Do you find yourself feeling really overwhelmed? Find it hard to stay motivated to work towards your goals? Do you have goals?
Does your consciousness expand to fill a week, a month, a year?
Let’s explore that. I’ve found myself feeling this recently.
The longer the horizon the more branches of fate you have to consider. The human mind is very bad at seeing the forest for the trees. If every decision is a fork in the road, you are not able to read the map.
Mindfulness is presence, being right here and focused. We exist in a mind-body duality, nervous system sending signals, a shroud of stimulus. Our body is the wind on our skin, the ache in our knee, the tingling in our shoulder, the pressure of the sofa while you watch Netflix for another night. The ‘mind’ half is far more ephemeral, shrinking and growing based on the container you put it in. Fluid like water.
We are all on this duality spectrum. I, for one, am incredibly cerebral. You will find me in my own world more often than not. Often forgetting my body. Others are far more physical having to make a conscious effort to delve into the deeper ideas.
This is why exercise can be so meditative, it draws your focus into your body and out of your mind. Because of the aforementioned inability to hold many things in your mind at once without getting overwhelmed, you can fill it with something peaceful. Turning this weakness into a strength.
When I find myself becoming overwhelmed it usually is due to feeling like I am not making progress on things I value: namely relationships, making impact and financials.
If I break it down it is because I am measuring my progress on an infinitely long ruler, well then the millimetre markings I’m measuring against are going to look very small, aren’t they?
This is certain to feel hopeless.
Imagine trying to read the millimetre marking of a metre ruler at arm’s length. That’s how most people evaluate themselves.
This infinite ruler is my whole life, the longest length of time I can really consider, I have allowed my consciousness to expand to hold all forks of my entire existence. Pretty fair to feel overwhelmed by that if you ask me.
The solution to this is to slice up this ruler.
It is sliced for us as we grow up, kindergarten, primary school, high school, university and then… it is up to you. But it has not been drawn to our attention. The entire focus was on training you on what you can do with the time you have but not the meta game of breaking it up to make it more manageable.
Don’t just look for it. Create your structure.
People often ask me how I have maintained my motivation. Well the secret is I absolutely do not. Motivation has been a terrible strategy for me to move things along for my goals. Motivation is when you feel like doing things, instead of attempting to feel like doing things more often, I focus on doing things even when I don’t feel like it.
The truth is I have achieved by being consistent. By using the compounding effect of memory, of learning from our mistakes and experiences. Measuring myself by growth and not by external outcomes.
The bigger secret is that after I start, I actually start to enjoy the progress. It was just the fear of failure that overwhelmed me before starting. Because it was measured as a function of the stakes. And because of the infinite ruler the stakes felt really high.
So now as I take stock of my life while I am locked down at home, working two jobs, feeling a little overwhelmed. I am looking again to break up the ruler.
Your job is not to motivate yourself to achieve your dreams, it is your job to motivate yourself for today. Every day. Then whether you win that or lose that, you do it again tomorrow.
Breaking the ruler
You need to consider all the problems that live on the length of ‘ruler’ you are measuring your life with.
So instead of “entire life”, which brings with it questions of “Do I have meaning in my life?”, “is this the right career for me?”, “did I give up on my dreams?”, “am I going to die alone?”. We can break the perspective down into shorter periods. For me right now it is:
- Improving my software delivery skills to rapidly build beautiful software for the next leg of my career.
- Putting away enough capital for my next planned investment.
- Continuing to improve my ability to reason and think by writing and teaching.
These shorter term goals allow me to reframe the ruler, zooming in on the next centimetre. Allowing me to see my progress of millimetres more accurately and allow me to become more consistent.
It’s really damn hard to feel motivated when you can’t see how your work impacts your goals.
So stop measuring your progress against infinity.
Celebrate the small wins, because the joy doesn’t come from hitting the goals but the journey and being able to share the celebration with people that love you.