Happy New Year!
So right about now you are probably in one of two camps: either doubling down on some New year’s resolutions, or you’re like, “um, screw that. I don’t do resolutions.” Perhaps you’ve had your heart broken by resolutions not working in the past and of course you aren’t alone. I am myself not a big resolution girl because they generally don’t work the way we do them and they set us up for failure and heartbreak so if you DO want to do resolutions, I recommend a great book by one of my personal coaches, the best selling author MJ Ryan, called This Year I Will. It tells you how to avoid pitfalls, why resolutions usually fail, and how to actually make them work. She’s really great.
HOWEVER, today I’m not writing about resolutions or workbooks to change your life. I’m writing about feeling SCATTERED. Uuuugghhh. Feeling scattered is EXHAUSTING. And it totally keeps you from being creative, from feeling centered and calm, from feeling productive in a meaningful way.
Scattered looks like this. It’s Sunday night when you’ve had a great weekend and you’re thinking about going back to work Monday and you’re like, Uuuugh. You feel overwhelmed. You don’t know which project or task to tackle first. You have tons of ideas but don’t know what will work. You are believing you don’t have the answer when you actually DO know the answer. We will get to that in a bit.
Now for creative entrepreneurs, bosses, self-employed, and oh, let’s just say ALL HUMANS who live in the modern world and have a job, a family, friends, interests, volunteer work, and ERRANDS, we all feel scattered some times. But I think a lot of us see the beginning of the year as a time to regroup and figure out what the next year will hold and that puts some pressure on us to have a clear bunch of goals and a clear direction ….and because of this pressure, we can get anxious and lapse into feeling scattered.
Okay so. Let’s unpack this a bit.
Feeling scattered is not just that there are a lot of demands on our time. It’s not that there are perhaps a lot of DIFFERENT things needing our attention. It’s not just that life is complicated. Because those things are true in modern life ALL the time. Every week. And if you are improvising your life and wanting creativity, adventure, newness, growth, then you are going to have CHOICES.
If you work the same exact boring job every day that you hate, you actually probably have very few choices. And that is something I know a lot of you are trying to get away from. So, here’s the bummer of it all: having a fun, interesting, improvised life MEANS you are going to have a more complicated choice-filled life. So, yaaaaaayyyy.
So you’re sitting there on Sunday night or Monday morning in January and you’re like “aaaggghhh how to I figure out what to DO?” You’re probably picturing all different things and your mind is flitting around and then, bam: Overwhelm.
So what to do?
Well first, like any good Buddhist will tell you, don’t DO anything.
We gotta get our head straight because jumping to DO things in this mindset is probably going to not only waste time, but it’s more like having a cigarette to calm your craving for cigarettes. That’s not really going to solve things and you’re gonna get cancer or at least very yellow teeth.
First, journal. Just get all that crap out of your head and onto paper. What this does is enlists your prefrontal cortex to get your rational mind working and get you out of that caveman-like anxiety.
I’d suggest you make a list. You can do a list whining first, (that’s what great about journals, they don’t go talk to other people and say, “Good lord that lunch with her was a downer today.”) Journals are like, “you got whining to do? I got pages. Let’s go.”
But set a timer. 5 minutes of whining max.
Next let’s do that list. What are the things you
A. Have to do.
B. Want to get to but can’t find the time.
C. Have an idea about but no idea how to do them.
So some examples:
Have to do: I have to read the paper so I can stay up on what I’m writing comedy about, I have to go through my email, go grocery shopping for friends coming over tonight, add pics to our new Broad Comedy website – which you guys should check out, it’s so cute! (www.broadcomedy.com)... get my phone fixed that Staples totally destroyed… don’t get me started… and talk to three online course companies about hosting my upcoming courses to see which one is best. This is a LOT of different things.
Want to get to but can’t find the time. I want to get to editing our new women’s retreat sizzle reel so people know what the workshops are like, I want to get to researching women’s health organizations so we can bring Broad Comedy to do fundraisers, I want to get to filming our new funny video about Gerrymandering and The Russian Prostitute Scandal with Trump, and I want to go buy new snow boots today since my old ones died because New York streets eat boots for breakfast. (Has anyone else found that to be true? I have not had a single pair last a year since I moved here!)
And finally things I have an idea about but no idea how to do them: Grow our membership base for our new course, do Facebook Live (I know! I’m like the last person to start doing them but I just have never done it!), decide which things I want to focus on this winter.
And that last one is the point of writing out everything above it.
So. Pause for a second and go and write down these three lists. But make a CHOICE that you are not going to wallow in the thought: this is overwhelming. Know that we are going to move through and past overwhelm and into DECISION MAKING, centeredness, and enthusiasm!
Okay now that you have these lists – and make sure they are comprehensive lists! – take a look and just acknowledge that there is A LOT there. You could probably even spend a little more time coming up with more things to DO. It’s kind of endless.
Now here’s where the overwhelm comes in.
Feeling like there’s a RIGHT way to do it and you aren’t equipped with the skill to know the right way.
Feeling it ALL HAS to be done. And like right away.
Feeling like you don’t know how to decide what to do or which to do first .
All of the above... Right?? Ha!
So, let’s start with the idea that there’s a right way. You KNOW what I’m going to say, if you’ve been listening to me. As with improv, there is NO RIGHT WAY.
Now we are not talking about the steps to building a car, here people, in which case you should definitely follow directions at the factory to build it in the right way. We are talking about building a life. And we are improvising it. In fact, you could argue, that doing things in a way that is different from either how you’ve done it before or how other people do it, is what leads to innovation and something new and exciting and fantastic!
So. There’s NO RIGHT WAY. Please write that down on a post it and put in on your bathroom mirror, or tattoo it on your butt. Whatever works.
Next, ask if it all HAS to be done.
Now be serious about this. For how much of this did you just make up the belief it ALL has to be done by a certain time? And if you really can’t shake that belief (and I’m going to also suggest there’s always a little narcissism that comes with this belief), ask yourself this: If you DIED tomorrow, what would happen? There are only two options: Either someone would take over for you, or your work would just simply stop and the world would go on without you. What??? I’m not irreplaceable???
Okay, so understanding that you ARE replaceable is a HEALTHY belief! So take a minute and either write down or repeat: “I’m not as important as I think.”
And I don’t mean this in a “I suck and I should feel like a loser” sort of way. It’s really just shaking you off your belief that all of these things NEED TO HAPPEN NOW. Okay? If you’ve been listening to me, you know I’m a big fan of questioning our beliefs. If you need more help with this, I’ve mentioned before check out Byron Katie who is fantastic at helping with this with her 4 questions in what she calls The Work. (http://thework.com)
And look, I always have to remind myself, and I say this outloud a lot: “Katie you’re running a theatre company, not an emergency room.” However, if you ARE running an emergency room, it’s actually even MORE important you are not overwhelmed, indecisive or scattered.
And finally, the most important one that will help you avoid feeling scattered: How do I decide what to do or how do I decide which thing to do first?
I am going to assume there is some creativity involved in your work because in all entrepreneurial careers, all creative careers, and all improvised lives that have family, friends, other people, all of those lives that are not exactly the same thing every day, your work requires some problem solving, some creation, some change and some growth. And that kind of improvising in daily life means that besides the fact that there might not be one way to do it “right”, there is definitely sometimes a way to do it wrong. And let’s avoid that.
So here are some pitfalls to avoid:
Pitfall #1: When you do not “DO” anything at all. So like not starting, for example. If you feel overwhelmed, sometimes it’s easiest just to not even try, not even start.
When I coach, I know that no matter where we start the conversation that day, we will probably end up the same place. Meaning that if a client is feeling isolated in their work, if we start by them talking about their family, or their friends or the news, or their career, we will end up talking about people and loneliness and isolation. It’s just how it works. The core value you want more of in your life is in that big brain of yours. My job is to help you dig into that. But whatever you say, I’ll be able to hear that little urgency under any subject and we’ll get there.
So how does that pertain to feeling scattered? You have all these thoughts running around in your head and that’s what’s troubling and distracting you. If you can get quiet, look at the list above, circle some words in common in your journal that keep coming up, that is a good place to start.
Go back to your core desire. What do you want to feel? Connected? Creative? Like you are helping the world? All of these? Then look at your list of to-do’s and see which of these will give you the STRONGEST feeling you want. If you want to be creative, and it’s Monday morning and you’re feeling scattered and overwhelmed, take 20 minutes first thing to CREATE. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Do my 5 words exercise where you take five random words from a newspaper and write or speak a monologue that has to use all five words in 2 minutes. You can see a video about this on my facebook page at KatieGoodmanComedy. It’s also in my book Improvisation For The Spirit. Or sing or write or look at new recipes or whatever it is you like to do that’s creative.
Now what exactly is this going to do for you besides make you lose 20 minutes of your precious workday??
Getting your creative right brain online will do sort of a reset. You’ll physically and emotionally feel better and this will clear your head a LOT.
What doesn’t work is trying to get a clear picture of what you should prioritize when you are anxious and scattered. Okay? Make sense?
Next, Pitfall #2: Back to the It Doesn’t Matter What You Pick and There’s No Right Answer. So if there is no right answer, that means you can pick anything. Try closing your eyes and turn your paper around and around and let your finger land on one item. Now really commit before you open your eyes that you will do that item that you randomly pick first. Open your eyes and voila! Your first task! Then do that. Easy. Right??
It’s so easy your brain is gonna rebel big time because it truly believes there IS a right order! It will say, “But I can’t do that first. I can’t just write to the agent about my book before I have my proposal set.” Okay, well hey there’s an actual real answer with good decision-making advice! If you can’t do that first then you have an answer! And guess what? It turns out you DO know something. You CAN make decisions. Huzzah!
I tricked you a little, but if you commit to doing what you randomly pick, then your brain will give you very clear feedback in milliseconds.
It’s like if you have a yes or no decision. Say heads yes and tails no. Then flip a coin. Then pay very close attention to your absolutely instantaneous reaction. Oh shoot, I didn’t want tails! Ah ha! It’s a little magic trick I use. You can access your clear decision making knowledge this way. Try it – it’s really kind of crazy.
So this is really the crux of it. We feel confused. We think we don’t know how to decide. We believe there’s a right way of doing things. We feel pressure. All of these things are completely useless. They block us. They make us feel anxious. They keep us from moving forward. This is true for Sunday night and Monday morning, but it’s also true in a bigger picture way.
So don’t let yourself say you don’t know the answer.
That’s it. It’s absurdly simple.
This is what this entire podcast boils down to: Do not say you don’t know.
Here’s an example. Don’t say “I don’t know how to program my website.” And then you don’t have a website. Say I don’t know how to program my website… so I need a programmer. I don’t know what I want on my website… so I’ll go look at others for ideas. I don’t know if people will like it… so I’ll put something up and change it if needed once I get feedback. I don’t know how to hire someone to do the tech… so I’ll ask a friend or someone on Facebook who I know has a great website. I don’t know which products to offer on my website or how much to charge… so I’ll look around and then just get some help from someone to crunch some numbers. We’ll try it and change it if it doesn’t sell. I don’t know how to do Facebook Live (Ha!) so I’ll Google it! Duh! We are really living in a great time because if you don’t know something there is a YouTube video on it so we just don’t even HAVE the excuse of not knowing and getting stumped!
I think one of the reasons we get stuck is that we feel alone and isolated. In the old days when we lived in villages, if you didn’t know how to help your baby with the croup you’d go to the old lady three huts down and be like, Hey Old Brunehilde Wise Lady Crone Master of All Things, what do I do with this incredibly annoying baby? And she’d be like, “Okay here’s some herbs and some steam”, (and perhaps a little magic if this is a fantasy novel and not actual olden days), “and basically you’re gonna have a unbelievably terrible 3 days but it’ll get better so just chill a little.” And then you’d go back to your hut and it might or might not work, but at least you’re not trying to figure it all out on your own.
I mean this is why I interview people on my podcast. I know that as a creative person I don’t work alone well. I probably collaborate more than some other kinds of creatives, but I love that part.
Okay I got a little side tracked by Old Brunhilde. But the point is… don’t let yourself just say “I don’t know” and stop there. Just take that out of your vocabulary. And I’m not gonna lie: this might be hard for a bit.
When I first really got this, I was with my mastermind group and came home all fired up, like “Okay I really am going to stop saying I don’t know what to do.” And I really did get it and it totally worked and I just ploughed ahead and then like 4 days in I wrote to one of them saying I just didn’t know what to do next and she was like, “DUDE. You just told us all you would stop saying you don’t know and it’s only been like 4 days and you backslid!!”
So. It’s hard to make new habits of mind. That’s why resolutions are hard. And this is what anyone who is talking about resolutions that work will say to you: It’s not only about getting yourself to change the habit, like not exercising or saying you don’t know what to do and feeling scattered. You have to actually change your MIND first. The habit and resolution will follow.
Okay? You getting this?
You. Know. What. To. Do.
And that might be asking for help to learn something that you don’t know how to do, but that counts because what you knew to do was to learn the new thing. To get help learning it. What makes us feel scattered is not deciding, not choosing a course of action because we are pretending we don’t know.
This is what my Mastermind friend Susan always says to me:
“What are you pretending not to know?”
Happy New Year!