Wednesday, September 20, 2006

To-Do List, Where is Thy Sting?

I woke up this morning with a slight sense of dread.  After last weekend's workshop, I had coasted for a day or so on the "high" of enthusiasm that came from getting to live my dreams, even for a short while.  But yesterday (Monday), my enthusiasm had waned by mid-afternoon.  I had so many things that I felt like I was behind on; even the sudden wave of orders for my book was looking less like a source of enthusiasm and more of a source of stress.

I sighed as I sat up and prepared myself for the thought of the work ahead...  and then stopped.  What if I could use the same technique I taught just a few nights ago, to eliminate that sense of dread?  What if I could eliminate the very feeling of "have to" itself?

It was an intriguing thought.  Up until now, I've been using the "trace" technique to eliminate much stronger emotions.  In some sense, it had never occurred to me before that "have to" was even a feeling, and not just an idea!

So I stood up, and began using the techniques to identify and isolate the feelings: a tension in the chest, a slight hollow in the gut, a bowed head and wrinkled brow, a setting of the jaw, and a slight closing of the fists.  I then traced the feeling backwards in time, and was amused to discover that by the time I had traced back to age 10, my posture had become more aggressive and defiant, my head remaining bowed, but my face becoming more of a pout and growl, my fists curling.

As I traced even further back, to 5 years old and younger, I could even hear myself saying inside, "I don't wanna!  You can't make me!", before the the feeling faded and I let go of it entirely.

My "Have To's" Became "Laugh To's"

A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.  I was no longer stressed, or feeling bad about the day ahead, and my former enthusiasm returned -- and then some.  It was so obvious, in fact, that when my wife first saw me today, she wanted to know what I was so happy about.  I told her that I no longer "had to" do anything -- I just had things to do.

You see, even though last month I got rid of my inner drill-sergeant's ability to discourage me, I still had a tendency to turn even my "want to's" into "have to's".  Just a few days ago I was charged up with enthusiasm, thinking about people signing up for the new workshops and buying books and so forth.  But by Monday morning I had turned it all into a huge list of "have to's" instead.  I "had to" process orders.  I "had to" write follow-up emails and coaching assignments.  I "had to" start planning the actual workshop outlines.  And so on, not counting all my day-job's "have to's"!

And once I got into that mindset, I got a lot less enthusiastic about doing anything.  I got stressed, and stress of course leads to procrastination.  What's worse, I discovered that when I'm already stressed about my "have to's", I can't seem to focus well enough to do the technique I described in The Power of Planned Procrastination, because I'm too overwhelmed to even think about what it is that I might actually enjoy!

So today's discovery was extremely useful.  By removing the "have to" feeling from my emotional vocabulary, I removed my ability to be stressed about all the things that need to be done.  I still can -- and do -- use the words "have to" to describe my tasks, but it actually makes me laugh now.

You see, my brain still has the idea that "have to" is bad, so I'll sort of slump and use a depressed tone internally when I say it -- and then I smile or laugh because the feeling isn't there to back it up.  So, the words don't have the same meaning for me any more, and I feel silly going through the motions of my nonexistent stress.  And before too long, I know the idea and behavior will fade away, just like "despair" faded away for me last month.

Life Is Not A Duty

And as I ventured enthusiastically on into my day today, flowing freely from task to enjoyment to task as I saw fit, I thought a little bit about my father, and how I wish I could have shared this with him before he died.  My father was a man who carried his whole life like a burden to be borne, with no expectation of happiness.

I don't mean that he was never happy, it's just that his attitude to almost everything was one of duty, responsibility, and stoic resignation.  "We'll just have to live with it," could be said to be his motto.  He was married - figuratively and literally - to his "have to's", with his "want to's" having no sway.

When he was a child -- the youngest of a large and prosperous family -- the Great Depression struck, and suddenly his formerly-easy life became one of working to support himself and his family.  And for the rest of his life, that pattern would repeat: whenver things got too easy, too good -- it would all be taken away.

After he retired, he began to ask the question: "What is joy?"  It seemed to him that he had never understood it, perhaps never even experienced it.  When he went to ecumenical conferences (had been an Anglican priest himself, and was later a deacon in the Catholic church), he would ask other ministers what they thought "joy" was, and never got a satisfactory answer.

Old Dogs, New Tricks

After he told me this (about 18 years ago, during a birthday phone call), I wrote a song for him, that incorporated the story into one of its verses:

On my birthday, my daddy called me,
"I've got a question for you, my boy;
'Cause I've asked a dozen preachers,
But not one told me the meaning of joy."

But I was never able to give him an answer either.  He died just two months after I started this blog, long before I myself had any real answers of my own to share.

And even if he were alive now, it's not certain that what I did for myself today would be useful for him.  He would often say, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks", and the idea that he could lay down his burdens might well have been too foreign for him to embrace.  And that would perhaps be an even sadder thing, because isn't it sadder to have an opportunity, and pass it up, than to have never had it at all?

But you aren't dead, and you haven't given up on learning anything new in your life, have you?

While There's Life, There's Hope

In thinking about my father today, I realized that he had more influence on my desired career path than I had realized.  I didn't want to emulate his outlook on life, and I wanted very much to learn how to free him from it.  At the same time, my interest in self-improvement was probably shaped by his religious view of life as a place where we constantly work to improve ourselves.  And realizing these things has added a new, and perhaps even sacred aspect to my "vocation" (as he probably would have called it).

So, I want to bring things to other people's lives that he did not find in his lifetime.  Not because I couldn't do the same for him, but simply because that's who I am, and that's who he was, and because that is the way I loved him.

So it's with a renewed sense of anticipation and even reverence that I look at what is happening in my life now.  Nearly half of the people who attended the Banish Unwanted Feelings Forever workshop have now signed up for the Seven Days To Live Your Dreams workshop series.  Book sales have spiked, and there are now only 72 copies of You, Version 2.0 left in stock, while requests for the replay number (that lets you hear a recording of the workshop) have gone through the roof.

And I hope that everyone who attended the workshop, or is listening to the recorded version, is taking the advice I gave therein:

  1. use your goals to find your blocks, by:
  2. going out of your way to give yourself something good, and
  3. betting on yourself

Because when you do these things in the way I explained during the workshop, and you find your blocks, you will be able to banish your unwanted feelings forever.  Even feelings as simple as the feeling of "having to" do something.  And I promise you, your life will never be the same again.

--PJE

P.S.  If you haven't listened to the workshop yet, what are you waiting for?  If you've already bought a copy of You, Version 2.0, just email secondchance "at" dirtsimple.org and ask for the replay line information.  If you haven't got a copy, then just place an order for a book and I'll send you the same information as soon as I process your credit card.

Oh, and by the way, in case you didn't know, Skype offers software for your Windows, Mac, or Linux PC that will let you call anywhere in the US or Canada for free, using your PC's speakers to listen. So, assuming you have a high-speed internet connection, you don't even have to pay long distance charges to listen to the call!  (Of course, the sound may not be perfect, depending on your connection's speed and quality.)