Why We Procrastinate (and how to stop)

Procrastination much? We all do it from time to time and, with effort, we can develop different habits. Dare I say, we can stop procrastinating for good? I rarely procrastinate anymore and many of my clients have developed better planning skills and tools to combat the urge to procrastinate but we’ve done that song and dance so we aren’t going there today. Today, we are exploring the rationale behind our procrastination.

First and foremost, let’s blame biology.

In brief, as humans, we are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This means that when our brains perceive danger, rightly or wrongly, our brain will begin crafting an escape route. This biological wiring is designed to keep us out of the mouths of hungry lions.

So where does this danger come in? For those of you living in the thick of your practice, you might be thinking that some of your partners and clients actually resemble hungry lions out to rip your throat out and that’s actually not too far off…. When we have something that we are avoiding, the REASON we are avoiding that project is because we have some underlying fear associated with the project. There is something about the project that is arousing your biological flight response. It might sound something like this

I’m not going to get this right and she is going to be so pissed at me.

I don’t know how to figure this out and he is probably going to fire me when I mess it up.

I cannot stand working for this client, they always leave out crucial facts.

I am so nervous, I cannot botch this project.

I hate working for this partner, I really don’t want to do this.

This is going to be miserable.

All of those thoughts will arouse some type of fear-based response. All of those thoughts trigger more negative thoughts and on and on it goes until we have built up this project to be cruel and unusual punishment that must be avoided at all costs. We are afraid of the consequences of not getting it right, pissing off the partner or the client, or we simply dread the perceived misery of the project.

In either case, we are being driven by some unacknowledged fear.

No problem, says the procrastination fairy, Starbucks has a new latte you need to try, and have you checked out your ex-boyfriend’s Facebook page lately? Then we indulge in our other biologically motivated response–seek pleasure! Gobble up endorphins wherever you can find them!

This routine will stretch on only until another, larger, and more critical fear enters the dance floor:

the deadline

Suddenly, the fear that we won’t get the project done in time looms larger in our minds and drowns out the earlier fears of failing the project. We start to imagine the SHOUTY CAPS emails raging over our missed deadline or failure to respond. Our mind is abuzz with a full-on parade of horribles showing us what will happen if we don’t stop shopping on Amazon and get. to. work.

Off we go, motivated by fear once again.

But this time, our earlier procrastination has likely set us up to fail in the exact same manner we were afraid of failing to begin with. We work frantically, our thoughts are scattered, and our work is filled with a chaotic sense of urgency. Ultimately, we end up beating the project to death with the procrastination stick until it is unrecognizable. We make mistakes that are completely out of character because we are rushed and panicked and now even MORE convinced that the partner is, in fact, going to seriously impede your survival at the firm. When we work from that mental space, motivated by fear, we do not do our best work. We miss things we would not normally miss and we overlook basic things that we KNOW. In sum, we fail ourselves and show up much less than our best.

This whole routine is tethered together by one small similarity: fear. We procrastinate because we are avoiding some negative emotion; we are afraid of something about the project. Then we procrastinate until a larger fear gets us moving. Ultimately, we end up creating our own self-fulling prophecy where we do the really terrible job that we feared we would do in the first place.

So what do we do?

We have to start getting honest with ourselves about why we are procrastinating to begin with. Once we get to the root of fear, we can ask whether we like that reasoning. Furthermore, we can acknowledge how this story will end if we choose to invest in that fear and go down the Facebook rabbit-hole instead. Combating procrastination only requires one thing from you: honesty. Honesty with yourself about your actions and your justifications. From there, all you have to do is ask yourself whether you like your reasons for acting or not acting and make a new, informed, honest choice about your next steps. Those are the choices that will determine the type of person you become — one who procrastinates or one who doesn’t. The choice is ultimately yours and all that matters is whether you are comfortable with your reasoning.

“Following-through is the only thing that separates dreamers from people that accomplish great things.”

Gene Hayden

Start taking actions towards your goals and stop letting fear derail your progress. Sign up for a free session and stop procrastinating today.


Photo by RODOLFO BARRETO on Unsplash

The Grind

I’m a firm believer that life is yin and yang. Good and bad. Not all days are will be your best days. While that is easy to accept logically, when you are in the middle of the grind, this 50/50 concept takes a backseat. Instead, we find ourselves wondering Is it supposed to be THIS hard? Maybe I went the wrong way. When you are stuck in the grind and your passion project becomes a chore, how do you know when it’s time to course correct or stay the course?

“Doing great work is a struggle. It’s draining, it’s demoralizing, it’s frightening – not always, but it can feel that way when we’re deep in the middle of it.”

― Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy

When you are working toward a new goal, there will be days when the goal seems unimportant. When the path you chose to the goal seems like a mistake. You can start to doubt your prior decisions and it seems logical to take a break and reassess. It is in those moments that having a good coach can make all the difference because your task must then become separating your fears from your good logic. It is those moments of breaking through the morass that will set you apart from all others who gave up and went home.

We set goals and we make plans. That is the easy part.

We have something we want to attain so we identify it and we get to executing. We make choices about how to best achieve that goal and we take action on those choices. But then, days/weeks/months later as we continue holding steady with those prior decisions, we start to second guess. We start to doubt and question whether we made the right decision. That questioning might be founded in good deductive reasoning but most often that questioning if fear-based.

We agonize over whether we made the right decision.

Whether we chose the right approach. Whether we should be spending our time elsewhere. NONE of those thoughts are founded upon the results of your current experiment. None of those questions are based upon your current course. They are all rooted in fear and self-doubt. Fear about making the wrong choice, fear about squandering your time, fear that it should be EASIER THAN IT IS. None of those fears are rationale but when they bounce around your head all day long, they are damn persuasive.

So how do you know when you are letting fear drive the boat or whether it really is time to make a change?

You have to ask yourself why you want to make a change midrace. Are you frustrated that it’s not going well or that it’s not as easy as you hoped? Are you feeling unmotivated and uninspired? Those are NOT REASONS TO CHANGE YOUR COURSE! That is part of the bargain. It is supposed to be hard!

When we believe that our path to a goal should be inspired and we should be filled with passion and motivated every step of the way, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We are denying the reality of yin and yang! From that space the only option is to abandon ship every time it gets hard. We spend our lives chasing happiness and running away from challenges. That course will never bring your dreams to fruition.

The take away here is this: if you want to change your course, do you like your reasoning for doing so?

Would your future self agree with your rationale?

What would it be like to stick it out a little longer–what will that gain you?

What will it cost you to change course?

Whenever we set goals, I encourage my clients to make them very measurable and clear. If you are going to start a website and a blog, identify the steps and tell yourself how long you are willing to commit to a particular course of action. Maybe you will commit to trying to make it all on your own for 3 weeks. After that point, you can decide whether it might be best to hire a web designer. The point is to trust yourself enough to commit to a course of action that makes sense to you.

Give yourself the opportunity to either fail or succeed in taking action toward your goals. Don’t leave room for half/a attempts. Don’t give space to commit for a few days and give up when it gets hard. Expect that it will be hard. The grind will come and commit to riding that path through it. Don’t allow yourself to quit during the grind! Decide how long you are willing to commit to your selected path and just. do. it.

Make a decision and have your own back.

After you have pushed through the grind and honored your prior decision-making enough to power through, THEN you can re-evaluate how to best proceed. At that time, not only will you have identified one approach that does not (or does) work but you will have also fostered trust in yourself. You will have developed confidence in yourself that you can make commitments to yourself and execute, even when it gets hard. You honor yourself and your decision-making when you stick to the plan. After all, there was a reason you decided to take that approach–give yourself the benefit of the doubt and stick with it even when it gets hard.

Unsure about whether it is time to change course? Get some free coaching today. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective to see things differently.


Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

Overwhelm (it’s not the email)

You know that feeling….

It’s 4:30 on Friday you are just starting to timidly believe that you are going to get out of the office before 6pm, you start to allow yourself to get excited because you are meeting your law school friends for happy hour and your significant other will be joining you later and taking you out for dinner at your favorite restaurant. Finally, a fun Friday night with the people you love. It’s been a long week!

Then your office phone rings and it is your best work friend in the middle of a complete pre-working-all-weekend cataclysmic meltdown. Just as you are about to begin telling her not to quit, you can do this…. “that” partner darkens your doorway. You quickly get her off the phone, promise to call her back, and internally cringe as the partner asks you if you could take a look as these “few sections” of this Stock Purchase Agreement blah blah blah, “I just emailed you with a link to the diligence room”, hands you a 60 page SPA and promptly exists. You glance at his email and it asks for a response by tomorrow morning (Saturday for those of you not tracking…). Then your phone lights up, it’s your boyfriend asking you where the dog food is and could you make sure to put milk on the grocery list. Also, what should he wear tonight? As you are just starting to process what just happened, your paralegal shows up and jumps right into discussing a project you gave her a week ago that she is “struggling with” as she launches into a long and detailed explanation and plants herself in your office chair and you sit there, dumbfounded wondering what the heck she is talking about, how can I get her to stop talking without screaming…and what the F just happened?

Then it sets in.

For me, overwhelm feels like hot compression of my chest and a ringing sound, like after a bomb goes off and your ears are trying to adjust. It’s the worst.

We’ve all been there. In the moment, it’s easy to believe that all of these “things” happening to us are what is causing that sickening, tight feeling. The truth is that none of that is true. That feeling is caused 1000% by your thoughts. You are doing this to yourself.

The email saying “I need you to respond by 11am Saturday” is not making you feel that way. In fact, that circumstance alone is not particularly anxiety-inducing. It’s just words. On a page.

What is anxiety inducing is the thought “There is no way I’m going to get this done in time…I’m going to have to cancel all of my plans…I really needed tonight, I really needed this break, it’s been such a long week…I’m so tired of this BS…I can’t believe you did this to me, AGAIN!…I don’t have time for all of this…how am I going to get all this done?!…you didn’t even think to ask me if I have time!…

THOSE nasty little sentences are what get your heart racing. It’s not the events going on around you. It’s not the email.

Add to it, thoughts about the other circumstance “C’mon Karen, you have a meltdown every week, I don’t have time for this…if I don’t call her back when she needs me, I’m a terrible friend…I have to call her back, she is so upset…I don’t have time to call her back, I need to figure out what I’m going to do…I can’t deal with her right now…she is so dramatic…she is going to hate me if I don’t call her back..” and then the thoughts about the boyfriend “Seriously, why can’t he find things on his own?! I’m at work, I don’t have time to tell you where everything is, look for it yourself, GDI!…can’t you pick up some milk and while you’re at it, get the other groceries, why do I have to do everything!?

You end up with a ton of emotions racing through your body at the same time: fear, anger, guilt, anxiety, judgment, shame, indignation. These ingredients cause overwhelm, like a pot boiling over, your brain can’t handle the sudden influx of feels!

This cacophony in your brain is what is creating that feeling of overwhelm. It is not your boyfriend, your tearful colleague, the partner, or the email. You are doing it to yourself.

So how do we turn down the noise and sort through overwhelm?

First, recognize that it is your thoughts doing this to you. It is not the circumstances. That email does not reach out of the screen and make your heart palpitate. It’s impossible. So let’s look at the real cause: you have to get the thoughts out. This leads us to step 2:

Step 2: Exercise the demons.

If you had a bat in your attic, you wouldn’t simply close the door and continue to let it bang around up there. You would get it out and then figure out how the F it got in there. Take 5 minutes to breathe and write down every single thought that is banging around up there — get them out. Do not judge them. Do not censor them. Just get them into black and white.

Step 3: Look at them! Separate the thoughts from the facts. You are lawyer, you know facts when you see them. Cut out all the adjectives, adverbs and subjective statements and isolate the facts. Highlight them. Then look at all the lovely thoughts you are having about those facts.

Step 4: Lawyer them to death. Challenge each of those thoughts. Argue it. Question it. Present the opposite side. If you are thinking “If I don’t respond to that email by tomorrow at noon, I am going to get fired,” ask is that true?

Argue with yourself–If I don’t respond by tomorrow at 11am, I am NOT going to get fired and here’s why…. 

For each thought, ask “how is this thought serving me right now?”  Is it helpful for you to think, If I blow this off he is going to be pissed! What’s point?!

The majority of these thoughts are not serving you. Sure, some of them might be true but what is the upside of thinking them and focusing on them?! What is that getting you?

Is it helping you get the work done? Is it helping you triage the situation? I doubt it.

You don’t wander around telling everyone about that time you completely missed the deadline on that IRS filing for a client. It might be a fact but what is the point of carrying it around with you?

Just because it might be true, doesn’t make it useful.

Ask yourself “So what?

If I have to cancel my happy hour with my friends, they will be disappointed….so what? Will they stop being your friend? Can they handle being disappointed? Will it kill them to be disappointed? Will it kill you to allow them to be disappointed? Asking yourself “so what?” forces you to examine the worst case scenario and look at all the drama your brain is offering you. Stop with the drama and start really looking at the reality of the situation. Your friends will understand. They will get over it. They might be sad. They are grownups and they can relate. So what if your perfectly planned Friday night doesn’t work out? So what?

For each thought in your head argue the opposite. If you are thinking “I have to call my friend back, she was in tears!” Challenge yourself to argue the opposite. Do you really have to call her back? What if you didn’t? Do you really need to spend all night working on the SPA review? Can you make an argument that you can do it more efficiently (once you clear all this junk out of your brain)? Do you really need to cancel all your plans or are you just being dramatic?

Whenever we are feeling overwhelmed it’s because we have a series of competing thoughts in our brain that each are causing some form of negative emotion. Those thoughts and feeling converge and we lose our $#!+.

Stop blaming the circumstances around you for those feelings.

Own your role in this. Recognize the source of your feelings and get to work watching and questioning your thoughts. You are lawyer. People pay you to argue. Put that fancy degree to work and start arguing with the ridiculous statements in your head.

Don’t be a pawn to your own drama. You got this.

Whenever you’re ready, there are three great ways to take your work on your career and your brain deeper.

  1. Sign up for one of my 6-week programs that will take you from overwhelm to happiness.
  2. Sign up for a 12-week program that not only provides you with the tools to improve your happiness but more concrete tools to transform your legal practice.
  3. Sign up for free coaching consultation.

Learn more here.

Contrails (Your Past is Stalking You)

When someone says to you: “Tell me about yourself.” How do you respond?

Most of us take this to mean the trifecta: What do you do? Are you married? Do you have kids?

The interesting thing about how we respond to these lines of questioning is that our responses almost invariably describe our pasts.

I am married (Read: 10 years ago, I took a vow to another person.)

I have 3 kids (Read: Over the past several years, I have given birth to three humans.)

I am an attorney (Read: I went to law school 15 years ago.)

I don’t know about you but who I am today is only a small fleck of the person I was 10 or 15 years ago. All of those responses describe our past actions. Our past selves. None of this is who we are today.

What if you had to answer that question but could not reference your past in doing so? What would your response be?

Hard, right?

What gets really interesting is when we take it one step further:

I like to read.

I am not good at basketball.

I am an introvert.

I don’t like to be in large crowds.

I am not a good dancer.

I like to snow ski.

All of these things we use to describe ourselves we treat as factual. As if they just are. But in reality, these things describe our past experiences. Our past likes and dislikes. Our past successes and failures.

I used to like to wear my brother’s clothing and I never wore makeup.

That is not the case anymore! I have changed, and my likes/dislikes and self-expression have changed as well.

So often in our lives we drag our pasts with us in ways that we don’t even recognize:

I’m not good with relationships (because I am divorced)

I am not good at public speaking (because I had a really bad experience at a conference 2 years ago)

I don’t really like to try new sports (because I broke my ankle snowboarding for the first time)

Whatever it is we are telling ourselves and others about ourselves is often past-focused. We look to our past to describe who we are. To define ourselves. We look to our past to forecast our future self:

In the past I had a bad relationship and so that means I am bad with relationships today and will be in the future. I’ve tried, and it didn’t work out so that’s just my lot.

When you do this, when you look to your past to describe who you are today, you are investing in your past failures and limitations. You are looking to those past experiences to create your future.

For instance, so often people identify themselves by what they do for a living. That characterizations can limit how we see ourselves today and in our future. Who cares if I became an attorney decades ago? That has no bearing whatsoever on who I am now and where my future is going! So what if you didn’t go to college?! That has nothing to do with whether you will go to college next week, so why bother bringing it up? What you wanted to do for a living when you were in your 20s is irrelevant today.

When crafting your future, do not limit your dreams to what you have accomplished in the past, it will only limit you. Your past is no indication of who and what you can be tomorrow, next week, next year.

We carry our pasts with us like the contrails from a plane. Stop doing that! That doesn’t exist anymore unless you let it. Don’t look to your past to define yourself today and envision your future. It is irrelevant data. The only thing that matters is what you want in your future; that has nothing to do with where you have been.

The next time someone says to you “Tell me about yourself,” I hope that you will pause and consider the question anew. Don’t limit who you are by what you did 5, 10, 15 years ago. Let you past rest and start creating the person you want to be today.

Every. Single. Day. Is an opportunity to create the life and the person you want to be.

I love helping my clients dream about their future and move away from their past limiting beliefs. I would be honored to support you as well.

Triage versus Prioritizing

According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Action expresses priorities.” Unfortunately, this is often lost in legal practice where our actions are rarely tied to priorities.

For better or worse, most days spent in corporate legal practice start off with good intentions and big plans about all the things we will accomplish that day. Then the train derails and we spend most of the day “putting out fires” and ignoring all of those best laid plans. While some of this may be the result of real client emergencies, more often than not, there is no real emergency.

No one’s life is on the line and no one’s business is going to implode if you don’t immediately respond to that email.

While this approach to practice can certainly be productive and earn some goodwill with important clients or powerful partners, it is not a zero sum game. Making every hysterical email or phone call from clients or partners a priority, will ultimately prevent you from focusing on the projects that are a priority, like that presentation you need to prepare for that conference next week.

In the end, the only one who pays for failing to set priorities and establish boundaries, is you, your career, and likely your clients.

Countless times, I allowed frantic emails from needy clients or intimidating partners derail my plans to focus on other, less exciting but important projects. Over time, I realized that there was part of me that was accomplishment driven. I craved the urge to please a partner or a client and I relished the opportunity to “make someone else’s life easier,” to be needed, to fix something, to alleviate someone’s stress, even if it was to my own detriment. I would spend an entire day running around with my hair on fire addressing every client emergency that showed up, all the while disregarding the new DOL regulations that sat on my desk. This was my job ,right, to help clients?! Not sit at my desk all day reading regulations? Then, inevitably, an important client or partner would ask me what I thought about the DOL’s new guidance and I would freeze, mentally abusing myself for not making time to read those damn regs.

We have all done this. Instead of doing the hard work (setting boundaries, reading those regulations, saying “no”) we choose the spotlight, we choose the emergency, we choose to pursue feelings of accomplishment driven by results. What we loose sight of when we do this are three critical lessons.

When you allow your client to dictate your priorities you create monsters.

There is such a skill as client management. Every client cannot be a priority and every client cannot expect you to drop everything for them all the time. Your time is limited and every single one of your clients deserves your focus and attention. Allowing the squeaky wheel to dictate your day is a disservice to your clients and creates unrealistic expectations. Once your client or partner is used to you being at their beck and call, they will expect it every time. They will never see you as a partner to them. You become much more like a high-priced pizza delivery driver—whatever they want, any hour of the day. That is exhausting.

Overtime, the enthusiasm that comes with pleasing that particular client or partner will wane and give way to passive aggression and shoddy legal work. So many times I saw young attorneys deliberately do crappy work just to get a certain partner off their back or to get a client to start using someone else.

In order to be a good lawyer (never mind an adult human) you need to be able to have open, honest and candid conversations with people, including the people who pay your bills.

By pretending you are comfortable with that imbalanced relationship and telling them you are able to help, when you really aren’t, is nothing more than manipulation. You are taking action in hopes of manipulating what they will think about you. You are hoping they will see you as reliable, dependable, responsive, smart, and necessary. You are acting dishonestly in hopes you can control what they think about you.

What would it be like to believe all of those things on your own? What would it be like to add honesty to that list?

In the long run, honesty will do more for the relationship than manipulation and bitterness. A good client relationship is not built around dishonesty and unwillingness to have the difficult conversations. It rarely ends well. Besides, if clients and partners see you as never busy and always able to jump on things for them, what message does that communicate to them about your value and skillset?

You are setting a dishonest precedent and setting your clients up for sub-par work.

When you are overwhelmed with work and that client or partner asks you Do you have a second or Can you get back to me on this later this afternoon or Can you get this back to me today and you say Yes…you are lying! Piling on more projects will not magically create more time to do the work. There are limits to what you can accomplish in a day. I’m not saying that you need to be rigid about your work schedule and refuse work left and right, my message is that you need to learn to be honest with those people who are depending upon you.

Be honest with yourself about your workload and your ability to meet all those expectations. Being honest with your clients and saying I have a conference call that is expected to take all afternoon, can I get it to you tomorrow morning is a perfectly reasonable response. Telling that partner I am on several deadlines today for XYZ client or ABC partner, I’m happy to reshuffle if they are okay with it but I would need to check is also an acceptable response.

Responding honestly, in this way shows your clients/partners that you are busy and in demand and are willing to problem solve to ensure they receive the best service.

So many times I agreed to do things that I didn’t have time for. When I showed up to the meeting or call, I was stressed, harried, distracted and bitter. That is not the appropriate space for providing great legal services.

Similarly, when I accepted too much work, the net result was that every project would get 60% of my effort and time because I didn’t have enough time to do it all 100%. The point is, if you don’t have time or it’s going to take some reshuffling to get things done, say so. By asking the question, you give your client the opportunity to regroup and reassess their own priorities. If you don’t ask, you end up providing hurried and frantic legal services to a client that believed you had adequate time to do it right. If it is rushed, they will know and your reputation will suffer accordingly.

I have heard so many clients and partners criticize associate work by saying They clearly rushed through this or They should never have accepted this project if they didn’t have time, which they evidently did not. This is not where you want to be. That trust is difficult to rebuild. Strive to be legal counsel that is honest and willing to troubleshoot with your clients to ensure they receive proper legal support. The best legal work does not occur at midnight after 10 cups of coffee; it happens when you give yourself space to be present and focused.

Consider whether you are using “emergencies” to distract yourself.

Many times when I was avoiding a particularly difficult project, I would catch myself creating emergencies and burying myself in more “important” things. If I was dreading those new regulations or delaying preparation of slides for a presentation, I would make anything else a priority. I would make ordering flowers for my secretary a priority – ANYTHING. I would take benign non-emergent client emails and dive into them as if they were multi-million dollar lawsuits instead of doing the work I had planned to do; the work I NEEDED to do but didn’t want to.

We all know the negative effects of procrastination so I won’t waste my key strokes, but here, the real issue is awareness. Are you even aware that you are manufacturing emergencies because you are avoiding something else?

As a grown human you are free to manage your workload however you see fit but don’t lie to yourself. If you are doing 1,000 other things because you are avoiding another project, be honest about it.

Don’t run around manufacturing fires, indulging in drama, and telling everyone how busy you are. Then when real projects stack up and the avoided project gets critical you fall apart bemoaning your workload and inability to meet your deadlines as you wallow in the mess that you created. Stop it. If you are deliberately avoiding something, own it and just know that you will probably regret it later. Don’t create drama around it and don’t act like you didn’t create this problem. Instead, consider what it would be like to flex that muscle that makes you sit down and do the hard things? I’m no soothsayer but I suspect that skill will get you much farther in life.

Instead of allowing each day’s emergencies to dictate your life, decide what projects or clients are a priority each day and stick to them. 

When something else comes up, ask yourself: Is this going to impede my ability to focus on my priorities? Is this going to yield as great of results for me and the firm as my priorities? What will I have to sacrifice if I say yes to this project? What negative consequence am I signing up for if I disregard my established priorities?  You may not always be in a place to control your workload but asking yourself these questions will help you to learn how to discern priorities from distractions so that when you do get the chance to control you desk, you will have honed that skill. It becomes even more essential as you grow to manage your practice as well as others.

In the end, the practice of law provides the opportunity to hone basic interpersonal skills. I support so many of my clients to hone these skills. Not only is setting and sticking to priorities a life-long asset but a byproduct of that skill is learning to be honest with your clients and coworkers and ultimately, yourself.

Need support setting boundaries and prioritizing? Schedule a free consultation with me and let’s start building that skill. Your mental health will thank you.

Wanted: Motivation

I recently found myself riding the popular mode of public transportation known affectionately as the Monday Morning Struggle Bus. I was tired and grouchy and just plain did not want to be at work. I didn’t want to be at my regular 9-5 and I didn’t want to work on my coaching business either. I just wanted to go full-on introvert hermit and hide under the covers all day. The problem was that I had made all these commitments – to myself and my clients. My day was full of tasks that I had planned to complete so that my week would stay on course. The constant reminders started popping upon my phone at 8:30 this morning and I knew that wouldn’t stop until 8:30pm tonight.

I told myself that if I could just muster up some motivation, I could get over this hump.

Now, where to find that motivation…. Facebook? A trip to Starbuck’s for a caffeine jolt? Maybe a hallway chat with my co-workers? Maybe if I procrastinate long enough, I will force myself to get to work in a frenzy of stress-induced mania!

My brain came up with all sorts of fun things I could do today instead of work. That’s when I realized that I had just caught my brain in serious reptile mode.

My brain knew I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated. It knew I didn’t want to work and it was politely offering me all sorts of ways to indulge myself and run away from those crappy feelings and dumb work projects. My brain got to work coming up with all sorts of ways to self-soothe. In my mind, I imagined some skeezy alter-ego standing on the corner in a dirty trench coat saying “hey, babe, you want to fly to the moon?” Dramatic, yes, but the basic premise is the same.

My brain was selling me a quick fix, promising it would make me feel better and help me avoid the discomfort I was currently feeling – the Monday morning blues.

I had thought “I really don’t want to do this” and my brain responded, “here are some things you can do that would be WAY more fun.” In addition, my brain went to work telling me all the reasons why it was okay to blow off all the things I had promised myself…you worked really hard all weekend, you deserve a break . . . this project isn’t worth worrying about, you can do it tomorrow . . . you work harder than everyone else, you deserve a few hours “off”. . .

That is what our brains do! We are so used to indulging ourselves and going out of our way to bury those negative feelings (buffering) or running away from them outright through avoidance or procrastination, that is what our brains automatically do in the face of discomfort. And now our brains are really good at it!

Once we allow our brains to run that route a few 100,000 times, it becomes a pro and offers us those “solutions” every time we face the same or a similar discomfort.

If you think “I really don’t want to go to the gym today,” your brain is going to get to work running that pattern and offering you all sorts of reasons why you really shouldn’t go to the gym: You really don’t have time today . . . your really should rest, the day was super stressful . . . you seem run down, you’re probably getting sick, better to rest . . . gosh, your knee seems a little tender, if you don’t rest it you will probably strain it . . . Trust me, the brain is a WWE Diva when it comes to this stuff because we have let it practice this song and dance our entire lives.

When you see your brain doing this, just know that it is operating as it should but that what it is telling you is not the truth.

These are not a facts; they are just thoughts your brain is really good at thinking. Your brain seeks to operate as efficiently as possible (e.g., running the same thought patterns) and the reptilian brain wants to keep you safe (avoid discomfort at all costs lest you be killed by lions!). When you get uncomfortable, your brain offers you these thoughts in an attempt to seek comfort and avoid pain. They are all attempts to keep you running the same route you have been running your whole life. This is guaranteed to keep you stuck.

You have to get savvy with your brain. You have to catch on to its tricks! The next time you catch your brain offering you a platter full of delightful excuses not to do something out of the norm or something you aren’t excited about (e.g., 5am gym classes), do the hard work and keep your promises to yourself. THOSE are brain patterns you want to become a habit but they never will if you don’t force your brain to practice the routes.

Recognize when your brain is doing this and see it for what it is – an old pattern. Then work on creating a new pattern.

This doesn’t mean you have to engage in a round of mental arm wrestling, arguing with each of these thoughts. What it means is that you can recognize when your brain is doing this and ignore all those thoughts and justifications your mind offers. Hello, brain, I see all these glorious excuses you are offering me, very adorable, but no thanks. Just clear your head and stick to the commitment. Period. By honoring commitments, you develop a new set of beliefs and patterns that your brain can channel. The next time you find your brain running an old pattern and explaining why you really shouldn’t go to the gym this morning, you might be able to think instead – Yes, I was tired last time I went to the gym at 5am and I still had a great workout and felt energized all day . . . or Going to that gym class always makes me feel so much less stressed out and I always have a better day than when I skip it.

Commitment is a skill and learning to honor your commitments takes practice and it takes foresight. Your brain will try and talk you out of it, guaranteed. Plan on it and know you must push through.

Only through commitment and practice will you build motivation.

Once you start building those patterns, you can literally achieve anything.

Get out there and use your discomfort as an opportunity to teach your brain some new dance moves. This is hard work but it is the work of a lifetime. Commit to yourself. Commit to better results than you have gotten thus far. Coach with me. I’m ready. Are you?

Save the Drama for . . . well, you know . . .

Recently I’ve had several sessions with a similar underlying theme relating to drama and the stories about ourselves and our lives that we carry around with us.

So many of us carry stories about ourselves or our past that are so riddled with drama that it is making all of us crazy!

Not only does this drama typically bring with it some unwanted and unproductive emotions but the habit of creating drama in your life is going to make it difficult to find space for the things you truly WANT to spend your energy doing. As you make bigger goals and strive to do new things, you are going to encounter struggles and negative emotions and if you spin out in drama every time this happens, you will handicap that goal…and you will likely make yourself crazy in the process, so that’s fun too.

I once had a client tell me that the reason she is stuck in her life is because she can’t move home to the Midwest. “I can’t move home to the Midwest because I have this house and it needs all this work and I keep trying to hire contractors but I don’t trust them and there really aren’t any good contractors out there any way, and the house is practically unlivable because the last contractors I hired completed botched the roof and now water is coming in everywhere. . .”

On and on she went about how the house was so terrible and no one could be trusted to fix it for her so she would just have to be stuck where she was until she could figure something else out.

Come to find out that the issue with the house was that the contractors didn’t properly seal her skylights so the roof was leaking over her kitchen. That was the huge catastrophe that was keeping her from moving. Of course, when she initially related all this to me, I was horrified, imaging contractors who had left huge sections of her roof completely unfinished and exposed to the elements and a roof that was about to cave in and lions, tiger, and bears, oh my!

My mind immediately went for the drama.

That is what our reptilian brain does! It looks for danger to try and keep us from getting eaten by lions! This situation was not worthy of that level of panic but that’s what our brain immediately wants to do.

Here’s another example. My partner is selling his home and recently found out that his roof had some damage and would need to be replaced prior to the sale. When I got his message that he was going to have to replace the roof, my mind LITERALLY imagined that there must be huge holes in his roof from some cataclysmic overnight hail storm that I slept through. My heart started to race and I imagined all the horrible possibilities. When I spoke to him, he was very matter-of-fact: the home inspector says there is hail damage, I spoke to my insurance carrier and filed a claim, they will let me know more soon. That was it. No drama. Just the facts. My mental chaos was immediately snuffed out.

The distinction here is that one person was focused on the facts of the situation and JUST the facts. No superfluous details or embellishments.

Just those aspects of the situation that everyone would agree were universally true about the situation. That is the trick that so many of us are missing. When our brains want to spin out of control joyriding a parade of horribles, we have to stop and focus on the facts. Once these scenarios are boiled down to simple facts, they become so much less dramatic. So much easier to solve for and they require so much less of your energy!

I most often see this when people speak about their pasts. Try it sometime on people that you know well. For instance, that friend of yours who is always sending you 11pm text messages “Call me immediately!” for some new drama. If you ask her to describe her childhood or last relationship, her description will likely be laden with drama.

On the other hand, your friend that always seems calm, cool, and collected will likely describe her past with simplicity and without unnecessary drama or extravagant stories. It doesn’t mean that one of them had a past that was any easier or less challenging, it just means that one of them chooses not to create drama around her childhood and chooses instead to cast her childhood in factual and positive tones.

How we describe our past experiences is a choice.

It doesn’t mean you deny that you have had difficult experiences; it means that when you think about those experiences, you focus on the facts and you find truths about those experiences that make you feel good instead of focusing on the facts that make you feel miserable. This is SO important because if you cast your past in a drama-filled, chaotic manner, those thoughts are not likely going to make you feel like you are ready to take on the world and build your empire. I personally know that when I allow myself to sift through the drama of my past relationships and the negativity of those experiences, the only thing I want to do is sit on the couch and eat an entire bag of chips with queso. Those thoughts are not helpful. They are not making you feel better and they are not helping you move forward.

The only reason your past exists today is because you let it. The only way your past exists is in your mind.

How you think about that past in your mind is YOUR CHOICE. Separate the facts of your past from the drama. You will free up so much mental space when you do.

Here is an example to help drive home this point. I once left a firm and believed that I was not leaving on good terms. I believed that we were both angry about how things worked out and I believed there was a lot of resentment in both camps. So, when I received my last paycheck from the firm and it was about 10% of my usual paycheck, I went through the roof! I was so upset and angry and indignant that they would “do that to me.” I had convinced myself that it was an intentional slight and was the ultimate “last straw” in my relationship with them. I would never have anything good to say about them EVER! On and on I went. I told myself there was no need to call them and challenge my compensation because they would have all sorts of excuses and rationalizations and it “just wouldn’t be worth the energy to ask them about it” I just didn’t “want the fight.” I didn’t want the fight but I was seething no less. I was fighting, alright, I just didn’t have an opponent.

So I decided to heed some of my own advice. I ditched the drama and endeavored to find the facts. That required me to reach out and start asking questions. Turns out, the payment was correct but without the breakdown of how they landed at that number, I didn’t have a full picture. Health insurance, retirement contributions, final deductions, etc.  for the full month of my termination had whittled my final paycheck down to almost nothing. Once I saw the numbers, it made sense. All that drama for WEEKS. What a waste.

What could I have done differently? Rather than making myself crazy for weeks, I could have focused on the facts of the situation: I got my last paycheck, it was $X less than usual, I did not ask for an explanation. Those facts, standing alone don’t seem worthy of a meltdown. Those facts instead beg the question—why aren’t you asking for an explanation? Those facts are confusing and require additional research! Simple. If I had looked at the facts sooner, I could have spared the drama and asked for the information earlier. Or I could have decided not to ask for an explanation and added another fact: I am not asking for an explanation and I am okay with that. Done. No more mental work to be done here.

If you can learn to identify and clean up the drama in your brain and in your life, imagine what you could do with all that extra time and energy. The possibilities are endless!

Need support ditching the drama? Coach with me and let’s start cleaning up your brain.

The BS of Busyness

Most of my clients have areas of their lives that they want to improve upon. Some want to eat healthier, others want to spend more time on their hobbies or with their children, yet others want to get back into shape or develop a meditation practice. I suspect that you, gentle reader, have a laundry list of things that you would like to spend your time doing but you can “never seem to find the time.” That is the most common explanation I get for these challenges –

I just don’t have time . . . I’m so busy . . . my kids are so consuming . . . my job consumes all my time.

So many of us blame Father Time for our inability to have the work-life balance we so desperately seek. Unfortunately, time is not what is really standing in your way. YOU are standing in your own way. The “busyness” that so many people use as a badge of honor is nothing but a cover story for being disorganized and not managing themselves properly.

Think about it. Time is the greatest equalizer. We all have the same amount. Rich and successful people are not given more time than the rest of us. Sure, having piles of cash lying around can allow you to spend your money to free up your time but that doesn’t explain how you were able to get there in the first place; it doesn’t explain how you were able to make that success that created your piles of cash.

So many successful people have commented in their bios how much they had to hustle in their early days to make things happen, to pursue their passion for writing, or their painting hobby, or whatever it was that lead to their success. They wanted to have time for those things and they made it happen. They didn’t magically buy more time.

They didn’t run around exclaiming about how busy they were and didn’t have time for their passions.

People make time for what’s important to them.

In order to have the life you want, you might have to sacrifice a few things. You might have to spend 10 minutes getting ready instead of 30 so that you can squeeze in a 20 minute meditation before you go to work. You might have to get up at 4:30am to spend some time writing or reading before everyone else gets up – this may mean you have to start going to bed at 9pm instead of 10pm and you miss the late night news. Guess what, you can catch a news podcast in the morning on your drive to work. No harm, no foul. It’s all about your priorities and choices.

Whatever you are wanting more of in your life is simply something you are choosing not to make a priority.

I see so many people that want that success, they want to be a published author or they dream about running a marathon but they are not willing to make it a priority and rearrange their lives in honor of that priority.

We want the glory but we don’t want to reach for it. We want that success but we aren’t willing to be uncomfortable to get there.

I have my clients work through a few different exercises to try and banish the busyness demon. For those clients who are convinced they simply “do not have enough time” for XYZ, I ask them to keep a detailed list of how they spend their days, every day, for one month, down to the minutes of every hour.

The results are always mind blowing – did you know you were wasting 1 hour every week night cooking dinner when you could spend 2 hours on Sunday meal prepping instead? The could earn you 3 extra hours a week during those precious week nights! Or did you know you spend 30 minutes in the shower every day? What if you spent 15 minutes and used the remaining 15 to read the paper every morning or start plowing through those piles of books you want to read? Twenty minute commute? Use it to learn that second language or listen to audiobooks.

The possibilities are endless. This can be such a freeing exercise and opportunity to truly look at your life – what are you making a priority? Take a look and approach the experiment with honesty and curiosity.

The second exercise is to practice diligence and commitment to yourself and your goals. This is done by careful planning ahead of time. Making your calendar your greatest friend and ally.

Making commitments to tasks in furtherance of your goal, putting them on your calendar and honoring your commitment to yourself.

If you want to start a business, break it down into bite-sized steps and put each step on your calendar. As the events come up, honor them as if they were a meeting with the CEO of your company. Do not reschedule them.

Commitment creates results and builds momentum but only if you let it.

After working through these exercises, I believe you will come to see that busyness is not a symbol of importance or productivity but rather an indication of mismanaged time and scattered planning. I hope you can use these tools get over “busyness” and make space for your true priorities.

Learning to manage you energy and honoring commitment is at the heart of the coaching relationship. Learn these skills with me and commit to your new future.