You’d think being forced to stay home is the ideal time to develop a deep, consistent mindfulness practice. It’s good for well-being, and it’s good for focus at work, with clients and while working from home.
So why do I *not* meditate? Why do I keep putting it off?
When I stop and pay attention to the resistance, I find the reason. I am a bit on edge, and it feels difficult to go from something stressful (the news) or demanding (a rewarding but intense conversation with a client) or exciting (watching my favourite show) directly to meditation – the sudden shift is uncomfortable for reasons I don’t understand. But if I don’t understand it, I can still accept it.
And as I’ve accepted it, I can respond to it, choosing a way to transition into meditation. Such as:
Find a much less stressful activity to do first, e.g. 15 minutes of tidying. (Tidying papers is fine. Actually doing paperwork, we can talk about another time!)
Mindfully savour a hot drink (here’s the one I made just now). This can be a prelude to the meditation, or it can be the meditation itself.
Listen to some very chill music. (My go-to is the “Robot Heart” yoga playlist from Burning Man – you can find it on Spotify or Soundcloud.) And you can combine this with one of the other strategies.
If you know what you want to do, but you feel stuck and are not getting started, this post is for you.
Perfectionism is the action killer. Do something badly a first time, then do it the second time, and a third, and you’ll be far ahead of where you are now. So far ahead of the person waiting vainly to be “ready”.
You’re not good yet, and that’s okay. If it matters to you, keep going.
It’s okay to be afraid to start. Just don’t let fear stop you.
Words of wisdom from someone who started badly, and from there gone on to very big things:
You don’t run into people who say, “I’ve written 7,000 blog posts and none of them are any good. Can you help make me make my writing better?” What they say is, “I’m blocked.” Well, actually you’re not. Because you can talk. You can speak. You’re just not writing down what you’re saying because you’re afraid.
And improving your work is a hundred times easier than getting a guarantee that your work will be fine.
So, do bad work. Do it often, do it generously, and then work to improve it. That’s how you learned how to walk. It’s how you learned how to talk.
It’s how you learn how to do everything that matters to you. But now suddenly you’re waiting for a guarantee. It doesn’t work that way.
It’s so easy now to blog every day. So easy now to put up a video. So easy now to put your work into the world. And if you’re willing to do it poorly, then you could probably learn how to do it better. – Seth Godin (emphasis added)
I hadn’t heard back from a client in several weeks, so I sent another message.
When they responded a short while later, they let me know that my messages had been encouraging and helpful in a busy time. And I got to thinking that many of you, the readers of this blog, are in similar circumstances and in need of encouragement. So this message is for you, dear reader. It’s a gentle check-in and a nudge towards the change they (you) want to create – even in the midst of busy, demanding life. It is an obvious message, perhaps, but the magic is in actually acting on the suggestion.
Here it is. (Only the greeting has been changed.)
Dear reader, hope you’re doing well. I don’t know your exact circumstances and this may or may not be relevant to you, but I just wanted to suggest that even in a busy time it’s helpful to take time out, take stock, and decide what the most important 2 or 3 things are that you need to make progress on in the coming week. Then focus on getting those done before other things. It’s a weight off the mind to get those done, and it’s a great way to find clarity amidst chaos.
When we ask ourselves why we procrastinate, a couple of reasons come easily to mind: That we are lazy, and that we suck at time management. The first is actively unhelpful. The time management explanation is also a distraction.
Time management skills are important, don’t get me wrong. Planning, timeboxing, project tracking and to-do lists are all valuable, but you can have all of those things and still be a world-class procrastinator.
Because to not procrastinate means to do the thing that really matters. And the thing that really matters is usually highly emotionally significant. There is a lot at stake, including our beliefs about ourselves. Ironically, a lot of strategies to beat procrastination involve recrimination and punishment – perhaps something we first experience from our early caregivers, and later inflict on ourselves. For that reason, one of the first things I discuss with clients in tackling procrastination is self compassion, with patience and persistence.
Does this mean letting yourself off the hook? No! Have high expectations of yourself. Aim to be a better person, have a better life and have a greater positive impact on those you come in contact with.
But let go of the self-blame and be strategic instead.
This is a helpful frame. Anything that helps me get started for a matter of minutes, even seconds, or that makes starting just a little more pleasant, gives me a chance of continuing and possibly finding flow.
(I’ll be posting more on this topic, including micro-pomodoros, preparing the workspace and first physical actions, and you’ll find these with the getting started tag.)
I have work to do, but constant low-grade pain from a shoulder strain is killing my concentration and will to work these last 24 hours. I’ve distracted myself with social media and I’m letting people down because of it. If only I knew an anti-procrastination coach.
Okay, here’s my self-prescription:
5 minutes of work by the timer (because I can bear almost anything for 5 minutes, even in this state). Of course I can do more, but I permit myself to break anytime after 5 minutes (and definitely before 15 minutes, because of the shoulder).
Then 5 minutes of something nice for my shoulder – a spiky ball on the scapula, gentle range-of-motion exercises, some tense-and-release or a pain meditation. (I’ve found all of these things helpful in the past, but neglected them in favour of short-term distraction.)
Repeat for one hour, then reassess.
I’ve used this many times, and it works for me.
You may notice that there is no time allocated for social media. That is not an oversight.
I saw them frequently beginning in my first year at university, 1989, while hurrying between lectures. Two lines of verse spray-painted on the rear of the University of Sydney’s chemistry building.
They stimulated my imagination (though not enough to think about transferring from engineering to literature). Whose words were they? (This was before the world wide web.) And how should I understand their grappling with time and mortality?
Looking back, I can see why those lines grabbed the attention of my younger self. Time passed, and I had no clear sense of it. I knew that time was coming for me like a bony knife (flowing relentlessly, like a hundred yachts), yet it seemed unreal, outside my world, like a monster from a scary story. I’d not yet lost a loved one, and had no intuitive sense of time bringing death and decay.
Many years later, after the words had been removed, recited the words to a friend, who said “That’s Kenneth Slessor.” And so it is, from the poem Out Of Time, which contains the later lines:
Time leaves the lovely moment at his back,
Eager to quench and ripen, kiss or kill
Further on, absorbed in the beauty of a moment, the poet declares:
The moment’s world it was; and I was part,
Fleshless and ageless, changeless and made free.
‘Fool, would you leave this country?’ cried my heart,
But I was taken by the suck of sea.
The gulls go down, the body dies and rots,
And Time flows past them like a hundred yachts.
Most of the work that I do – with myself and with clients – comes down to moments. In particular, being to some degree present and engaged with this moment, rather than swept along by time. And while my approach involves awareness, techniques and exercises (to help clients stop procrastinating and begin acting), Slessor uses the beauty of language to make vivid our relationship with time.
Perhaps over time my coaching work will include more poetry.
Kenneth Slessor (1901 – 1971) was an Australian poet, journalist and official war correspondent in World War II. – Wikipedia