“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” – Jordan Belfort.
I’ve told myself many stories over the years. You know the ones: too little time, too many things to do, will start the next day, will start when something else ends, will start when the other thing begins.
‘Monday’ becomes ‘next Monday’, ‘tomorrow’ becomes an abstraction instead of a measurement of time, and the catch up game begins.
Sometimes the hardest part of starting anything is just getting up. Physically standing from your chair, leaving the coffee, the TV, the phone, the computer. I get it. You get it.
When you finally make it on your feet, you do what I did for the last hour. I knew I needed to complete this post, so instead I put on a face mask, lit a candle, updated my facebook status, opened a beer without a bottle opener (bracelet ended up being the winner for this task), reset my cable box, watched Family Guy, watched American Dad, and ate some ravioli.
Why put off becoming better? Why put off doing things that will only benefit me in both the short-term and the long-term? Or, in the words of Seth Godin, “How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?”
When I was younger, I used to wish for cancer, or some terminal disease that would force my life into greatness and adventure through the pressure of limited time. Or maybe, I’d think as I stared at the white stucco ceiling above my bed, maybe if I had only one leg, or tragically went blind, I’d be known for doing things against the odds and would become an amazing soccer player or painter or something.
What I didn’t understand then was that I was desperate for the elimination of options. Staring into the vast world of endless possibilities, I was craving direction into how to invest my time and resources. Having one year to plan out seemed better in some ways than having no idea how many years I’d live for. I grew up watching things like The Last Lecture and was inspired by the man with no arms and legs. I didn’t have many role models yet for living an incredible life with longevity. I envied the ‘simplicity’ and ‘glamour’ in the Coles Notes version of existing: short and sweet, to the point.
But guess what? It hasn’t happened like that. And I hope with everything in me that it doesn’t, and I live until I’m the age where everyone wonders if I’m about to drop dead at the dinner table. However, there is a benefit to some of my childhood thoughts. It is subtle and easy to stare at the forks in the road and succumb to a type of ‘choice paralysis.’
Sylvia Plath’s fig tree story haunted me as I hit my twenties and realized how easy it would be to let my fear of making choices that eliminated good alternative options to become the exact means to removing all the options that I faced, both good and bad. Passively allowing doors to close is a quick means to regret, resentment, and a general belief that one’s destiny is outside of their control.
Intentional option elimination can be the best thing we do for ourselves. Like when I was putting on a face mask and doing everything but writing this blog, I should have given myself no other choice but to sit down, pick up my laptop, and open a new post. And, instead of hoping that outside forces like ‘one year left to live’ abdicate some personal responsibility in how I manage my time, there is reward in taking away some of my own choices to allow for the bigger picture dreams to manifest.
Here’s the TED talk which goes into this idea a little bit further:
When there appears to be more time ahead, it is easy to sit in the chair for just 5, 10, 15, 20 more minutes. Without having physical or situational circumstances force life into a certain path, there is beauty in the consistency of making good decisions when nobody is looking.
Those seemingly inconsequential moments of choosing action over procrastination are a fertile ground for growing our character and self-respect. As Alan Armstrong says, “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.” J.C Watts Jr. echoes this: “Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.”
In the big decisions, in the small decisions, we are offered the opportunity to act, do, move, confront, eliminate. For “destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” – William Jennings Bryan.
The concept of choice elimination can be applied to both little things, like making the time to finally clean out your closet, or to the larger things, like career options. As a small bonus, if you’re stuck in a rut with a little thing, here’s a playlist that helped me get through my chores this morning: 40 minutes of music where I didn’t let myself do anything but clean until it ended.
What choices are you avoiding? What helps you go from ‘thinking’ to ‘doing?’