Your fourth and final distinction for making the most of September

To jog your memory: We're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017. If you missed it, here's where I give the full scoop on what we're doing, here's the first distinction, here's the second distinction, and here's the third distinction.

Well, this brings us to the last week of September and our fourth and final distinction of the month:

The Overwhelmed/Strategic Distinction

When you've got a pile of things to do and not much time in which to do them, you have two choices: You can be overwhelmed, or you can be strategic.

If you choose overwhelm (yes, it really is a choice, and you'll see how in just a moment), you're deciding to be defeated completely before you've even begun. You're allowing the list of tasks, projects, and commitments to be larger than life—hell, to take on a life of their own and to overcome your emotional and psychological state.

You're saying, I'm a victim to this list! These to-dos are bigger than me! I'm weak and powerless—so much so that I'm going to surrender right now, before I've even attempted to make sense of this situation I've created for myself!

If this is what you mean to say, then by all means, go lie down and see if the doctor makes house calls. Perhaps you're coming down with something, because the average person isn't usually quite so feeble when it comes to a list of lifeless tasks.

If, on the other hand, you choose strategy, you're deciding to stay in control of the inanimate pile of to-dos by applying a particular plan to them, a thoughtful course of action. You're remaining solution-focused—hell-bent on completing the tasks before you instead of indulging in your emotions about the tasks before you.

You're saying, I brought this list into the world and I can take it out! I'm an owner, not a victim! I have agency here! And a brain in my head! I'm capable of creating effective strategies to deal with any mess, my own included!

To choose strategy over overwhelm is to choose yourself over your fear.

To choose strategy over overwhelm is to bet on your own capability instead of betting against it.

It means using your imagination to conjure a plan for doing what needs to be done, not using it to worry over worst-case scenarios and possible future misery.

It means relying on a plan that keeps your eyes trained on the very next challenge before you...completing it...and only then advancing to the next challenge. It doesn't mean scrambling around, attempting to multi-task as though it's actually possible to give your attention to more than one thing at a time (it isn't).

While overwhelm turns everything into life or death, strategy transforms the situation into a game.

Now, for your challenge:

Where are you choosing overwhelm in your life? (Still don't think you're choosing it? That's probably a good indication you could use a perspective-shifting conversation.) Where are you choosing strategy? This week, your mission is to use what you know about strategy to tackle the mess of things that feel overwhelming to you.

Not sure you know much about strategy? Think again. Ever come up with a travel plan, like a flight or long car ride, that takes advantage of your children's usual nap time? What about that shortcut you use in order to make it to both the bank on one side of town and the dry cleaner on the other, all during your lunch hour? Boom. That's strategy.

Your third distinction for making the most of September

To jog your memory: We're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017. If you missed it, here's where I give the full scoop on what we're doing, here's the first distinction, and here's the second distinction.

All right, you're up to speed! Let's dive into the third distinction of the month:

The Busy Action/Clarified Action Distinction

This one is deceptively simple.

To be busy is to be occupied. To have lots to do—often some combination of tasks and time commitments—and to focus your attention on the thing at hand (with, perhaps, a peripheral awareness of all the things that need your attention next).

When you're busy, your overarching objective is to strike through as many items on your list as you can, and to do so as efficiently as possible.

You might say the objective is to become less busy.

It's pretty vague as far as intentions go (and it's such a fleeting outcome!), yet we're all guilty at some time or another of using it as our sole guidepost when making our daily and weekly plans.

(After all, why do you think so many stationery companies create those adorable little weekly to-do lists for us to buy? Because we love to collect all of our busy-ness in one spot, then tick through it like the efficient go-getters we want to be.)

The problem here is less about our method (I love those Monday through Friday notepads as much as the next gal) and more about our mission. Rather, more about the absence of a real mission.

Let's look at the other half of this distinction for some contrast.

To clarify something is to remove its impurities. To refine. To eliminate confusion. To filter.

When you clarify your intentions for the day, you get really clear on what it is you want to accomplish (and we're not talking a whole list of things—pick a maximum of three) or who it is you want to be in the world (both your given and chosen roles), and you ensure all individual actions you take are in service to those intentions.

You apply discernment because you already know there's no end to the things you could do, chores and errands and fulfilling other's expectations of you.

The objective is to stay in alignment with some greater mission. To view the individual daily and weekly plans as stepping stones to achieving the bigger picture—the long-term goal, the long-range plan, the higher purpose of your existence.

Clarified action is supporting action. It's conscious action. It honors your big mission, whatever that might be, because it prioritizes your must-dos (instead of your infinite to-dos), all while maintaining the ever-present awareness that you have this one lifetime. And that's it.

If you don't feel high purpose when you think about your existence, fear not.

All you need to know is this:

Your reason for being is far more magnificent than the sum of your to-do lists (and your ninja-level ability to tick through them).

'Become less busy' is not your big-picture objective, even if it feels like it is in this season of your life.

You can shift from busy action to clarified action by bringing more consciousness to your planning. By contemplating what your mission statement would be if you had one. By setting aside the adorable Monday through Friday notepad in favor of a different approach, one where your guidepost is a single question you ask yourself:

What would I like to have achieved a year from now?

I can guarantee you that 'make the bed 365 times' won't be what springs to mind. Nor will 'write all birthday/holiday/event thank-you notes.'

What might spring to mind is something you started, but eventually abandoned because your time was hijacked or you had to pick up a side-gig to pay the bills or you just plain got scared. Something like, 'finish writing the novel.' Or 'host private dinners for small groups.' Maybe 'book a solo art show.'

If you're stuck in an endless loop of small-fry to-dos, what behaviors need to shift today (this week, this month) in order for you to get closer to achieving your dream thing a year from now.

Now, for your challenge:

It's time to refine! Imagine running your task lists through a filter, one that separates those future-vision must-dos from the myopic (and perpetually regenerating) to-dos. This week, your mission is to make time to accomplish as many of the former items as you possibly can.

Between now and next Tuesday, put the latter items on hold (it's only seven days!) and observe how your relationship to your dream thing changes.

Your second distinction for making the most of September

To jog your memory: We're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017. If you missed it, here's where I give the full scoop on what we're doing and here's the first distinction I shared, just last week.

Wasting no time at all, let's dive into our second distinction of the month:

The Obligation/Accountability Distinction 

As you're already well aware, an obligation is an action or a task to which a person is bound because of a legal arrangement, a personal commitment, or a sense of duty.

When I think about what an obligation is and how it shows up in our world, the word 'debt' comes to mind—as in, owing someone something, be it the fulfillment of a promise, the execution of a particular course of action, etc.

Oftentimes obligations involve a penalty for non-fulfillment.

Defaulting on your student loans might mean having a percentage of your wages garnished.

Not meeting a writing deadline might mean tarnishing your professional reputation with the newspaper or magazine.

Failing to turn up for a scheduled and confirmed appointment might mean damaging an important relationship.

With an obligation, there's a sense that something's at stake because there is, actually, something very real (and often external) at stake—and perhaps it's that very fact that drives us to make good on our word: We don't want to suffer the consequences of not meeting our obligations (obligations which we resent because we're perceiving them as expectations placed upon us; this is a stance of passivity).

Accountability, on the other hand, is the fact or condition of being responsible. It looks at the end result—regardless of whether or not the commitment is ultimately fulfilled—and states firmly, I'm willing to take responsibility for myself.

When I consider the concept of accountability and how it shows up in our world, the word 'agency' bubbles to the surface. Agency, meaning the capacity of individuals to act independently and to exercise their ability to choose.

Accountability doesn't live in fear of penalty because accountability is about responsibility for the self.

Knowing that alcohol tends to bring out a side of you that's loud and clumsy and unkind might mean you decide not to drink at your sister's wedding.

Preventing debt might mean paying the credit card bill in full each month, instead of carrying a balance (which might mean never charging more than you can afford to pay off within any four week period).

Dating with integrity might mean being completely (and perhaps uncomfortably) transparent about your desire to keep it casual or make it exclusive.

With accountability, the commitment is to ourselves. Nothing is outsourced—not the debts, not the failures, not the disappointments, and certainly not the responsibilities.

Accountability places great faith in agreements, personal or interpersonal. And because of that, being accountable for something or to someone has the direct effect of empowering us to rise to the occasion.

Now, for your challenge:

I'm inviting you to reconsider a commitment that has you showing up passively (e.g. I'm obligated to drive carpool this week, or It's on me to run the daily meetings until my boss is back from vacation, or I have to be up at 5 a.m. because I promised my neighbor I'd walk with her before work). This week, your mission is to bring an ounce of accountability into the picture.

Between now and next Tuesday, reframe your commitment so that you're clear on how and where your agency factors in.

Your first distinction for making the most of September

September isn't messing around when it calls itself Self-Improvement Month: Already, tomorrow, we have Fight Procrastination Day.

(Not sure what I'm talking about? See last week's post for the full scoop, but in essence, we're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017.)

How fitting, then, for me to introduce you to the first distinction of the month:

The Procrastination/Awareness Distinction

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. You know this. I'm not telling you anything new there.

Have you ever considered the purpose of procrastination, though?

To avoid discomfort.

The discomfort of starting something new or finishing something difficult, the discomfort of being a perfectionist who might not be able to do the thing perfectly, the discomfort of working on an undertaking that elicits some level of stress.

Understandable.

But there's often a bit of a fight against procrastination. We do it and we self-flagellate at the same time. We know it's not serving us to procrastinate because we're not getting any closer to completing our tasks or achieving our goals...and yet, we can't seem to stop ourselves from avoiding the discomfort that we know the work, whatever it is, will entail.

So, we have a problem.

When we perceive our procrastinating on a project as problematic, we believe there's something to be fixed. We need to find a solution, some tool or trick or tip that will make us do the thing we're actively avoiding.

Or we need to just push through our resistance by forcing ourselves to take action.

Although we don't want to feel discomfort, we also don't want to feel guilty, lazy, inadequate, or undisciplined—and those are our other options if we go the route of procrastination.

What I'm proposing this week is to bring some awareness into the picture.

Instead of procrastinating blindly, thoughtlessly...

And instead of railing against your procrastination—fighting it, obsessing over it, trying to force your way through it...

Shine a light on your procrastination. Focus your awareness on the why of it. Examine it—as well as your perceptions, sensations, thoughts, and emotions about it—without judgment.

When you notice yourself picking up a novel to read instead of researching that grant that could finance your painting career for a full year, do just that: Notice it.

When you keep telling yourself you'll begin writing your website copy just as soon as you've cleared out your email inbox (but you haven't yet put down that novel in order to tend to the email, let alone the web copy): Pay attention to yourself.

This awareness will become habitual, inserting itself earlier and earlier into the chronology of events, so that you'll start to observe yourself as you're following the distractions and avoidances, not just after the fact.

Then, you can introduce some gentle inquiry to your procrastination-in-progress:

Why am I avoiding this thing?

Where is there discomfort for me in this undertaking?

Am I sure there's discomfort, or might it be just that I'm fearing possible discomfort?

And that's it. No cajoling or strong-arming necessary. This focused awareness is enough.

Now, for your challenge:

Think of that project, big or small, that you want to bring to life before 2018 is here. Now, bring into your consciousness the associated task you've been procrastinating on thus far—no matter if it's the first step or the hundredth step of your particular project—because you're avoiding whatever discomfort might come along with it. This week, your mission is to begin this task.

Between now and next Tuesday, direct your effort toward accomplishing it, just this one step...and see what comes up for you. Welcome the procrastination, if it's there, but remember to shine your awareness on it, too.