Getting More Clarity in Our Lives

 
Photo by the Author 

The idea that we can do more in less time is an alluring idea.  Multi-tasking is often the instant fix we crave to deal with the real feelings of being overwhelmed and overcommitted.  If we take a deeper look, the feelings we have are more a part of misguided priorities and moving away from better clarity in our lives.

The Multi-tasking Myth: Clarifying your vision and values

Starting out with a clear definition of what you are (your role), and what you want to do (your values), is the beginnings of real clarification.  

The reasons we feel we need to multi-task is that others have defined our roles and values, and we have let them.  

The reasons multi-tasking doesn’t work is because it isn’t aligned with a clear vision, and tasks are not grouped in a way where energy expended maximizes getting things done. 

Creating your Clarity – Learning to Say No

Another reason that clarity is lost, is that reasonable boundaries in our lives and work are not developed.  

In order to create more clarity, you have to decide on the reasonable limits needed to really succeed in your roles.

 The ‘being everything to everyone’ idea is another example of going down the wrong direction faster.

Developing and Maintaining Real Clarity

  1. Define who you are and what contributions you want to make.
  2. Define the ways you want to serve others.  Clarity without service, is like having empty goals.
  3. Reinforce and reflect daily on whether you are staying on track.  You know that you’re off track when you’ve fallen into many things that don’t get closure in your life.
  4. Keep clarity by evaluating things you do.  Are you allowing yourself to say no?

Having clarity means we are focused on things that have a defined beginning and end.  

Energy is focused, and distractions are minimized.

The Anatomy of a Choice

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Photo by the Author

Stephen Covey once said there were three constants in life: Change, Principles, and Choice. The underlying idea of his works was to help others match the right kinds of choices, to their personal vision, mission or governing value network. In doing that we could derive effectiveness in the variety of roles in our lives.

Yet for most of us, choice is the hardest variable. In today’s highly information driven society with its infinite number of personal choices we could make, choices are hard. Even if we have carefully crafted our personal mission, values and roles in our lives, choices are hard, especially when there are competing ones. Beyond this, is how there are so many issues that act on us. Even important roles can collide, and choices can be difficult.

Beyond these challenges is the fact that we can make a choice, but to follow through and see the choice through takes fortitude. The hardest part of a choice may not be the competing nature of paths we can take, but the bridge that needs crossed to implement the choice.

How many people have you met that make good intentional commitments or indicate verbally their intentions toward a choice, but fall short doing the choice? Probably everyone, including ourselves. It is very popular to make the choice, and it feels good because of the perceived accomplishment. The accomplishment of a choice is however the most important and critical step in any choice. Everyone can have good intentions when it is needed (see my article on “Organizational Codependency” elsewhere on this site). Making the choice stick is completely a different animal.

The Anatomy of a Choice

    When you’re planning to make a choice, consider the following elements:

    1. How realistically can I implement the choice?
    2. How many new steps will my choice make for me?
    3. The choice feels good, but doing the choice is like moving against a strong wind.
    4. How much work is involved in this choice?
    5. Who can help me get there, once I have made the choice.

    Of course the above sounds a lot like goals. A preferred definition of choice might be: What behaviors do I need to do? Choice are thoughts, but the behavior portion transitions the choice into action. Using the word goals is about as vague as choice. Without the operationalized behavioral steps and actions, movement will not occur. The anatomy of a choice is often a road to travel itself. It is also a lifelong pursuit of becoming and direction finding in your life.

Necessity Creates Focus

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Photo by the Author

The need to make change is often driven by necessity. In the worse case, a crisis may develop that creates the necessity to change. For some, without something pressing down on us, the movement toward necessary change could be delayed.

Ways that focus is delayed:
1.) We choose to avoid what is necessary

2.) To focus suggests that we have to take personal responsibility. We choose to deflect or blame others.

3.) We cover up the priority or necessity by focusing on things that don’t matter.

A necessity can either be a bother or an activating experience where progress is made. It is based on how we choose to proceed. A necessity can transform, or further debilitate, depending on how we approach problems. In the end, the choice is ours. Do we wish to transform ourselves and use our focus, or do we seek to avoid or deny the things necessary in our lives?

Take Charge of Yourself

A problem for the busy professional is the ability to work through the “noise” of everything demanding your time.  No matter how much you plan, work on productivity or “work smarter”, not harder, the surf keeps pounding, and you’re wondering whether what you do counts.

The Problem

The problem is not that people are (not) good at what they do. It is that they don’t feel they own enough of themselves to make things happen that they believe are important.  The outside forces work on them, demand them, and ask of them for many things.  The more capable, and better result driven person you are, the more likely that others will come to see you as someone they need assistance from.  

The Reversal

It’s good that your good at something, and that people believe in you.  If you’re a leader, it makes it even more critical that the subtle forces of everything else don’t drown out the following things:

  • Your ability to think about what you are doing.
  • Your ability to institute changes and developments that prove helpful to yourself and others.  
  • The ability to tap into your desire to be effective, and do what is needed.

The Solution

The solution is not a cookbook.  It is about having the resolve to realign what you already know is important, in a more centered way of your life.  Remember, you are the solution, but looking at external resources may be important to address the demands, and ensure you are able to institute what you need to maintain good balance.

  • Say no to certain things.
  • Stay connected with what gets shoved underneath the rug.
  • Decide the importance of things.
  • Change the impact of certain demands, reassign others, schedule the important.
  • Get to the key root causes of the problem.  Look for ways you have addressed these issues in the past.

Only you can change you.  A lot of fine things and people can push how and what you do. It’s never too late to re-evaluate and make course corrections.  Chances are, you may need to do this on a regular basis, to ensure you are staying true to your mission.

Knowing-Saying-Doing – Follow Through

Knowing you need to do something, does not necessarily mean it will happen…Saying it needs done, does not mean it will happen. The space between knowing and saying can be expansive, without a clear path to “the doing.”

Faulty Assumptions:
Follow through is the the Gold Standard for progress. Being a “do-er” requires a special subset to one’s personality. Often making the transition from the plan to the result requires a set of actions to actually perform the doing. Why is it so hard to follow through?

1. The belief that “it’s someone else’s responsibility.”

2. We don’t know how. It’s going to require too much effort.

3. A clear path to the finish line is not well defined.

4. There is too much confusion about what it is to do.

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Photo: Brian Dick

Somewhere there needs to be a path between knowing something needs to be done, and the actual doing. Becoming a problem solver and a “do-er” means that you’re willing to risk the effort, and time to get closure. The difference being do-ers and non-do-ers can include the following:

1. Do-ers can see opportunities and ways to follow through – “path clarity”

2. Non-do-ers are dependent on others and the outside world.

3. Do-ers practice ways and institute problem solving – they enjoy accomplishment.

4. Non-do-ers are happy with others showing the way.

In Summary:
Doing = Activity and Engagement

To obtain Follow Through means that there has to be a desire.

Doing = Activity + Engagement + Desire

What are you not accomplishing? What component is holding you back?

Moving Beyond Barriers: Open Up Clarity

One of the most frustrating aspects of barriers is that they are perpetuated by the person experiencing them.

Let me explain:

The Self-Perpetuation Cycle
1. An external barrier is seen as too overwhelming
2. We are too obtuse to solutions.
3. We’re too busy trying to get “validated” for our victim thinking about the barrier
4. We actively create a road sign on our back that says “barrier.”

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Seeing Something as Too Overwhelming
What you see is not necessarily what is true or accurate. In the field of psychotherapy, a prominent evidenced based treatment (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) takes on the whole notion that what we automatically see, is not necessarily based on actual reality. The problem is that humans don’t often consider alternatives or evaluating the problem in the first place, thus leading to an automatic overwhelming feeling that fuels the barrier. No clarity on what/how to proceed is the outcome.

Being Obtuse
When barriers are taken for face value, sometimes we close off meaningful reflection on what our role is to do something about it. Instead we obsess, complain, and seek being validated for our erroneous way of looking at the problem. This is like giving up the ship. Creative intention is stymied. We settle for the concrete, instead of seeking other possibilities.

We’re into Validation Victim Thinking
Because we have abdicated any meaningful reflection of our role in the barrier, or what we are going to do about it, we develop a toxic and dead end road mentality. Instead of seeking solutions, we seek sympathy. We say to others, that the issue is outside us. Sympathy is the slow killer to doing something and moving beyond the barrier.

The “Road Sign” on Our Back
The worse aspect, is that we carry around our victim status on our back for everyone to see. We live our barrier, keep our rigid thinking, and exist in misery. Our capacities are dulled, and no movement beyond the barrier is evident. Actually others start distancing themselves from us, because they are uncomfortable with the stance we have taken. Our emotional road sign steals all the air in the room.

Moving Toward Clarity
Clarity and movement around the barrier is only brought about if we can restore the following:
1.Look at our role in the barrier
…is it merely the way we are thinking
about it?

2.Open up ourselves
– Honestly, and deeply reflect on the problem. Face the harsh music of what role you played in your response, or the original barrier.

3. Open up Time to Explore:
Explore more about, and evaluate the barrier. Was it a “boiling frog” that has been going on a long time, or just a bad choice, or a change in the conditions that we didn’t see.

4. Think Ahead.
One of my leadership mentors has preached this principle for many years. By thinking ahead, you gradually own more of your future, rather than becoming a victim.

5. Road Signs Eventually Wear Out.
Ultimately, your job is to create action oriented behaviors, rather than road signs that tell others your problems.

Ultimately, we are the “self perpetuators” of the barrier, not necessarily the barrier itself. Think about your role in problems, even if you didn’t create them. It may be just a matter of thinking and acting differently about the problem.

The Four Elements of Commitment to Change

Any kind of change or development requires implementation. Change is hardest for several reasons, and often requires constant effort and determination to see it through. The hardest changes require an enduring commitment, which is often easy to state but hard to do.

Commitment is the state of being where we do what we say. There is more to it however…

1. Purpose: The first component of commitment to a change is the why. Some ‘whys’ may match your intended change and others may not. Your purpose to a change is the meaning behind the change. In a sense it can be your mission to do what you seek to do.

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2. Sacrifice: Any change means that you have to do something to make it happen. This is often the hardest part of any commitment, because you have to go to a different level or experience different things to make headway. Making sacrifices means that you might have to give up something less important or more indulgent to make the change. Sacrificing is not merely a cognitive exercise. Rather, it is the doing behind the change.

3. Promise: A close component to making a sacrifice is the personal choice to maintain the commitment or change. This is where the long road toward the change begins and continues. This is where you’re in it for the long hall. You’re not turning back, or regressing into old behaviors. If you do, then you will need to recommit or make new promises, and new sacrifices to regain your direction.

4. Payoff: This is the fruit of your labor. For today’s crowd, we are often looking for instant payoff. This is usually not the case in real life. Anything that has a solid and important purpose, does not often happen overnight. It requires ongoing sacrifice, continued promises to yourself to get where you want to be.

Making change does involve commitment, but commitment requires more than the verbal or cognitive desires, choices and intent. It is a recurrent process of ongoing involvement in the change. Consider these steps as you are mapping out your next change effort.

The Obstacle of ‘All or Nothing’ Thinking

A part of the human condition is that we are all mistake capable. No one is really perfect, although it is healthy to strive for the best, and improve our results. How we go about that is often driven by the way we look at problems, and how we view “things” and our “relationships”

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The biggest obstacle often is ourselves. Humans have a tendency of seeking that things will always work out smoothly, and naturally, and we attempt to avoid pain and discomfort. That is how we’re wired. A problem arises when we are attempting to solve problems. Sometimes we develop an “either-or” mentality and miss the larger picture. We develop all or nothing thinking, there is no middle ground.

“A project team is trying to meet a deadline. Time is critical, and the deadline is looming. The senior manager seeks that the team approach the problem in a particular way, but gives the team little authority to look at alternatives to solving the problem. The problem solution has already been given, but the ‘how’ to do it, has not been determined. It would be easy for the team to adopt one polarized approach to meet the expectation. In their haste, they get a result, but failed to look at alternatives. The senior manager has scripted the team to limited options, and an all or nothing attitude develops, and key alternatives that might bring better results are missed.”

Sometimes the pursuit for the solution, and the will to demand a solution obscures one’s ability to consider options, a lot of them. When we look at things or relationships in dichotomous categories we basically shove everything else off to the side. We miss important options, ideas, and most of all straight jacket ourselves or team.

Individuals with life problems adopt the same “all or nothing” filter – which in the end keeps them from looking at all aspects that could bring potential solutions. It’s global thinking, but the global part means that everything is considered in the same way. Often times it is better to think in terms of possibilities rather than hard core givens.

Ways of avoiding the “all or nothing” mindset:
1. Frame problems as likely having many “approximate” not perfect alternatives.
2. Learn to evaluate all your alternatives, finding evidence for and against each one.
3. Understand that the world isn’t always the same.
4. Performance is about progress and moving forward, not exact perfection.

All or nothing thinking is an obstacle, but it is also very changeable. As long as you’re willing to consider that things in the world are not always perfect, you can consider that there are likely many explanations to problems you face on an individual, team or organizational level.

Time Wasting

This would appear to be a straight forward title, and obvious problem, hardly worthy of a blog post. It would seem that way, but no matter how much I read or see about time management, a subtle problem remains for many an ongoing issue, due to external and internal experiences

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Key Time Wasters
External time wasting relates to the situations and experiences we encounter that we did not directly create, but invariably impact us, because they are demanding our time, interrupt or disrupt. There are several reasons for this, but the key items tend to be:
1. Over-extending ourselves for situations that do not match directly with key objectives.
2. Not saying “no” (double negative intended) to unimportant things.
3. Failing to be assertive with others, and therefore letting the unimportant intrude on the important.

Internal time wasters include:
1. Not having enough personal discipline to do the things that are best.
2. Choosing things that are not substantive to devote ourselves.
3. Spending inordinate amounts of time obsessing over needless details that add no value.
4. Not having the confidence to initiate our own course. Letting other things dictate this.

As you can see, the time wasting concept is a deeper issue, and sequential in nature. It is not just a matter of choosing unproductive things in our lives, or being lazy. Many very capable people, who have a capacity and willingness for good action, often fall into traps where they find themselves experiencing lost time. Just because you relax, does not mean that is wasting time. The point is whether the activity is serving a higher purpose, improving capacity, outcomes, or your personal guiding line. You have to decide this, based upon important values, ideals, and goals. Time wasting can be minimized, if we decide to take action.