Lately, really just in the last few months but with more verve recently, I’ve been making a conscious effort to swap out some very old and very unhealthy coping tools for some new, shiny ones. You know that old slot screwdriver that belonged to your grandfather? Fits so well in your hands, the wood handle so smooth and worn, but the head so warped and dinged that all it does is slip and who the hell uses slot-head screws anymore, seriously? It’s comfortable, but useless. Probably dangerous, too. I took that out and put it somewhere else just so I could remember it, but it’s not in my working toolbox anymore (actually, it’s on my boat).
This morning, as I looked over the index cards of ideas pinned to my virtual corkboard and actually started working on a different one, I was struck with the thought that perhaps I could explore this notion of a working toolbox in more detail. Because it’s not something that might easily fit into a short essay of 600 words or so, perhaps I could do a series of posts, looking at one positive and healthy tool each. Then, because it’s the day after Monday, I could even call it – say it with me now: Toolbox Tuesday!
There’s nothing wrong with a little light-hearted cheesiness. If we tried to be enlightened souls all the time, we’d become blinded by our own luminosity.
For the longest time I only ever had one mechanism that I’d classify as healthy, and it’s one that everyone already knows, but because of just that thing it’s become cliched and ignored. The terms we’re so used to hearing, phrases like one step at a time, or one day at a time, sit floating at the top of our minds but many people never let them sink any deeper. There’s a more complex truth to those simple chestnuts if we break them down into more practical terms.
Looking at the big picture works very well for driven type-A’s with lofty ambitions, but for those of us (like me) who become overwhelmed so quickly that we hide under the blanket when faced with anything more difficult than brushing our teeth, it’s anathema. Breaking larger tasks down into smaller bits is a start, but then you still have one big task, just in little bitty pieces.
Ignore the big picture. It’s an ugly one anyway, and why you’d want to hang it over your sofa is beyond me. Pretend it just doesn’t exist, and although this sounds like unhealthy avoidance behaviour, there’s a pragmatic method at work here. Don’t even consider that you have to take a shower in the morning wash your nethers shampoo your hair shave your whatever dry off brush your teeth get dressed make breakfast drink coffee go outside drive someplace make stupid small-talk with people you’d never invite over for a Sunday afternoon barbeque…
Let’s just walk into the bathroom for now, that’s all. Everything after that is meaningless. If even that is difficult, and it has been for me many times, let’s just sit up on the side of the bed. What now? Slippers, maybe, or standing up, but we’ll cross that bridge later. Each thing is a conscious and deliberate choice we make when we come to it, but before we come to it it’s not worth any thought at all.
Here’s the best thing, though, and perhaps the most important part of this particular tool: Intentionally celebrate each and every small, easily achievable goal you reach. You deserve that self-congratulatory pat on the back, so you own that shit, you. I don’t mean whoo-hoo loudly and wake the neighbours (like my last upstairs neighbour did each time the Leafs scored a goal), though you can if you want, but be proud of your accomplishment. When you brush your teeth eventually, smile at yourself in the mirror and think, “Look at me, brushing my teeth like a boss!”
One step at a time can, and often does for those of us so easily knocked out by simple things, literally mean one step at a time.
What healthy tools do you have in your box? Let me know, and let’s see if we can’t build a set that everyone can use.
Yeah, that’s right, I said box. Get your head out of the gutter.