Every pressurized system needs a relief valve. There has to be a way to reduce the stress, the tension, before it becomes too much to bear. There has to be a way to find relief because if the pressure doesn’t find a way out, it will make one. It will explode. It’s the pressure we put on ourselves that’s the hardest to bear. The pressure to be better then we already are. The pressure to be better than we think we can be. It never ever lets up. It just builds and builds and builds.
– Meredith Grey (character on Grey’s Anatomy)
As we move forcefully into the new year, our dreams, aspirations, and list of things to do begin to grow. Sometimes they accumulate to the point where we are either deluged with choices, reach a stalemate of ideas, or feel so much pressure we just want to lash out. The secret to relieving this situation is to learn to start letting go of the desire to accomplish everything all at the same time and to begin to focus on specific goals. Start trusting that such a technique may serve you far better than letting stress build to the point where you become powerless. Here are two situations I have faced in the past that might be useful in demonstrating this point.
I wanted to learn to juggle. I’ve seen jugglers on television and in person. They make it look elegant and easy! So, I fancied myself as a great juggler, too. That’s right, I wanted to toss a bunch of things up in the air all at the same time, have them deftly withstand gravity (for the most part), catch them periodically only to set them on their fast-moving course, again, and make certain none of them ever touched the ground. How hard could it really be? When you first learn to juggle, you actually start out with ONE object and get really good at tossing and catching using only one hand. You then move on to tossing and catching ONE object from hand to hand. From there you progress to tossing two objects between two hands – an over-and-under technique. All the while you are supposed to keep the objects at eye level and stay in one place. You quickly learn that, if you are moving your feet, you are not being accurate in your throwing. Finally, you are ready to add a third object – juggling at last! But wait, suddenly you start dropping things and you have to be patient with yourself – yet remain determined – as new habits are gained. After patience, repeated failures, a determination to make this juggling stuff work, and lots of practice, YOU ARE JUGGLING!
I found that just centering down on the one easy task – narrowing down to concentrating on the throwing and tossing of ONE object identically every time to the exclusion of other grander goals – was the hardest aspect of the entire juggling process! And rather than watching the arcs of each of the objects intently, I found that looking forward and monitoring what I was doing with my peripheral vision made things more effortless. It reminded me of the old adage: look at nothing in order to see everything! By seeing what you are doing as an entire juggling design, you come to understand the pattern of your success rather than only seeing the fragmented pieces of the juggling structure.
The time came when I considered adding more objects to my juggling pattern. But then I reconsidered. For me, by adding more objects to my juggling goals – while it may have been fun – I was reaching a point where I would be frustrating the return on the investment of my time and energy. I had accomplished my original goal. It was time (for me) to move on to something else.
Another example . . .
Recently, I was offered the opportunity to provide some commentary for one of the world’s premier online newsletters. The challenge was to take my blog articles – which normally run 700-900 words – and reduce them down to no more than 100 words! In order to achieve my bigger goal of submitting my article, I had to carefully cut out and sharpen what I wanted to be included in my message. The intriguing discovery I made was that by making my message shorter than originally intended, it became more intense and potent. Something had to give, and I learned to abandon things that were not serving me the best.
Simply adding more goals, more tasks, and more anxiety to your list is not going to help you experience triumph. Still, we love to place stress on ourselves! We know we are alive because of it. Among other things, stress releases the hormone called norepinephrine – an excitatory neurotransmitter in the body. Not only does this neurotransmitter give you energy, it helps to create new memories, it changes our feelings, and makes you more alert. Difficulties become a stimulating challenge. Our innovation skills are enhanced. The time comes, however, when it makes more positive sense to admit you are taking on too much because you are not actually accomplishing what you want to achieve.
I am certainly not suggesting you give up on any of your dreams. Rather, I am advocating that you sort and allocate them according to the preferred benefits you will get from each of them. Start segregating your aspirations into those that will provide you with the greatest benefit. Not all of your cherished desires are weighted equally. Something’s got to give. Now is the time to be honest and start focusing on those ambitions that will serve you the best. I think you will find that the rest of your dreams will soon follow!
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