A new year is beginning. It’s a time that inspires people (myself included) to change some things about their lives. In the past, I had always gotten stuck on coming up with something specific enough to be measurable, and so it was never actually attainable; in fact, the exact phrasing of my usual choice of resolution was “To Be the Best Me I Can Be”.
I used to think it was a safe choice of resolution, because the Best Me is always the one that I am being, because there is no other Me by which to judge. Eventually, however, I started to realize that I wasn’t actually being the Best Me I Could Be, and that I didn’t know how to fix it.
So I started to research about how to procrastinate less (via many many websites filled to the brim with fantastic advice), how to plan the tasks I want to do (via many many websites filled to the brim with fantastic advice), how to manage my time (via many many websites filled to the brim with fantastic advice), and how to work towards living a rewarding life (via many many websites filled to the brim with fantastic advice).
If you couldn’t tell by the sarcastic repeating of the same phrase in parentheses, I’m pretty sure I spent more time researching all of these subjects than I spent doing research for my thesis, and it’s now been almost seven years since I started my graduate degree… though I should point out that I abandoned my first thesis topic after three years, and I’m just over three years into my second topic, which feels about half done and accelerating (unless I’m feeling really stuck, in which case it feels like I’m about 10% done with zero forward momentum).
So what happened with all the studies of how to be a Better Me? I’ve thought a lot, read a lot (sometimes writing about my findings), tried a lot of time management systems, made mindmaps, tried motivating myself with a target date and even a five-year plan, checked whether antidepressants (combined with counselling) would help me kick the lack of motivation, did a 30-day trial to see if I could stick to something (NaNoWriMo) and complete it, and I even took part in a weekly discussion group that explored Moods and how they influence and are influenced by behaviours and thoughts. Of all of them, I think the last one was the most effective, perhaps because the ideas were reinforced weekly… but I still feel like I’m not my Best Me.
I have to remember that I’m definitely a much Better Me than I was, and that I’m always improving. I’m kinda like my thesis, in that way: any effort always improves the status of the project, whether it’s a writing project or a self-improvement project. It just sucks that I feel stuck, still.
Or do I actually feel this way? Could it be that I just think I’m stuck? I guess when I sit down to actually do some work, I kinda know what I’m going to do next, so… no, maybe I don’t really think I’m stuck. I’m just behaving like I’m stuck. Whoa… I’m reminded of a triangle diagram from the Mood Group:
This behaviour of stuckitude influences and is influenced by thoughts and moods, so which came first? Maybe I feel stuck because, looking at my behaviour, one would think I must be feeling stuck, because I certainly seem like I’m stuck. (Suddenly, I am reminded that I was just reading about self-perception theory a few weeks ago.) Or maybe I’m stuck in my thinking, unable to bring myself to think past the stuckness, and so my behaviour and emotions are following suit.
What’s more important than what caused the stuckness is the fact that there are three ways to mitigate it:
- I can change the thoughts telling me I’m stuck, by acknowledging that I have in fact been making progress, and so there isn’t as much evidence supporing the fact that I am stuck.
- I can change the behaviour of being stuck just by starting to do stuff that I think I’m stuck on, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.
- I can change the feelings… somehow. Hmm. Maybe this is where Havi’s discussions on destuckification are most useful. I can just acknowledge where I am, in a kind and compassionate way, and let the mood evolve how it will… while I’m applying steps 1 and 2, of course.
I just noticed that this list shows ‘behaviour’ in the middle, which seems odd because it is the thing that is most urgent for me to change. I guess this way it’s sandwiched between ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’, which lets it be exposed to different influences on both sides.
So, I guess I mostly need to stop thinking I’m stuck, and just let myself go ahead and do stuff despite some residual stuck feelings.
This brings me to my actual, concrete New Year’s Resolution, which isn’t about my thesis or even, necessarily, about overcoming my stuckness, but which could be a tool that helps me do this. My resolution is to choose three Most Important Tasks (MITs) to do each day, and then do them.
Doesn’t that sound easy? It’s also Specific, Measurable, Attainable (if I choose appropriate tasks each day, of course), Reasonable, and Timely (because I’ve recently learned just how much I appreciate confirming to myself that I’ve done some important things in a day). It’s a SMART New Year’s Resolution.
The choice of tasks to do each day is totally flexible, which my freedom-loving inner brat loves immensely. I can take into account which day of the week it is, what things are most stressing me on my to do list, and of course what things I really want to push forward in order to make progress on important life-changing projects (like, say, my thesis, or my future business). But I only have to pick three, which feels like a nice number because I’ve always liked it, and because it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
Of course, I can always do more than three (for example, writing this blog post wasn’t one of the most important things, but really feels good to be doing) and there will always be important everyday stuff that isn’t quite an MIT because it will probably get done anyways (like showering, catching up in email, or doing dishes or laundry… unless it’s a weekend or I’m sick, and getting going on even those things is difficult). In general, the MITs are meant to be special activities, special because I’ve chosen them to be so.
Anyways, here’s hoping this notion helps me get through my stuckness! I’m going to go do item number three on my MIT list now (spending one hour reviewing where I left off in my thesis at the end of last year), and when I’m done that, I will have four successful days in a row of accomplishing my resolution. Cheers!