Did anyone else find Tuesday’s “What Would That Take?” exercise kind of intense? I did, and I decided I wanted to spend some time digging into that a bit more and providing a bit of processing space. For those who haven’t finished it yet, take the time to catch up. Today’s and next week’s posts are “bonus” material exploring in greater depth how to deal with the overwhelm, vulnerability and limitations that can come up when we really examine what it would take to get from where we are today to where we want to be.
To recap, Tuesday’s exercise was to take each of the desired ways of being and feeling that you had written down in Step 1, and to go through the process of asking, for each of them, what it would take to feel or be that way.
Now, at first, this is fairly similar to conventional goal-setting processes. If, for example, you are currently feeling isolated and you want to feel “deeply connected to close friends” then you might think “well, that would take staying more in touch with them” and then proceed to try and cram more phone calls and visits into your already busy life. Or, you might want to feel like you’re making a meaningful contribution at work, and you think that would take getting more involved with a particular project you believe in, so you agree to do so. Perhaps you want to feel “fit and healthy” and having decided that that would take cutting junk food out of your life, you determine to do so and carry on your way with willpower to back you up.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t consider life as a whole. If you’re staying later at work, and trying to cram more phone calls into your life, and cutting out your go-to coping mechanism of sugary foods, what are the chances you’re going to succeed? This approach doesn’t take account of the reasons those things are hard to do in the first place. If cutting junk food out of your life were so easy, you would probably have done it already, right?
Tuesday’s exercise helps us to dig deeper. OK, yes, cutting junk food out of your life will make you healthier, but what would it take to do that? Replacing it with healthy snacks? OK, well what would it take to do that? Signing up to a healthy snacks box? Or shopping online once a month so you can bulk buy healthy snacks? OK, well what would it take to do that?
The point is that there are real reasons why certain things trip us up again and again. If you don’t actually know what it would take to, say, cut junk food out of your life, then let this exercise be an inspiration to start paying attention to what it is that trips you up.
Last night, for example, I was working on my laptop and noticed the time. It was coming up to the time when I had planned to go to sleep and I caught myself thinking “oh well” with no intention to stop working and go to sleep.
“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself, “pay attention here. Why aren’t you taking going to bed on time seriously?” I realised that it was because I was working on something I had planned to do that day that was, as yet, unfinished, and I had decided subconsciously that finishing it was more important than getting enough sleep.
–> So what would it take for me to get enough sleep?
- Well, I’d need to go to bed on time.
–> What would that take?
- It would take me starting to take sleep seriously.
–> And what would that take?
- Apparently, it would take me either finishing everything I had planned to do that day
- or prioritising sleep more highly.
–> And what would that take?
- To finish everything I planned to do would take making more realistic plans.
- To prioritise sleep more highly would take some work on the false believe that achieving unrealistic plans is more important than looking after myself by getting enough sleep.
It’s interesting how making more realistic plans is directly related to what time I go to bed, but if I hadn’t done the digging, I might have stopped at “go to bed on time” and then just tried to apply willpower to that goal. I know from experience that I would have tripped up on that one, because I wouldn’t have dealt with the root reason that was driving me to ignore the time and stay up late.
The “What Would That Take?” exercise can be a little overwhelming. There are a lot of areas of life to cover and I know answering the questions can bring up unexpected feelings or frustrations (we’ll be digging into dealing with those next week). Personally, I found it best to just take one or two areas, speed through them, write down my ideas, then come back to the exercise the next day. If you do it this way, you have plenty of time for reflection, and eventually you’ll build up an amazing resource for yourself.
Remember, you don’t have to make any decisions at this point. Answering the question “what would it take?” doesn’t commit you to doing that thing. It’s just a way to get down on paper some really honest answers, that will inform your decision making process when we come to that.
It may also feel overwhelming if you’re finding that certain areas of your life seem to clash with each other, like, for example, if it would take MORE time at work to achieve one great outcome and LESS time at work to achieve another. That’s totally normal! We do live with a sort of tension in our lives that we have to reconcile. Sometimes, we just have to prioritise, but I really do believe that a lot of the time you can find a multi-win – a third way you haven’t thought of yet. Don’t worry about that today; that’s a job for the next couple of weeks!
A couple of practical comments. If you find that some of your answers degenerate into circular reasoning, like “getting more exercise would take getting enough sleep so I can wake up on time, and getting enough sleep would take getting more exercise so I can fall asleep more easily,” that’s not a problem. It simply means you’ve found two things that are closely linked; write them down and move on.
It may be tempting to answer some of your “What Would That Take?” questions with things that you’d like to see from someone else. For example, you might answer “well, that would take my kids being well behaved” or “that would take my colleagues being competent.” OK, that may be true, but given that we can’t control other people, it’s better to stick to what you can conceivably have some influence over. Think of alternative answers that are focused on you, not on others.
Finally, you may find that one desire spans off into a web of answers, because it would take more than one thing at each stage, like in the picture below. This is fine. Your answers don’t have to be linear!
I hope you’ve found this exercise as powerful as I have. Once you’ve answered “And What Would That Take?” for all your areas of life, you’ll probably notice that certain answers pop out at you because they come up again and again. That’s because life shows up as a whole! Highlight the two or three things that come up most frequently in different colours (whether they are at the end of your ‘line’ of questions or in the middle) across all your worksheets. We’ll be coming back to those, because we’re finally going to nail some of those recurring trip-you-up areas of life!
Featured image by Jacob Walti via Unsplash