The conversation started the same as it always does: me complaining about my lack of self-discipline.
I’m still not eating well. I haven’t yet started running again. My writing isn’t where I want it to be. I’m still not focusing completely on the kids when I’m with them. On and on and on…the same things, over and over. There’s no question that my desires are good. Becoming a better person is a noble pursuit, right? Anybody who’s tried, though, knows it’s not easy. Steven Pressfield talks about how we experience Resistance when we try to better ourselves in his book The War of Art (must read). I think he’s right.
My friend and I had spoken about focus in previous conversations. Instead of trying to improve everything incrementally and spreading myself thin, why not try focusing on one or two areas for a specified amount of time? This time, as he spoke about focusing on just one area and “maintaining” the others, I started to sweat. And I sighed a lot.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“You can hear me sighing,” I said. ”I just…I can’t do it!”
“Do you feel like you’d be neglecting everything else?” he asked.
“Yes! And I feel like it wouldn’t work. The whole time I’d be trying to focus on that one area, but I’d be distracted by the thought that everything else is going to crap. I’d just be anticipating everything I’ll have to clean-up once that month or whatever is over.”
I didn’t expect to get so emotional about it. A couple things came to a head, though, that pushed me over the edge. First of all, I’m a perfectionist. So much so that I often don’t start things that I’m excited and passionate about because I don’t feel prepared; even if I’ve prepared for months or even years. Also, I’m afraid of failure. Not a great combination. So, this conversation hit on both of them. ”Why can’t I do this? Why is it so difficult for me, but everybody else seems to be able to do it? I suck. I’m a failure.” And so it goes.
The truth is, though, nobody has these expectations of me…except for me. Nobody expects me to be perfect. Nobody’s going to hate me if I fail at something. And yet, so often I let it paralyze me. Perhaps you feel the same way.
The analogy of spinning plates was used during most of our conversation. I told my friend that if I only spun one plate, I felt like the rest would all come crashing down. That’s the mess I’d have to clean-up. Like this guy:
Ok, not exactly like that guy.
My friend pointed out the flaws in my thinking, though. First of all, focusing on one doesn’t mean neglecting the rest. Focus on one and maintain the rest. Give them a spin to keep them going and then come back to the one. And while that doesn’t seem ideal (I want them all to spin perfectly!), the fact of the matter is that if I can simply keep my plates spinning during this busy time in my life…that’s success!
He told me to test it. Focus one plate (for a time) and see what happens. See if my fears become reality. Because the truth is, the rest of them probably won’t come crashing down. In fact, the very opposite is likely to happen. As I gain traction in one area, I will be able to focus on another and maintain the former more easily and so on and so forth. And even though I see this possible positive reality, breaking through the perfectionism and fear is still incredibly difficult.
I feel like a lot of people are experiencing something like this right now. This need to focus. This call to know what you care about, who you are and to push forward.
So, what are your plates? Do you need to focus on one and get it spinning fast and strong while maintaining the others? Are you afraid to try it? Or are you excited?