I love self-help and personal development books. My mom always had books by Edgar Cayce and Wayne W. Dyer on the bookshelf, and I was reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” in high school. I probably learned more about being a functional adult from books than from life. I know some books like this make the general population roll their eyes. In all honesty, I love personal development books that a lot of people would consider “woo” or overly gimmicky in their spiritual “you can do it all” and “the only time you have is now” motivational techniques. I don’t love all of them (in fact, I found myself reading one lately and thinking even I couldn’t possibly transcend to the level of one-with-the-universe that this book required), but I do consider myself pretty open minded and I believe that we can change our life by changing our thoughts and habits, through the use of meditation, affirmations, and visualization techniques.
Being Zen About It
I often try to “be zen” about things that are stressing me out. It’s hard with anxiety, since my brain has a tendency to zoom headfirst into the worst case scenario and freak out about things that haven’t happened yet and probably won’t come to pass. Despite knowing that thinking positively helps my mental health, I get stuck in loops of extremely negative thoughts that are almost inescapable. I’ve written before about how I have used jewelry to help refocus my anxious thoughts, and that’s one coping mechanism that works for me.
The downside of believing that positive thoughts bring positive effects is that you also have to accept that negative thoughts can bring negative effects. It’s the classic self-sabotage cycle. Maybe you do this with weight loss, thinking “I don’t have the self-control to resist the donuts at work.” Two donuts later, you’re mad at yourself. But what else could you have done when you hold the fundamental belief that you’re no stronger than a donut? It is a task that’s nearly insurmountable at times, but you have to break the beliefs that hold you back.
I don’t go as far as some gurus and motivational writers, who say that everything in your life is your responsibility – including global affairs at large. Joe Vitale’s The Attractor Factor: 5 Easy Steps for Creating Wealth (or Anything Else) is one such book. I’ve listened to the audiobook two or three times and continue to pull amazing inspiration from it, but I have trouble with some of his larger concepts. I can take responsibility to work on my own maladjusted belief systems, but I have a hard time believing I can impact war or the epidemic of drug addiction or the lottery.
I mean, maybe it’s possible. But I am not that zen.
Why Do It?
Why do I make time to practice meditation, affirmations, and visualizations? Honestly, I don’t. Many many days have gone by without meditation, because I believe I’m bad at it and can’t do it right. So I never bother. (Hmm…maybe I should work on this). However, affirmation and visualization have become second nature to me and I perform them without even thinking. I’m also in the habit of a gratitude practice, especially when I find myself getting upset at something outside my control.
For example, I left for work a few minutes later than normal this morning, so traffic was more congested than usual. I saw the backed up rows of cars on the highway when I was turning onto the on-ramp and thought “Ah, crap!” but I followed that up immediately with, “That’s okay, I am grateful for more time in the car to listen to my audiobook.” What choices did I have? I could have left on time, but the time had already passed. At the moment of my decision to be grateful, the only choice I had was how to respond to the traffic jam. Despite heavy traffic, I got to work on time anyway. And I was in a cheerful mood!
To receive a blessing from the universe, you must be attuned to what you desire. It’s like we’re all humming threads on a universal guitar. If we want something, we have to be humming at the same frequency of the thing we desire in order to match and receive it. If we’re humming at a low vibration filled with self-sabotaging thoughts and doubts, we’re not anywhere near the level of vibration we need to match the thing we want. On the other hand, there’s a balancing act between wanting something and being desperate for it. When you’re desperate with a blind need for something to bless your life, you run the risk of over-pitching yourself and missing the vibration you need. (At this point I am going to have to name our firstborn child Zen because of how often I have to remind myself to not be desperate).
Even skeptics have found positive results from meditation, affirmations, and gratitude practices. Many professional development and leadership books tout the benefits of these small habits that can make a big difference in your day to day interactions and overall behavior.
If you’re worried about the time commitment, incorporating these practices doesn’t have to take up hours of your day. Start with a few minutes per day and work up from there when you feel the positive effects on your life. An excellent guide to get started is Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM). He has since come out with several related titles targeted for specific industries and other areas of life. This book is great for everyone from the skeptic to the believer.
How These Practices Help Your To-Do List
I’ve been swamped with projects and goal setting and to-do lists for the past several months. Currently on my plate are the following:
- Three book or ebook ideas
- Consistently publishing blogs on this website
- Boosting my social media presence for this blog
- Increasing my freelance writing income
- Home organization and design projects in essentially every room of my house
- Planning a vacation
- Making a financial plan for 2017
What’s keeping me from completing all these tasks? The fact that I’m trying to do a little of everything every day. I should have learned from my Dave Ramsey expertise that the best way to get traction is to take baby steps to make progress. Just like Dave’s advice isn’t to save for emergencies, buy a house, invest for retirement, and pay off debt all at the same time… my plan of action for these projects simply can’t be to chip off a tiny bite of each one at a time. I need to prioritize.
Motivation and priorities have also been an issue at work, where I have a similar spread of high, medium, and low priority projects that all need to be completed. For a while I tried using the urgent/important matrix to determine where to spend most of my time and effort, and then I just made lists of high, medium, and low priority tasks. I made sure to complete the high priority tasks each day but would often lose steam and save the medium and low priorities for the next day. But the next day, there were always new urgent priorities that made it to the high list. Chipping away at things wasn’t helping, once again. So I devised a new way to prioritize my to-do list.
Eat The Frog
When I say new, I mean new for me. This certainly isn’t an original concept. Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time is celebrated for its advice to start your day not with the easiest tasks to build momentum, but with the biggest, hardest, or most agonizing task you have. This is the frog.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” While I don’t think anyone should actually be eating live frogs as part of their to-do list, the advice is sound. Do the thing that sucks.
I now organize my work to-do list with the following four categories:
- Frog: This is the thing that I must do before all other things today. Maybe even before I check my email. Certainly before I eat lunch.
- Today: These are the high priority tasks that I need to do today, whether they are assigned to me by team members or my own goal list.
- This Week: These are important but don’t need handled today. I need to make time during the week to get them completed.
- Radar: This is something important coming down the line that is not urgent.
I Don’t Have Time
What if you don’t have time to only do one big thing until it’s done? Spoiler alert: You do. Jen Sincero points out that “not having time” is a lie we tell ourselves in her book You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.
“I don’t have time to find a real parking spot so I’ll park in this loading zone. Oh, look at that, I just spent three hours I don’t have getting my car out of the tow garage, another two getting lost on the way home, and forty-five minutes complaining about it to my wife…
When we’re forced to do something, suddenly the time is there. Which means it’s there all the time, but we’ve just chosen to limit ourselves by believing that it isn’t.”
I highly recommend Ms. Sincero’s book. I buy a copy of it for somebody roughly 4-5 times a year. Somehow I still haven’t bought myself a hard copy, but if Audible books could have a conversation, my audio copy of Badass would probably ask me why I’m not as zen as I should be after listening to it SO MANY TIMES.
You have 24 hours in a day, and the only time you can actually control is what you are doing RIGHT NOW. Everything before now is gone, and everything after now might change. So RIGHT NOW, do something that is important to your goals.
How to Prioritize
Regarding your time management, it comes down to figuring out your top priorities and then concentrating your efforts on 1-3 main goals, rather than shooting for a whole giant list of goals at a time. I follow Chalene Johnson’s 30 Day Push program, which used to be a video coaching series and now has been upgraded to a comprehensive 30-day journal system that walks you through setting 90-day goals and setting small achievable daily tasks to move yourself forward. Chalene’s program starts by having you rank several aspects of your life including physical health, mental health, relationships, friends and family, career, finances, etc., and then you choose the top three areas you should be prioritizing (these are the areas with the lowest scores, which means they need the most focus).
My three key areas for the first 90 days of 2017 are physical health, mental health, and my environment (aka my cluttered house that is driving me up a wall). I have 10 goals for this first quarter of the year, but my top three priorities focus on health and home. My “push goal,” or the goal that acts like a domino and helps you achieve more of your goals, is to create a daily to-do list with non-negotiable self-care items. This includes exercise, a bath, and a 9:30pm bedtime. Do I achieve these every day? No. But I am doing them a lot more consistently than before, and that has already made a huge difference in my daily life.
I didn’t even make my first quarter goals until the beginning of February, but making a small daily to-do list has helped me (in the last two weeks):
- Lose four pounds
- Maintain a consistent exercise routine
- Re-establish care with my therapist
- Make a doctor’s appointment to discuss anxiety medication (something I have procrastinated for years)
- Put considerable work into a book proposal (which I’ve been scared to write for months)
- Clean out and organize my closet
- Listen to a self-development book
- Pay off a credit card
I know some of those things don’t seem very monumental for most people. But for me, this is great progress. All things going well, you’ll be seeing a lot more content from me this year.
Thank you for your patience in waiting for this post, thank you for your readership, and thank you for all the positivity you put into the world. I am grateful for you.