals I set for myself at LearnDoBecome. Sometimes I feel frustrated because I don’t see myself getting closer to where I want to be. But then I take a step back and ask, “What else could I learn?” or “Who could I learn from?” I start to see how what I thought was moving me toward success wasn’t necessarily the most optimal thing I could do.
To offer a “productivity” example, if you want your email inbox to live at zero, but it never happens, you could go into the STEP Mastery Facebook group and explain what you’ve done and where you’re stuck–and ask for advice.
If your morning routine never happens, you could post it in the group and explain why you aren’t feeling successful with it.
I have groups of business owners I engage with online, and if I’m really ready to change, I can articulate my situation and my questions as well as I can and then post those to the group.
(5) Sometimes there’s something deeper going on.
Over the past several years, I’ve worked with a few cognitive behavioral therapists and read multiple books by authors who specialize in neuroscience. This fascinates me because I used to think that it was just a weakness or “my fault” if I couldn’t overcome personal challenges.
Now I understand that we often have hidden emotions or events in our past that we subconsciously (or consciously) categorized as “trauma,” and there are often really good reasons why we don’t want to move forward.
Sometimes it’s because the identity we’d have to assume once the challenge is conquered doesn’t feel comfortable for us.
Sometimes we feel resentment toward a person, so we don’t want to change and give that person the satisfaction of being “right” or “in charge of us.”
Sometimes we have something bigger that we need to heal first, so we can make room for the improvements we want in our lives.
Those are just a few initial thoughts, but whenever I don’t see “change” happening, I find it helpful to step back a bit and ask myself if perhaps there’s some element of the situation that I’m not seeing clearly.
We all want to experience quick changes. The phrase “overnight success” sounds amazing. Waking up in the morning and having zero relationship challenges, zero dirt in your house, zero problems at work, and everything you could ever want sitting right on your porch sounds so great!
But that’s not the point of all of this…
I heard about a biodome in Arizona, where they created a “tiny version of earth” in order to learn about “how the planet’s living systems actually work.” (See this article on Medium.com.)
What’s fascinating is that when the trees reached a certain height, they dropped dead. There was no wind to create the stress that enabled the trees to become strong.
And in a recent 2-way journal experience, I asked God why it was so hard for me to reach some of my goals (remember, LearnDoBecome is for people from all backgrounds, and I’m just sharing my personal experience). A portion of the beautiful response I received was this:
Your purpose is not to achieve every goal right now. You have a lifetime of service ahead of you. Your purpose is to pay attention each day to My Spirit, move forward—as appropriate—on the promptings you feel, and align yourself with Me.
Growing and learning is a privilege. If you look back 5 years, or even 1 year, you can see at least one area where you’ve transformed. Yes, the progress doesn’t always happen as quickly as we’d like, but in my opinion, if we know we’re on to something, and if we feel good as we keep moving forward, it’s worth the ups and downs and all the energy that is required.
Sending lots of love!
- “Emails to Zero” Challenge & Free Training
- [PODCAST 169]: Beautiful Experiences with the “Two-Way Journal”
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