My client, I’m going to call her Emily, is prepping for her third-year review. Like most tenure trackers, she’s overworked. She and I have been working together to make her workday more manageable and she made some impressive progress recently. But it was not easy.
I noticed Emily was spending a lot of her time and energy complaining, and then ruminating about not having enough time and energy. I suggested to her, “If you would choose to use less of your time complaining and ruminating, you would have more time and energy available to you.” She responded, “I know, but there’s just not enough time to do it all. I have to teach, but I’m not given enough time to prepare. Then I do a poor job and I get horrible evaluations….” And she would, if I let her, spend the rest of our time together spinning about how unfair her situation is and how little time she had and how she’s disappointing the department chair and she’s a miserable wreck and, and, and.
“Stop,” I said. I considered firing her as a client, just so she could have five more minutes a day to complain. I got tough with her. “Listen, Emily, figure out right now one thing you CAN DO about the time issue. Put that action on your list, do that one task, and stop thinking about how little time you have for 24 hours after finishing that task.” She agreed. One day, she asked her husband if he would be willing to get breakfast for their son in the morning so she could hide away and write. She called about hiring an editor on another day. Then, recently, she ordered a week’s worth of healthy meals delivered pre-made right to her house (from paleoonthego.com, a company I recommend). She took one pressure-relieving action each day. Then she (tried) to let go of the problem and the outcome for 24 hours. Some actions yielded relief and some didn’t. Most importantly, though, she didn’t USE TIME to WORRY about TIME.
At least this is what I hoped was happening. Emily said she found dealing with the issue and taking action every day was helping; she actually was freeing up some time. However, she wasn’t freeing up as much mental space as she had hoped to.
Emily admitted she was having a hard time letting go of ruminating, even after taking action. She said, “I start thinking, ‘Maybe it won’t work, maybe it’s too expensive to do long-term, what if it doesn’t work?’” Talk about a spin cycle.
I asked her, “Have you ever bought something online from a place like Amazon.com, Overstock.com, or Taxidermy.com?” Emily replied that she had done so. I suggested she imagine herself clicking “Place order now” after she finished her “create more time” task each day. I asked her to tell herself, “You took an action and your order has been placed.”
Truly, this way of working is not much different than placing an order for glass eyes from Taxidermy.com. Would you place your order and then immediately run to your front door to see if your box of eyeballs has arrived yet? Of course not! Taking action and letting go is like ordering online. You hit the “Place order now” button and then you move on with your day. Eventually, your items will arrive. You’ll like them or you won’t. You’ll keep them or you will return them. But once the order is placed, you can move on to other tasks and stop thinking about the glass eyeballs.
If you have a problem which is taking up a lot of head-space, identify one action you can take each day to deal with the problem. Even, in many cases, if it is a seemingly unresolvable family situation, you can do this process. You can decide, for example, to sit in prayer and meditation for five minutes. Then, once you have taken your action, it is as if have hit “Place order now” to buy something online. You can be done with that problem for now and let it go.
It’s really that simple.
Select item (aka task).
Place order (take action).
Let it go (free your mind).