I woke up with a start at 3:15 this morning.
Was it my husband crawling into bed with me? My cat snuggling up with me?
No, nothing sweet like that.
It was my to-do list, swirling around in my heart and mind. Shaking me in the darkness, as if I were about to miss a deadline in the dead of night.
I heard my own breathing: intense and loud like an opera singer crooning at the height of a tragic story. A sense of doom pulsed in my chest. How can I get it all done?
"Maybe I should just get out of bed right now," I thought to myself. "It's quiet now while everyone else is sleeping. I'd get a lot done."
Photo credit: iStockphoto
Ever have a thought like that?
The Tyranny of "I Don't Have Time"
Productivity is a wonderful thing. Office doors open. Clients get proposals. Packages arrive to customers. Newsletters go out. Websites are launched. NASA tries to land on Mars. And on it goes.
But what about you? Or me?
Where are we on our own to-do lists?
Consider: do you make appointments for things like these, and then cancel them because you "don't have time"?
• Getting your teeth cleaned
• Taking the car in
• Getting a haircut
• Meeting a friend for dinner
• Going to exercise
• Seeing your therapist
• Sharing "date night" with your partner
Gold stars for everyone who's done all of them in the last month. Oh, dear.
This is only made worse when you think of yourself as a spiritual person. "What's up with me," you wonder, "that I can't find time to meditate?"
I wrote a whole book about connecting with your center of well-being. And I'm up at 3 a.m. worried about my to-do list.
Enough is enough.
Tell Your Achiever: We Need To Talk
There is a side in all of us that thrives on getting things done. I call that part of us the inner Warrior. This Warrior values action, performance, and completion. That's important, and often very helpful.
The inner Warrior has more than one expression, though, and it's important to notice that diversity.
One voice of the Warrior is The Achiever. She's the one waking me up in the middle of the night, suggesting I hop on over to my laptop and answer some emails. She reaches for coffee at 9 o'clock on Sunday night because I'm fading, instead of letting me wind things down.
Achievers play invaluable roles in our lives: don't get me wrong. They get us up at the crack of dawn to train for months and then help us run a marathon. They push us to send out resumes over and over until we get a job interview. They force us to clean up the living room so we're not embarrassed when our parents come for a visit.
That's all good. But there's more.
Your Warrior is also your protector.
As The Protector, your Warrior provides other crucial functions for a well-lived life. Things like setting boundaries, telling you when to stop, and the all-important saying no. In daily life your Protector monitors basic things, like nagging you to eat lunch when it's four in the afternoon. At least my Protector does, since that happens to me often.
In a healthy life, and a successful life, your Warrior is balanced.
As I've written about in my book, balance can mean different things. For now, the Warrior balance I'm thinking about is the relationship between your inner Achiever and your inner Protector: between the one who wants you to get everything done and the one who wants you to take care of yourself.
Both are important. Both are "right" that what they value matters. The key is to keep them in balance with each other.
Negotiate With Yourself
As with lots of challenges you face, negotiating with yourself is an excellent place to start getting control of your life.
So, when your inner Achiever starts weighing you down, call on your inner Protector to strike a better deal. You actually bargain with them. I named these different parts "inner negotiators" because in practice, the same rules of engagement that work well for individuals talking around a table, apply equally well to brokering the peace between different parts of you.
In fact, after teaching negotiation at Harvard Law School for nearly 20 years, and advising leaders across the globe during that same time, I can tell you this: the most important negotiations in your life are the ones you have with yourself.
Three Tips for a More Balanced Life
To bring your Warrior into better balance and restore some quality to your life, here are three helpful tips:
1. Call a Timeout
When your inner Achiever is pushing you too far, and you're thinking about canceling plans with friends or family again to meet a deadline at work, call a timeout. Tell your Achiever to stand down -- in the corner if needed -- and give both of you a few minutes to cool off.
2. Give Your Protector the Floor
Turn to your Protector and ask for input. Imagine this part of you, your inner negotiator whose job is to protect you. You can then ask questions and listen for the answers. Your aim is to tap into a Warrior perspective that's different from the Achiever. Not because one is right and the other's wrong. It's because you can only make wise decisions when you hear from both of them. And so far one is drowning the other out.
Helpful questions to your Protector include:
a) What do you see happening right now?
b) What perspective do you think I'm missing?
c) What are you worried or concerned about if I keep going like this?
d) If you want me to stop doing one thing right now, what is it?
e) If you want me to start doing one thing right now, what is it?
There are deeper questions, too, like asking, "What is your highest vision for me and for my life?" But you don't need to start with the advanced course.
3. Consider both sides and make your own choice
At first, you need a chance to hear from each side clearly. It helps to separate them so you can hear each of them, one at a time. When you've done that, then you're ready to consider the perspectives of both sides.
The best result, like so many negotiations, is a win-win outcome.
Note to self: you are not abandoning your Achiever. Certainly not. Don't run your Smartphone through the dishwasher, or delete all deadlines from your calendar. You need to hold on to the important tasks and deadlines, while at the same time, let the priorities and values of the Protector come into the mix.
At this point you need to generate solutions that both sides can live with, just as you would with two business partners, or two roommates. Your inner negotiators bring their own styles and goals to the table. Your job is to negotiate with yourself -- with the competing parts inside of you -- and bring them to some resolution.
Practicing those three steps will take you a long way in the right direction.
Get Your Teeth Cleaned
Negotiating with your inner Achiever and inner Protector will lead you to better decisions. It will bring you a sense of choice about what you do, how and when. That gives you back some control of your life, putting you in the driver's seat instead of sitting in the back wishing the driver would slow down.
Yes, you might get a little less done from time to time.
Then again, you might also get to see your dentist. Or find the peace of mind to enjoy a full night's sleep.
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