Slowly but Surely

I wouldn’t call myself a great proponent of mantras. I’ve never been one to rely heavily on mantras before. But lately, I have to admit that that there are a few sayings that have slipped their way into my consciousness and on which I have started to rely to make it through the days of this crazy thing that we call life.

The one that reared its head the most this week is a new idea I’ve been dwelling on: As slow as you want.

This might come as a shock (…unlikely), but I can be a pretty lazy person. It’s not one of my favorite qualities about myself. I’ve previously written at length about procrastination in all its painstaking glory. I think a part of this laziness and lack of motivation might stem from feeling overwhelmed, feeling like a certain chore is just too many steps all at once, or a series of tasks is just too big to think about tackling, so why start at all? I think introverts in particular probably fall prey to this thought process, as a book under the blankets takes a lot less effort than most other things in life. And I wish I was talking about tasks that are actually large and significant. I’m not. I’m talking about the day in, day out things we want to ideally accomplish as functioning, healthy, contributing members of society and our households – the laundry, the shopping, the dishes, giving the dog a bath, getting to the gym, getting dressed in the morning (…yes I have motivation issues in the morning, don’t act like you wake up every day ready to adult the hell outta things).

It doesn’t help that I am also not someone who would be described as a patient person. In fact it’s worse than that – I’m someone who likes to appear patient, who likes others to think that I’m patient, but those that truly know me know what’s up. I might be lazy because I’m so impatient. If I perceive that I can’t get something done as fast as I think it should be done (which in most cases means five minutes ago) then it overwhelms me and I put it off.

BUT, in recent months, I’ve been dwelling on little sayings to help me get through, and one of them is little by little. It’s not a new or novel idea. It’s just that simple reminder that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will my rat’s nest of a closet be magically organized overnight. But if I give myself permission to organize a shelf at a time or unpack a box at a time, I will eventually see my closet floor again.

It’s along these same lines while reminding myself to tackle things little by little that I learned the power of taking things as slow as you want. On the surface, this might seem like a sluggish way to live life, and maybe it is, but I have to share that I’ve gotten more things done this week than in many weeks previous by allowing myself to work at a snail’s pace, focusing on one step at a time, and reminding myself in the process that eventually I will get done. This has been a game changer for me in several areas like getting ready in the morning or getting to the gym. Apparently, I just really hate getting dressed…It’s a lot of work, finding the right socks, pants, shirt, bra, shoes, packing work bags or gym bags, filling water bottles or making lunches, grabbing keys and phone and headphones. I’m tired just writing that sentence. But if I just think about the first item: find socks…check; choose pants…check; pet my dog…check, check, check. Eventually I end up on the Stairmaster, and I’ve achieved a goal. And, you know what? That’s a very motivating thing.

These mantras remind me that it’s okay to break a task down into mini steps. Admittedly, sometimes time matters and you do have to move fast. But when time doesn’t have to be a factor, I’m learning that I don’t always have to make it one. Consequently, this is helping me to live in the moment, to live in the task at hand. I’ve also realized that it makes me more pleasant because I’m not just being an impatient jerk.

And when I get anxious or judgy about efficiency, I just remind myself of a new lesson that’s come out of all this: Slow is better than not at all. 

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Feeling Overwhelmed: How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Feeling overwhelmed…

Where to start? Where to begin? We’ve all been there. Staring into the eyes of a seemingly insurmountable feat. Maybe it’s applying to grad school, maybe it’s that immense beast of a project at work, maybe it’s the family laundry pile you’ve been ignoring in your basement because you just don’t even know where to jump in. Mountains, whatever their form, can be extremely overwhelming.

…what questions feed that feeling?

I wish I could say that by now I have mastered this monster, being overwhelmed, but the truth is I still get stuck more often than I would like to admit. One of my biggest challenges is that I still tend to see the mountain instead of the steps. In a dual-post last year, I wrote on how feeling overwhelmed can lead to some major procrastination. And it’s this question of not knowing where to start that’s the culprit of the stalemate. But if we really unpack this riddle of where to start for a moment, we will find that often this dilemma is anchored in other questions…is there a right place to start? How will I know?

Like I said, obviously this is not unfamiliar territory for me, I’ve written on similar dilemmas before–my very first blog post was about perfection paralysis, discussing how worrying whether you are doing something right can seriously stall you out. Feeling overwhelmed is such a motivation killer and can stop you in the muck if you let your mind run rampant with all the different avenues to pursue and continually questioning which one is right. This idea of endless avenues is pervasive. We find it in the dating world where there’s no shortage of dating sites to be on and apps to utilize. In the writing world there’s endless articles, Facebook groups, writer’s workshops, magazines to submit to and competitions to enter. I’ve experienced this most acutely in my recent job search. With so many avenues to pursue, it’s not any wonder that we end up with the questions, where do I start? Where do I end? And is it enough? In this light, being overwhelmed is really a crisis of definition, or rather, a lack of guidelines.

How do we overcome it?

When I get stuck in this cycle of more questions than answers, I again have to remind myself that when you don’t have any way of knowing if you’re doing enough or doing it right or where to start or when you’re finished, it’s best to just pick something and do what you can.

1 – Give yourself permission to narrow your focus or narrow your field. For me, this might look like choosing one or two favorite job boards and working on applications only through those channels. I know this sounds sacrilegious but in this day of endless job board channels with thousands of jobs posted on each, there’s no way to thoroughly search all of them and keep up with all of the opportunities that they produce; better to make a focused effort on a few channels than to allow all of it to overwhelm you at once.

2 – Setting your own finite goals about what you want to accomplish is key in combating this. Create your own definition, your own guideposts. This might look like setting a time frame to get done as much as possible in a set block of time, whether it’s an hour or four hours. Or perhaps giving yourself a unit goal would be helpful, like committing to complete three applications a day.  Committing to the approach, the habit, or the goal will go a long way in helping to make the endeavor manageable.

3 – Get comfortable in accepting the fact that there will always be multiple ways to proceed or more you ‘could’ do. As an idealist, I have an incredibly hard time with this concept. I like things to have a right way, to be defined, finite and neat. The truth is, only you can decide what’s “enough.” Make sure you are determining what you can handle. Break it down. Make it bite-sized. We know by now that so many things that overwhelm us don’t actually have right or wrong answers. The only wrong answer is not taking any action, not participating at all. Like Nike says, just do it!