Friday, March 2, 2012

Ten Reasons You Are Not Making Progress


I usually write about tai chi. This article certainly applies to tai chi practice, but it is much more general. We all take on creative projects or work of one kind or another. These projects may be our work, the things we do to earn a living. These projects may be our hobbies, the things we do because we enjoy them. These projects may be for our self-improvement, the things we do to make ourselves better people.

Sometimes it seems like everything works just great and we make immediate progress. Sometimes it seems like our enthusiasm fades away and we don't make any progress at all. Here are some thoughts on why that disconnect happens.

1. You are working on something that just doesn't excite you.
Sometimes we take on things out of a sense of obligation, or for money, or because we want to help someone else. None of those reasons lead to long-term success. The only truly sustainable activities we take on are those that we have a passion for. Are you doing your life's work? You should be. If you are not, you should be doing something else with your time.

2. You don't know why you are doing the project.
What is your vision for what you are doing? Why are you working so hard at this? If you don't know where you are going, any path gets you there. There is probably an easier path that the one you are on. Write down your purpose in two sentences or less describing why you are doing this project and what you expect for an outcome. Be specific.

3. You are working on something for personal gain instead of doing something useful for others.
Many studies have shown that the jobs that people enjoy the most are those that allow us to help other people. We need to earn a living, but how you do it matters. What are you doing to help other people? Are you creating marketing strategies for products that hurt people? The satisfaction of a paycheck disappears pretty quickly. How can you combine your employment or self-improvement activities with helping others? Perhaps you can't change your job right now, but you can change how you spend the rest of your hours.

4. You are working alone.
We are more likely to continue an activity when we are personally accountable to someone you care about. Who are you accountable to? Identify someone that you can work with. Practicing tai chi? Practice daily with a friend. Walking for exercise? Get a walking buddy. Writing a novel? Get someone to review your work. Don't be a loner.

5. You can't seem to find the time to get anything done.
Do you prefer watching TV or browsing the internet to working on your project? Your time is limited. It is your only resource, don't waste it. Of course, take a break now and then. But recognize that if you want to get things done, you have to work on them.

6. You listen to your critics.
Everyone has critics. Sometimes it is people close to you. Sometimes it is people you hardly know. Sometimes it is that little voice in your head. Sometimes critics are well meaning and trying to protect you from failure. It doesn't matter who you are, we all have critics. Have a discussion with yourself. Only you can decide that your work is worth doing. Only you can decide to continue on a certain path.

7. You are trying to do too many things.
We have limited time and resources. Every time you try to multitask, you delay things. You have to refresh and start over whenever you put something aside so you can work on something else. Ask yourself why you are working on so many things. Can you drop something to work on your passion? Can you delay something until a better time? You need to understand what's really going in your head.

8. You want to drop a project, but you feel you have too much invested in it to stop now.
We don't make progress if we don't work at it. However, we all need to change things up now and then. If it truly is time to change, then it doesn't matter what you have invested in a project. It's gone. Move on. However, be careful here. This is an awful lot like procrastination. Pause, think, and reflect on your reasons for wanting change.

9. You aren't organized enough keep track of the details.
Things keep slipping away from you. You keep starting over on your work because you can't find something. You get distracted and forget something important. You need to figure out better ways to do your work. You can find lots of advice, but only you can do this. For me, it really helps to start at the beginning of the week and draw up a rough plan for what I plan to do. At the beginning of each day, I draw up a detailed plan on what I want to get done that day. I work on multiple projects at a time, so I have to shift back and forth. I found that I need to keep detailed notes on what is happening with each project so I can keep track. If it's not working for you, you need to try something else. Don't procrastinate on this one.

10. You tell me.
I deliberately stopped at number 9. I have more I could put here, but I want to know what you think. What are your reasons for not getting things done? Leave a comment.

Here's a final thought:
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" asked Alice.
"That depends a good deal on where you want to go", said the Cat.
"I don't much care where I go," said Alice.
"Then it doesn't much matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"-- so long as I get somewhere," Alice explained.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

© 2012 Eric Borreson