Avoiding overwhelm and moving foward: Lab Rats Week 3

I’m not a big fan of detailed plans. They invite procrastination, paralysis and fear.

The more detailed our plan, the more likely we’ll turn it into a Plan, something god-like that needs to be adored and worshipped but never approached.

Still, as the Cheshire Cat told Alice, we need to know where we’re going or we’re just wasting time.

So, how do we find the compromise?

By figuring out only the big steps in your dream and then focusing on one task in the present that will advance your dream every day.

This is best explained with examples, so let’s dive right in…

(Barb got sucked away by life this week – but we’ll catch up with her next week).

Let’s start with Cat. Her dream is to finish something (anything!) and chose to use her office at work as a sample of something she’ll finish.

Here are the big steps to realizing the dream:

  1. Get rid of the clutter (papers, items that are not used regularly).
  2. Find places for things that are used regularly and need to be easily on hand.
  3. Attack under the desk.  Clean everything out and vacuum.
  4. Restock items that are low or need to be replaced.
  5. Maintain the order….rather than letting it slip back into chaos.

On their own, each is a pretty big project and perhaps Cat hasn’t been able to face finishing other projects in the past because the sheer size of projects overwhelms her (another thing Cat wants to accomplish is polishing her Japanese – a daunting project indeed!). She could accept help organizing the office and maybe get the whole thing done in a day, but would anything change? Not likely because for Cat the challenge is dealing with projects that don’t begin and end right away.

So, Cat’s going to take the office organizing slowly and the first (and only!) thing she’s going to do is not add to the pile. Each day at the end of the day she’ll look at her desk and ask herself if she has added to the disorder. And if she has, she will take the time to do something with what she’s added.

That’s it. Nothing more. In this instance, patience is necessary. Learning a language takes years and requires a lot of patience and much repetition. Let’s practice that patience with the office. We can think of it as an organizing version of “wax on, wax off.”

Now it’s Jim’s turn. His journey is much more internal than the other Lab Rats, so requires a different sort of approach.

His steps to reach his dream of “living freely and happily” aren’t as sequential as Cat’s and are harder to measure:

  • Be aware of thoughts every day, and correcting the errors in thinking that lead to a loss of self-esteem.
  • Expose himself (no, not that way!) to new situations, new friends.
  • Break free of my dependency on external sources of happiness.
  • Have the courage to make life-decisions based on his needs and desires.

Jim is well aware of how tiring and much of a challenge it is to break free of life-long patterns, but he also knows change is very possible.

He’s aware of how strong his dependence on external validation is. For example he knows that his long-distance partner Heidi who he hasn’t talked to in a week and won’t talk to for another three weeks is out there rooting for him, but it pains him not to get that validation directly.

Instead of tackling that sore spot head on, Jim can just acknowledge the pain and work on something less sensitive, like a massage therapist working on the muscles all around a particularly tender knot.

So what is Jim going to focus on?

He’s going to focus on his thought patterns. That’s it. He’s not going to correct them or berate himself for them. He’s simply going to pay attention to his thoughts, noting when he’s being negative or positive and in what situations.

Plus he’s already taken some other steps. He’s been reading Feeling Good by David Burns which talks directly to his issues, and he’s been getting professional help to coach him through it all.

And that leaves us with Brett who, like Cat, dreams of finishing projects, specifically things around the house. We already know that Brett’s seen the effects of small changes, so let’s take a look at what big steps he sees to getting his house in shape.

He started with a walkthrough of the house to check out what needed doing and this is what he came up with:

  • Empty Downstairs and Shed
  • Finish Floors, Walls and Furniture Downstairs
  • Paint Upstairs
  • Decorate  the 4 bedrooms
  • Renovate Kitchen and Bathroom

Brett acknowledges that each of these steps could be a dream/goal in itself, but since he dreams of a completed house we’ll stick with this daunting list. I say daunting because faced with a list like this, I too would most likely find myself sitting on the couch channel surfing or playing around on the Internet.

And because Brett has the most to physically do, he chose the most physical daily action to pursue. Here’s what he had to say:

I can pack up one box of stuff from downstairs each day. We have plenty of books and stuff as well as various computer bits and games and toys for young and old stored there and it all needs to come out for the new floors.

By just doing one box a day, I can focus on getting stuff out and not worry about how I will sort it all, throw away the excess and fit what is left back in.

Right now, it is just getting one box at a time packed and out of the way.

Of course given the way life often interferes with our plans one box a day might not happen, but by thinking about it every day (and not beating himself up when a box does not get packed) Brett commits to action and moves forward without as he says thinking about the rest of the multitude of tasks awaiting him.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to know what one thing you do each day to advance your dream.

I’ll get started. With my writing, until the first draft of the current novel is done, my daily action is “write for the pleasure of writing.” That’s it. I know where I want my writing to go, but for the time being I don’t need to think about anything else other than writing for the pleasure of telling this particular story.

You?

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12 thoughts on “Avoiding overwhelm and moving foward: Lab Rats Week 3

  1. My goal at the moment is a half marathon race at the end of May. I have been following a training schedule that says do x miles on x day of the week. But, as you point out, life gets in the way. And here is where I normally get completely off track. If I don’t do x miles on x day of the week I end up not doing any miles on any day.

    Today, having not done Monday’s and Wednesday’s runs, I took a brand new approach. I simply added up the total miles for the week I am supposed to run (which happens to be 12). Then I decided that my only goal was to get 12 miles in before the end of day on Sunday.

    Today I did 4 miles. That leaves me 3 days to do 8 more miles. Very doable.

    No stress, no rigid plans to fall off of.

    Urban Panther´s last blog post..A funny thing happened at the graveside

  2. My goal? I guess it would be to learn the lessons of being without direction, to be ok with not having any particular direction to go in. How’s that for internal or non-linear?!

    My daily thing. To give myself permission each day to not do what I only think I’m supposed to do.

    James | Dancing Geek´s last blog post..Selfish compassion

  3. Alex Fayle says:

    @UP
    That is a great way of doing it – you know your goal but you can complete it in a totally free way, no pressure.

    @James
    Learning to allow ourselves to do nothing can be a real challenge, especially since we are conditioned since birth pretty much to always be doing. Good luck!

  4. Melinda says:

    I need to declutter my entire house. It’s a big house and I’ve been collecting for a very long time! Honestly, every time I think about it I just feel totally overwhelmed and depressed! Even thinking room by room is depressing!

    I know what I ‘should’ be doing, yet I keep procrastinating even the starting! *slinks away in shame*

    Melinda´s last blog post..Business Practices that Make you Look Bad

  5. Alex Fayle says:

    @Melinda
    Decluttering can become an overwhelming task for sure. I’d suggest two things (beyond telling the shame to go take a hike – the guilt just makes the desire to do it even lower)

    Suggestion #1: Do the same thing that Cat is doing and don’t add to the clutter: start a one-in-one-out policy or work by the rule “If it takes less than a minute, do it.” You’ll be amazed at how quickly the rest of the clutter seems to melt away when you don’t add to it.

    Suggestion #2: Hire a professional organize who can help you set up systems to avoid building up clutter. http://www.aapo.org.au/ (You are in Oz aren’t you?)

    Good luck!

  6. Melinda says:

    Can I get a waiver for books? LOL! Anything else I can do a one-in-one-out except for books!

    Thanks for that Alex, I like the idea of doing something that takes less than a minute! One minute! I’ve been looking at an hour – and that was too much.

    Can’t believe there’s a whole association for Professional Organisers! Yay! Thanks for the link, and yes, I’m in Oz. 🙂

    I’m pretty good at not picking up guilt, really!

    Melinda´s last blog post..Do You Have Blogger’s Block? Coming up With New Content Continuously

  7. Brett Chapman says:

    @Melinda
    My place is so very cluttered, especially downstairs hich is why i focussed on one box at a time.. We had already filled a 7 cubic metre skip with stuff that we threw out just from downstairs and still the place is overflowing. We disposed of a laundry basket of old demo CD’s, 7 PC’s that were past any usefulness as well as masses of old magazines and plenty of other crap. I was suprised at how good that alone felt… Now, the rest is being packed up a box at a time… I am amazed at how good it feels just to finish one box! It only takes me about 10 – 15 minutes to do one. Now I can actually see them stacked up and realise that I am actually accomplishing something.

  8. Alex Fayle says:

    @Melinda
    If your books are well ordered and they don’t interfere with your day to day life, then you can definitely get that waiver. 😉

    @Brett
    Wow! Congratulations! You’re making some pretty big changes. I hope you’re taking photos along the way (after all one of your goals is pictures on Unclutter.com).

  9. Melinda says:

    Alex, books are my sanity! We currently have around 90+ feet of books! (measured them for our last move). Books are actually the one thing in that house that is well ordered!

    Brett, that’s great! Want to come over and start on my place? It’s a pretty big house though, so it doesn’t look as cluttered as it normally would. I’m dreading the day we have to move again!

    Melinda´s last blog post..Business Practices that Make you Look Bad

  10. Sandra Ludwig says:

    That book by David Burns saved my life when I was 18 years old. I mean that, literally.
    I still use it lo these many years later.
    I am still trying to organize my beading area. It is actually multi-use–it’s a library room, as well as where I keep my mixed media art supplies, and my sewing machine! Last night, I actually designed a new bracelet and played with some color combos for jewelry. Feels good!

  11. Alex Fayle says:

    @Sandra
    Yay to designing a new bracelet. I can imagine how great it feels – I get like that when I come up with a new story idea. And I’ve added the Burns book to my Amazon Wish List. 😉

  12. […] At first, just don’t add anything new to the pile. – “On their own, each is a pretty big project and perhaps Cat hasn’t been able to face finishing other projects in the past because the sheer size of projects overwhelms her.  She could accept help organizing the office and maybe get the whole thing done in a day, but would anything change?  Not likely because for Cat the challenge is dealing with projects that don’t begin and end right away.  So, Cat’s going to take the office organizing slowly and the first (and only!) thing she’s going to do is not add to the pile. Each day at the end of the day she’ll look at her desk and ask herself if she has added to the disorder. And if she has, she will take the time to do something with what she’s added.” – via Someday Syndrome […]

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