Have you ever had a lot of time to get something done, but chose to wait, thinking you had plenty of time? And then the thing gets done either late, or in a flurry of cursing and tears.
I have become more aware of how my choices for right now are having a serious impact on my future. I want to be a published fiction author, but I don’t write fiction. I want to get ahead of my blog calendar, but I choose to take a nap when I get home from work. I want to walk in the morning, but I stay up too late and skip walking altogether. None of these choices are particularly helpful, and it’s made me realize that my future success is very much dependent on the choices that I am making right now.
Why Choices Now Derail The Future
When we choose to do something in the moment that doesn’t further ourselves down the path we wish, we are trading our current enjoyment for something more meaningful.
One thing comes to mind: a Calvin And Hobbes strip where Calvin is watching television, and Hobbes points out that he is going to wish he had more memories to look back on than the tripe he is watching (Link to strip)
But watching television is easy. Napping is easy. Reading fiction (for me) is easy. And it’s easy to tell ourselves that we’ll just watch for a bit, or nap for 15 minutes, or look at Facebook for 5 minutes.
And five minutes turns into sixty, and our time to do something meaningful has passed.
How It Happens
These are three examples that I have noticed in my own life:
I have good intentions of going to bed on time, but my evening schedule may run late, or I just want to spend a few minutes reading to unwind. And then next thing, the clock says midnight, and I know I am going to be tired the next morning. So I have traded that little bit of time for a day of grogginess, lack of energy, and then not wanting to work the next day, at which point I want to nap, and that pushes things even further out.
I want to exercise. I need to exercise. With the specter of my grandfather’s death when he was only a few years older than me looking over my shoulder, I know that the best thing I can do is to get out and walk. And I like walking. I like walking with my headphones in…and out. I like walking in the sun…and rain. Even snow, on the rare occasions that we get it. I don’t like walking in the humidity, though. At the same time, it seems more important to clean the kitchen or watch television or nap (see above). Because there never seems to be enough time to go out and walk, or I can tell myself it is too humid. And so it rarely gets done.
I have a great system for setting up projects on a reduced time frame, planning them, and then getting through them. (See the 12 Week Plan) But even with that system in place, I was still meeting the minimum requirements for “done” because I was choosing to do other things except work on my goals until the weekends. Weekends are great, but what could have happened if I worked an evening or two as well? I’d be alot further along.
Is It Procrastination?
I’ve wondered if choosing to do something easy is procrastination, or something deeper.
On the surface it feels like procrastination. Because I’m putting something off. But deep down, it feels like something more than that. There is a resistance there, and it’s causing me to make poor choices.
But what’s behind the resistance? In some cases it was the goal itself. It didn’t fit me anymore, or someone had talked me into doing it. In some cases it was because the goal wasn’t practical and do-able. I have limitations, and some of these goals were exceeding them. And in other cases, I was just being purely lazy, and taking the easy way out.
How To Make Better Choices
So how can you make better choices? Sometimes it’s about getting to the root. And sometimes it’s about practcie.
1. Make sure your goal is really yours
I’ve had a bunch of other people’s goals cross my life over the years, and it seems to be particularly bad now. I smiled when I heard that email is other people’s to-do lists thrust into your face, because it is true.
In other cases it was because someone had planted the seed that I should pursue a path (such as “you should really get your SQL certification so you can do more of that work” or “you can’t possibly let your teaching license languish after all that hard work”)
I had to sit down and look at everything on my projects list and see if it was really something I wanted to do. I have friends who thrive on collecting letters after their names; I do not. At this time, I don’t want to pursue the masters in math that would be the easiest way to hang onto my license; it does nothing for me other than add letters after my name. 🙂
2. Make sure your goal is do-able
It’s good to dream big. But I don’t believe that I am capable of doing everything at the moment. With nearly no cartilege on one knee and a bad achilles tendon on the other side, I am not going to be physically able to play softball again – at least without serious rehab and training to avoid injury. At this point in my life, I don’t think I am capable of writing a long series of books; but I am willing to concede that I might be able to in the future.
Looking through my goals I see that a couple of them fall into the category of being undo-able right now. It’s not limiting the future, because I don’t know what the future will bring; but it is overwhelming to look at those things in the here and now and not be overwhelmed because I am not in a place to do them.
3. Practice doing the hard stuff
Sometimes I think that moving forward on goals is a muscle, much as our ability to focus is. We can do things that erode the ability to work, such as taking the easy way out. At the same time, we can practice and strengthen that muscle.
I can make this muscle stronger by doing harder things to practice. I may want to sit down after work and read a book, but I can make myself write an outline first. I may want to nap, but I won’t do that until I have done a task on my list that should be done today. I have found by gradually stretching that delay, it is getting easier to work on the big projects.
4. Question. Journal. Analyze. Repeat
The only way I have been able to get through these previous items is to consistently question myself. Am I taking the easy way out? Do I want to do something, but really should do something else? What is holding me back? I find that asking a series of “why” gets me to the bottom issue. But I need to spend some time writing, thinking, and analyzing my answers.
My choices today affect how much I will have done in the future. The sooner I start, the sooner I meet the goals.
A Free Gift and Help for You
I made this worksheet to help me journal through the process of making better choices. I’m giving it away for free – I’m not even asking for an email address. It’s a fillable PDF that could be printed as well. Want it? Click below.