Look at this picture. What’s wrong with it?
Looks tidy, right? Nice Paul McCartney poster? Nobody died..
This is the small room at the bottom of the stairs in my house. Opposite the sofa you can find my guitars. Sometimes I sit and play there. The door goes through to the entrance of the house and my wife’s office.
But what is that pile of DVDs doing there? We don’t have a television in that room and “all my other DVDs” are nicely organised in their own little space.
THAT pile of DVDs is what is wrong with my life and what is wrong with the lives of many other people. THAT pile of DVDs is unfinished, indecision and procrastination. It is the annoying remains of a DVD-classifying and tidying job. No-one knows where to put them and no-one has made a decision. Every time someone sees them, small silent curses are made about what the hell they are doing there, followed (in my case) by mini-anxiety about having to deal with them, but not being sure what to do and where to put them.
In life, many people have their own “pile of DVDs”: The thing at the bottom of the to-do list that isn’t getting done, the dripping tap in the bathroom or the CV that still hasn’t been posted for that job opportunity.
These things remain unfinished and undecided as we procrastinate our way around them. It seems easier to ignore them than to take action. But they niggle away at our souls because they are not in their right place. When I wake up and come down the stairs, the first thing I see is those damn DVDs. And when I go to bed, they are the last thing that crosses my path before sleep.
In some cases, the consequences of inaction are quite small: The untuned piano and out of place DVDs will not change much. I don’t lose any sleep and nothing bad will come of it.
But in others cases, the consequences of inaction can be far worse: That niggling image of more important unfinished business eats away at you, causing insomnia and anxiety. What will I do about the wall that looks like it might fall down? How will I pay my credit-card bill? When will I finally get started on living my dreams?
In all cases, until there is a boldness, decision and action, nothing will change. The boldness is about daring to move forward with things. The decision is about what matters most, your priorities, the things you want out of life and how you want to feel about yourself. And action is about taking small steps towards satisfaction, one-at-a-time.
Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to force you into action: The wall falls down, the bank freezes your credit-card or burnout leaves you depressed and out of work.
In many cases, one of the following ideas might help:
- Seth Godin says in “LinchPin” that our lack of boldness is an evolutionary leftover designed to keep us “safe”: When we are frozen in inaction, it is because our reptile brain is scared of what will happen if we actually take the action we are considering. It is easier to stay in the status-quo than try something new.
- Tony Robbins’ TED talk on “Why we do what we do” suggests asking 3 questions about “focus” in order to actually make a decision: Ask yourself what this thing means to you, what you are focussing on and what you are going to do about it.
- In his book “Getting Things Done”, David Allen proposes asking 2 questions to figure out what the next action should be.
Regarding my DVDs, it was Tony Robbins’ idea that got me started: I have been focussing on almost everything else in my life but those DVDs and what that means to me is the same as what my ever-fattening belly means: I am letting some other things go to shit. Action? [Pause from writing]
…OK… 30 minutes later they are gone. Some have been put in the children’s rooms.. Disney and The Gruffalo. The music ones have been put with my CDs. And the rest are in the big cupboard with things to sell on eBay. (That last idea is my answer to David Allen’s question: “What is the next concrete action I will take?”)
Whilst tidying, I contemplate the importance of Seth Godin’s idea and realise that it often seems easier to do nothing, plod along and get the same results. Going for gold is scary. What will it look like? How will it work? What if I fail?
But if you want to tidy those DVDs, fix the scary threatening wall or find the job of your dreams, you need a little boldness, decision and action to get you on track.