When I feel overwhelmed, I imagine myself as a bricklayer.
I try not to picture the finished project or every painstaking step it will take to get there. Imagining that kind of immense scale will give you vertigo. Instead, I force myself to focus on each tiny, insignificant brick and lay them one by one.
Sometimes this method keeps me on track, but other times I can’t stop the weight of what I want to accomplish from pulling at my attention while I try to lay my bricks.
When this happens, I get desperate to find anything to keep the stress from taking over.
Unfortunately, desperation isn’t exactly conducive to productive coping methods. It’s cartoon steam, the kind that picks you up by the nostrils and delivers you to the juicy pie of temptation sitting on your neighbour’s windowsill.
Hello Netflix. Hello YouTube. Hello Instagram.
Distractions make the self doubt, fear, and frustration melt away for a few incredible moments of relief. But when you come back up for air, you realize that your temporary feeling of relief comes at a steep price.
Now you’re so much worse off.
If you read last week’s article, you know that I distract myself by obsessing about food.
I also have a terrible habit of drowning myself in YouTube videos when I can’t stand looking at all of the unchecked items on my to-do list.
Despite some people mistakenly thinking that I have the unwavering dedication to my mission of a terminator, these things get in my way more often than I’d like to admit.
I’m working on 4 psychological research approved ways of becoming more disciplined, and I thought I’d share.
If you think I write too much (which I’ve gotten some constructive criticism about in the past) skip down to the TL;DR for the elevator pitch version.
Let’s get into it!
Know Your Reasons Why
When you were a kid, how often did you question your parents’ directives? Most kids do it constantly. It’s natural; I mean, no one wants to put effort into something without good reason to do so.
I think about my purpose a lot, and I’ve come up with two major reasons to get my business up and running the way I envision it.
- I want to be able to control my own time and afford more free time to enjoy my life. The thought of having to go back to owing someone 8 unnecessary hours of my day – trying to look busy when I can finish what they want in less than 3 hours – makes me physically ill. Putting in long days now to afford free time later is worth it.
- I want to be able to spend whatever time I want with my family when I’m ready to have kids. My parents worked all the time when I was a kid, and as much as I admire them for providing everything I could want, my priority is being able to give my future kids as much of my time as they want. I don’t want to be chained to anything.
Plan for the Worst
I think I’ve mentioned in previous articles that willpower is strongest in the morning and gets drained as the day goes on. I think this is why I have no desire to eat cookie dough until about 4pm, when it haunts my every thought.
It’s important to understand these kinds of patterns about yourself and plan for when your inner toddler starts to demand satisfaction!
While I haven’t done this yet, I need to start planning a healthy afternoon snack that I know will make me happy.
Create an ‘if, then’ statement around your typical distractions that isn’t too painful to follow. One that I already have in place is that if I feel tempted to watch YouTube during a break, then I’ll listen to a podcast instead. It still peaks my interest and feels like a break, but I don’t feel tempted to binge episode after episode.
Schedule Time to Indulge
Expecting perfect productivity from yourself every waking hour is unrealistic. In fact, giving yourself time to relax is vital to maintaining strong performance.
Although, I get that this one can be a struggle because the temptation to extend breaks indefinitely is real.
I don’t understand people who can use the pomodoro technique (25 minutes of work, 5 minute break, repeat 4x, then 30 minute break, repeat). People love it, so it could work for you.
But alas, the second I give myself a formal break my momentum dies completely and I find starting again worse than starting initially.
So other than bathroom breaks, which I make as relaxing as going to the bathroom can possibly be, I only take an extended lunch break during the day. This break has no rules and no hard end time. Sometimes I just lay on the couch and sleep for 30 minutes.
Because I typically work a long, productive morning, I don’t feel guilty. My clients can tell you that they always get quality work on time.
It’s still hard to pick back up in the afternoon, but at least I feel refreshed.
The last thing I’m still playing with is end times. Some people like to know when they’ll end their work day to avoid burnout. They close the office door and do whatever they want for the rest of the day.
But I like having and insanely lazy lunch and taking as long as I need to finish my work the rest of the day. My fiance always pretty late, so this almost never impact our time together. (Although it often affects getting to eat dinner).
If you have strong feelings one way or the other, let me know!
Don’t Change too Much at Once
I’ve talked about this a thousand times before, but I’m obsessed with collecting figurative plates to spin. I want to play guitar, and do photography, and get back into art, and learn to animate, and take my business to the next level, and be more active, and be perfectly healthy, and, and, and…
The problem is that you can’t snap your fingers and become a new you. I already criticized this thought pattern in my new year’s resolution article. I guess that makes me a hypocrite. Oh well, sometimes you have to learn something more than once before it sticks.
It’s better to change one thing at a time, because it takes so much energy to start. Once it becomes habit, you’ll have more energy to put toward the next thing.
Just keep going, brick by brick.
Keeping yourself distracted to drown out fear and stress is common and understandable. But, giving into distraction means trading short term relief for long-term misery.
If you want to be more disciplined, you need to explicitly define why that effort matters to you. No one achieves anything without a good reason. You also need to accept that you will continue to crave the distraction. So create a contingency plan.
When you crave X do Y instead. Just make sure Y isn’t so painful that you give up and do X.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You can’t exude productivity every second of every day and you can’t change all of your habits at once. Schedule time to relax and pick one thing to focus on at a time.
Let me know what distractions you’re addicted to and how you’re overcoming them! Or, let me know what’s stopping you from overcoming your addiction to distraction.