What's stopping you?

I’m a great believer in self-help books as a way to help motivate me to achieve my goals and learn from the highs and lows of others. ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ (Richard Carlson); ‘Wanting Everything’ (Dorothy Rowe); ‘The Road Less Travelled By’ (M. Scott Peck) and ‘Change Your Life in Seven Days’ (Paul McKenna) are just a tiny scattering of the plethora of ‘make me happier and better (hopefully without trying very hard)’ literature that lines my shelves.

However, I am aware that, sometimes I like reading about change much more than doing anything about it, especially when change means doing a few things that I’m not that keen on – pleasant sensation seeker, quick fix lover that I am.

Indeed, I’ve learnt from experience that the thought – or at least too much thought – certainly doesn’t count when it comes to getting what you want. I’ve actually been guilty of procrastinating so much that I’ve forgotten what my goal was in the first place.

Eventually, I recognised that sticking my head in the sand where some goals were concerned was causing constant underlying frustration as well as a lack of focus – when you’re thinking about what you should be doing (and not doing it), it’s likely that it’s diverting you from doing all the satisfying things that you can – what a waste of time and energy.

A simple yet good example of this that I have never forgotten is a domestic one. There was a loose carpet on my stairs - for two years. Practically every day I thought something along the lines of ‘I must get that carpet fixed.” Hardly a major chore in retrospect but for two years I had the same thought without actually doing anything about it.

This thought would often catalyse a spiral of thoughts that would put me in a thoroughly bad mood such as: “Actually, the whole carpet needs to be replaced…and, the whole house needs to be painted…no gutted and renovated…and, it was a big mistake to buy this house in the first place because it’s going to cost a fortune to do it the way that I want and I’ll never get my investment back anyway.”

Eventually (through weariness rather than positivity), I went to B & Q, bought some glue and stuck the carpet down. It was easy, cheap and took me 10 minutes.

From this experience I realised two important things:

1. Don’t procrastinate, act – this may mean doing something that you don’t want to do or think you can’t do to get what you ultimately want. You might have to change your attitude a bit and do some research too – this can be as simple as reading the back of a glue tube!

2. Break your goals down into manageable steps. I realised the loose carpet wasn’t the underlying issue. What was really making me procrastinate was what I considered to be the enormous task of completely making over my house.

As it happened, taking the first small ‘carpet’ step opened my mind and motivated me to move forward. I changed my attitude: previously I had been thinking that unless I could do all that I wanted to do to my house in one fell swoop it wasn’t worth bothering about. This way of thinking suddenly seemed ridiculous. So, I made a plan (room by room), found out exactly what it would cost (it was a fair bit but not as expensive as I’d originally thought) and took it from there. In the first two years, I stuck down a piece of carpet. In the second two years I completed the make over!

On achievement of what I considered to be a major goal, I resisted the temptation to mentally kick myself into oblivion for not doing it earlier. Another lesson I’ve learnt – there are times to be hard on yourself and times to learn from your life experiences and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the pack.

Now, I’m never going to love DIY and will always ask or pay others for help in this area (yet another lesson – you don’t have to do everything yourself – especially if opportunity cost wise you can be more productive and satisfied elsewhere). But, now, when I’m faced with a challenge – easy or very difficult – I think of that carpet and apply the same principles. It works for me – at least enough of the time to get more out of life whether it’s professional or social. Admittedly, reading and thinking about acting is still my not so guilty pleasure.

Taking action

For all you procrastinators out there, a very successful friend recommended a self-help book to me, which he swears by – ‘Eat the Frog’ (Brian Tracy). It looks at getting more things done in the limited time you have. The central idea of the book is that you have to find out that one task that you need to do that will make the most difference (not the task you feel like doing) and take urgent steps immediately to do it. Ten of Tracy’s recommendations follow:

1. Write down your goals

2. Plan every day in advance

3. The most important tasks and priorities are those with most serious consequences. Focus on them.

4. Practice the ABCDE method: prioritise task from A (most important) to E.

5. Focus on key results: identify those results that you absolutely have to get to do your job well then work and spend most of your time on these.

6. Obey the law of forced efficiency: there is never enough time to do everything but there is always enough time to do the most important things. What are they?

7. Do your homework. The more knowledgeable and skilled you become at your key tasks, the faster you start them and the sooner you get them done.

8. Motivate yourself into action. Focus on the solution not the problem.

9. Put the pressure on yourself. Imagine that you have to leave town for a month and work as if you had to get all your major tasks done before you left.

10. Do the most difficult task first – the one task that can make the greatest contribution to yourself and your work. Resolve to stick at it until it’s complete.


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