Here’s a moment I have found put myself into a lot recently:
“Why am I doing this thing I’m doing? I really need to be doing something else. I’m wasting my time, getting distracted, spending money I don’t have, working on somebody else’s stuff instead of my own … basically because I said I would, and I don’t want to go back on that.”
“Man, I have really screwed this up. I said I would have done A-B-C by now, and I need to be done with D tomorrow, and I’ve barely finished with A. I’m screwed … but I can save it! I’ll stay up all night, drop everything else, instantly develop Awesome Focus and kick serious ass.”
What happens after both of these scenarios is some kind of paralysis. The internal self-doubting machinery goes into high gear, eventually it gets set on Torture Mode, and pretty soon I’m an asshole, a failure, lazy, whatever. This, of course, leads to greater paralysis, and worse.
Lately, I’ve worked on the following response to this situation: Accept reality, and turn off the hype.
Reality, in these scenarios, is that I didn’t plan my time well and committed to something without getting the more important stuff done first, or I didn’t maintain focus on a project and am now behind. That’s all. It’s like having 50 dollars in the bank when I said I would or should have 100. That’s the reality. The hype is all the spinning, crazy stuff that starts up after seeing the 50 dollars, or remembering I’m committed to something that now I don’t want to do, or realizing I’m about to miss a deadline.
But accepting the reality means facing a lot of fears: the basic fear, of course, is that I’ll wind up sad and alone, and in this case it will be because I’m a failure, loser, asshole, and bad with money. And admitting to any of these screw-ups really brings up the fear! I mean, when people find out what I’ve done, or not done, why would they ever want to hang out with me again?
So, as a sponsor of mine once said, about a situation that involved me and three attractive women (long story), “What would a person without fear do in this situation?” He didn’t mean, of course, drop all your fears and get into action – we’re both human, after all. What he wanted was for me to imagine a whole new perspective on the situation, one in which I am not threatened at all. What would I do then?
Well, that answer is always pretty darn simple:
- Drop out of the event, with honest apologies, and learn the lesson.
- Go do the thing, without resentment or pouting, and learn the lesson.
- Admit, with honest apologies, that you’re going to miss the deadline, and learn the lesson.
- Go berserk and try to work your ass off to meet the deadline, and learn the lesson.
- Develop some realistic strategies to make more money, spend less, borrow some, whatever … and, well, you know.
He liked to say things like, “It would be a shame to go through all that misery and not learn anything.”
And what is this lesson? I always go back to a sports story, which I believe is true. Years ago, a certain college had a pretty good basketball team and a great coach. They were headed for the NCAA tournament and expected to win it. Their last game of the season was at home against some team they were “supposed” to whip, only they didn’t. They coasted and enjoyed themselves, and they got beat.
As you might imagine, they didn’t take this well, nor did their fans. But their coach took it very well. He accepted reality and removed the hype, and decided there was a lesson for his players to learn. See, there’s always a lesson in these fears and “negative” feelings; we just tend to ignore them while rationalizing and trying to stuff the feelings.
So the coach, instead of calling timeouts, rallying his team and making substitutions and whatnot, just let them get rolled. They got sadder and madder and more confused, and then, with about 10 seconds left in the game and the other team celebrating their certain victory, the coach called a timeout. In a basketball sense, this made no sense at all; the game’s over, and there’s nothing we can do.
Well, that was true about the game – about the past – but it was teaching time. And the coach gave a talk that went more or less like this: “You feel like crap, don’t you? Angry, frustrated, sad, embarrassed? Well, you should. You screwed up. You lost your focus, and this is the price you pay. But that’s done. There’s nothing you can do about this game. We’ve lost.
“So here’s what I want you to do. Feel this feeling. Let it all the way in. Feel the hurt, the pain, the anger. Own it. Remember it, deeply. And then swear to yourself that you’ll do whatever it takes to never feel this way again. Next time you feel like coasting, remember this feeling. Next time you’re tired and don’t want to practice, remember this feeling. Next time you think a game is getting away from you, remember this feeling. And swear that you’re not going to feel this way again.
The team lost that game, of course, but three weeks later they won the NCAA championship – because they worked their asses off and didn’t get mired in despair.
I guess what I’m saying is that process – just like the recovery process – starts with accepting reality and removing the hype. Yeah, I screwed this up (or, Yeah, I’m an alcoholic), but that’s not the whole story, and I’m going to write the next part right now. And the next part will be based in reality.
And the next time I am tired or asked to take on somebody else’s work or about to make a financial decision or plan a project, or take a drink … I will remember this feeling, and remember that I don’t want to feel that way again. I’ll “play the whole tape,” as they say, and then make a decision to go in the healthy direction.
I’ve heard God described as something like Eternal Perspective, or a Complete Lack of Ego. Imagine that: being in touch with past, present and future, without tripping on it, and moving through life without fear. And without hype.
I’m going to keep trying that.