(The above image is Diana Nyad emerging from the water onto the Florida shore. At the age of 64, on her fifth attempt, she became the first woman to swim without a shark tank from Cuba to Florida.)
Last week I wrote about doing the Work on the thought, “I haven’t gotten anything done.” In addition to being objectively untrue, we discovered that the thought was damaging and self-fulfilling. Rather than motivating, it kept me stuck and unproductive. The Work allowed me to shift my focus from lack to accomplishment, and that opened the doors to creativity and productivity.
But what if you can admit that you are productive, but you’re still unhappy? There’s something underneath “I haven’t gotten anything done.” It’s that you’re not getting done something that’s important to you.
It is important to acknowledge your accomplishments. It’s also important to align your action with your true heart’s desire. Here’s how in five simple steps.
Get clear about what you want.
1. Are you sure you want it?
We usually get what we want deep down. If you lack what you think you want, are you sure you want it? Is it possible you feel that you should want it, but you really don’t?
For example, a few years ago I decided I should blog. I have always thought of myself as a writer. I had a childbirth education and coaching practice that kept me busy, but there was definitely room to grow. Blogging seemed the perfect next step to share what I had to offer with a wider audience.
I wrote in “free” moments. It took ages to finish a first draft and ages more of editing before finally posting. This wasn’t anything like the blogs I admired and wanted for my practice. Why?
Because a part of me didn’t want anything to change! My children were growing up fast. I felt more driven to be completely there for them – especially with a Naval officer husband who deployed – than I felt to grow my business. When I wasn’t comparing myself negatively to other, more prosperous coaches, I noticed that I was happy with the life and practice that I had.
I figured out what I really wanted then. Earlier this year, I was ready to take my practice to another level. (That’s a story for another time!) Before I did, I had to ask myself the next question:
2. Do you believe you deserve it?
In my case, did I deserve to move a little deeper into my work and ask my family to be more independent?
Don’t make this a referendum on your self-worth. Allow it to be simple. You deserve it not because of what you’ve done, but because of who you are: a human being. The world needs every one of our unique creative energies! Who are you not to?
My family completely supported me. Once I freed myself from the question of whether I deserved to have a fuller work life separate from my family, I was free to focus on the next, practical question:
3. What are you willing to give up in order to get what you want?
In my case, this is still a work in progress. In order for my family to be more independent, I have to let go and share the household responsibilities. It also happens to be good for my kids to learn to do things for themselves. I love a win-win!
Maybe you want your partner to help more around the house. Are you willing to
let him screw it up not micromanage and let him figure out his own way to do it?
How to have it.
4. Take turtle steps each day.
To human eyes turtles move laughably slowly. Watch a turtle for two minutes and you cannot imagine how he gets anywhere. But don’t be like the hare in the fable who underestimates him. Slow and steady really does win the race.
Any task can be broken down into steps. The mistake we make is trying to take steps that are too big and overwhelm us, so we break down mid-step or stop before we begin. So make your steps small. Then smaller. Smaller! Until you’re laughing at the ridiculous do-ability of the step. Then do it and acknowledge your accomplishment.
Repeat these turtle steps at a pace that feels easy to you. You undermine yourself if you put too many turtle steps on your daily to-do list. That’s a hare’s leap in turtle clothing! The key is that each step feel doable and the pace feel easy.
In coach training, Martha Beck, who originated this tool, told us that she wrote her PhD dissertation in turtle steps. She had no choice: she was in excruciating pain from fibromyalgia and caring for her three children under five – including one with special needs. If it worked for her. . . .
As for me, I gave myself permission to “just write.” I would start with a topic, but if I veered off the trail that was great! I just started a new document and continued until another idea popped in, etc. I wrote as long as the writing was easy, even if that was just 100 words. Then I switched to the next easy idea. In between writing, those unfinished ideas would develop in my mind, so that when I next sat down, there was more easy writing at the ready.
5. Do the important thing first.
Here’s the thing: your day can be full of accomplishments, but it will feel like nothing if the thing that matters most to you remains undone.
In my case, I set aside every weekday afternoon from 2 – 4 for writing. Though technically I wasn’t doing it “first,” I made that time sacrosanct. Regardless of the other claims on my time, writing took precedence in those hours.
This approach has helped me to be more productive and content than I have been in years. What is your important thing? Take a moment to imagine how it will feel when you make time for it every day. When you feel that way, what kind of mother will you be? What kind of partner? Friend? When mama’s happy, everyone is happy!
Hey, friends! I’m GIVING AWAY Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star, my go-to book for finding clarity. To enter the drawing, SUBSCRIBE to the newsletter by filling in the box below. If you’re already subscribed, FORWARD your copy of the latest newsletter to a friend — be sure to copy me in the e-mail so I know you’ve done it. I’ll announce the winner in the Monday, October 13, newsletter. Yay, giveaways! xo