This thing you’re struggling to do, what if you knew you had one hundred years to do it?
I came across this idea in Zen Mind, Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses, by Allan J. Hamilton, M.D. A rancher had a horse that got spooked by the horse trailer and would no longer go anywhere near it. The rancher was frantic, because he needed to transport that horse on some date that was fast approaching! He hired Dr. Hamilton to get that horse in the trailer!
The first step in Dr. Hamilton’s approach was to imagine that he had one hundred years to do it.
This immediately changed the energy around the horse and trailer from high pressure to no pressure. It also stopped fighting reality, which was that – unless the rancher used a crane – the horse was in charge of the timeline, not the rancher.
The long timeline also allowed Dr. Hamilton to break the task down into ridiculously easy, little steps–
- Day One. Put carrots 20 feet from the trailer. Stroke horse for eating said carrots.
- Day Two. Put carrots 19 feet from the trailer. Stroke horse for eating said carrots.
- Day Three. Put carrots 18 feet from the trailer…
You get the idea.
The result was that, by the end of three months – well within the rancher’s timeline – that trailer had become the horse’s happy place, no more carrots required.
Play with Time
Releasing time pressure is ironically one of the fastest ways to be more productive. It’s because pressure rarely helps, but relaxation almost always does. I noticed this in my life when I started having babies, and my awareness of all the ways this is true has only grown since I’ve been helping people get things done as a life coach.
Time can add pressure in two ways: when you’re afraid something will take forever and when you think you need more time than you have.
Instead of allowing time to be the boss of you in these situations, try being playful with time instead.
When You’re Afraid It Will Take Forever
Indefinite timelines can be scary. We often encounter them when we’re in any kind of transition, such as grieving a loss or learning something new.
Like how to be a parent.
I was so hard on myself after my first child was born! I thought I ought to be doing everything sooner and better than I was actually doing. “What’s wrong with me that I can’t manage to take a shower?” “I ought to be able to go for a walk by now.”
I was hard on my baby, too. I thought she ought to be doing everything sooner and better than she was. “Why aren’t you sleeping like the book says you should be?” “Why aren’t you breastfeeding better?”
By the time my son was born two years later, I was much more relaxed and confident. I knew from experience that the postpartum tumult would settle down in its own time, probably around three months. So, I decided to just kind of wait it out.
I gave us 90-days without any pressure to do anything but feed us and keep our bottoms dry! It wound up being one of the sweetest times in my whole life. (So sweet that I wrote a little program around it).
When you are facing a dauntingly indefinite timeline, play with it. Give yourself a period of time where you let that transition be all you do for a while, and where you let yourself be bad at it, “unproductive,” and needing lots of support.
To find the timeline, imagine different durations and notice how they feel in your body. When you find a timeline that feels good in your body, double it! How does that feel?
When You Think You Need More Time Than You Have
“I don’t have enough time!”
Wayfinder Life Coach Training taught me to notice when I was attaching to limiting or painful thoughts by noticing their effects: tension in the body, holding my breath, being irritable, snappish, etc. When you notice painful thinking, you can investigate it using The Work of Byron Katie. I discovered that one of my habitual thoughts was, “I don’t have enough time!”
So, I started investigating it. Whenever I do, ease enters in: ideas come to me, and I complete tasks with less effort, faster. It’s amazing, actually.
You can try it for yourself by doing The Work the next time you find yourself believing that you don’t have enough time.
You can also try Dr. Hamilton’s technique of releasing pressure by imagining that you have one hundred years to do the thing. What happens when you do?
Deep down, we’re all a little horse-y – “soft animal bodies” (to paraphrase the poet Mary Oliver) within this tough shell of adult human. Don’t fight reality. Don’t take a crane and force your precious self. Release the pressure and play with time instead.