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Live Life Fully: Pass, fail or incomplete?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Maybe it's been years since you've been in school. Trust me though: You're still getting graded.

Not by teachers, mind you. If you're like most of us, you're grading yourself. And you're probably not even aware of it.

Let's just look at a typical week's activities. You have the best intentions of getting things done, and then other things intervene. Do you procrastinate? Or maybe you overcompensate -- by doing more things in other areas, rather than completing the project you set out to do. (I'm quite familiar with this technique).

If you're putting off a project, why? I'm sure you have lots of reasons (translation: excuses). Maybe you're not confident you can pull it off well enough, so you just don't try. Better not to risk the judgment of not being "good enough" than to jump in and tackle the assignment.

Or maybe it's such an unpleasant task that you'd rather be distracted by something else -- anything! It's funny how our minds play tricks on us, consciously and subconsciously.

Sometimes our fears of criticism come from external sources like family, friends and co-workers. More often than not, though, they can come from that ever-popular inner critic.

So, we end up with a lot of things half done or never even started. And that definitely takes its toll. Every time we walk past those incomplete projects, or turn them over in our heads, something registers inside us that can bring on feelings of guilt, regret or shame.

But here's the deal: Whenever we continually tell ourselves we'll do something and then we don't do it, it chips away at our integrity. We let ourselves down. And that's just as bad as letting someone else down. Over time, we learn we can't trust ourselves.

You know the feeling. It's the cumulative effect of:

  • That outside shed that needs to be organized or the storage closet that barely has a walk-through path anymore.
  • Those dreaded medical directive and power-of-attorney forms that need to be filled out.
  • That delicate conversation we need to have with a family member.
  • That weed whacker that needs repaired.
  • The overflowing bathroom vanity cabinets.
  • Multiple books on the nightstand that cry out to be read.
  • Thank-you notes to write.
  • Photos that need to be cataloged.
  • Long-term health-care plans that need to be researched.
  • If any of these items have struck a chord or triggered similar lists in your own head, it may be that you have some "incompletes" lurking in your midst and robbing your energy.

    Help is on the way, though. You don't have to resign yourself to that sense of purgatory anymore. And you don't have to quit your day job to get every single thing done to feel relief.

    I've discovered an amazing tool for gaining the upper hand over the incompletes in my life. All it takes is a legal pad, a pen and a calendar. That's because there's tremendous power in charting a course -- the first step in gaining some semblance of control over these ever-present demons.

    Here's my E-Z Plan:

  • List each incomplete item. Take your time walking around your house and scouring your current and pending lists. Dare to look in those closets.
  • Consult your calendar and designate a date to get into action on each item. Just this first tiny step can make a big difference.
  • Be realistic. Give yourself more time than you think you'll need. It's always good to have a cushion and a contingency plan. After all, you're the one in charge. These challenges didn't happen overnight, and they're not going to be resolved overnight.
  • Chunk it down. Some projects may need to be divided into multiple time frames. If that's the case, take the different steps into account, and list them in different sections of your calendar.
  • Step back and review your calendar.
  • Once again, be realistic. Stretch out your time frames even more. Leave room for "real life" to occur.
  • Even though you may be tempted to clear everything out in the next few weeks, I'd say several months may be called for. The last thing you want to do is end up resenting the plan of progress you're designing. That could likely result in more procrastination, layered with aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior toward the new initiative.

    And here's another thing. Reward yourself whenever you cross any project off the list. Rather than ruminating over the ones that are not done, revel in the ones that are done. That's a key part of the plan.

    It's amazing how empowering this can be. Just getting those incompletes down on paper -- with a realistic, long-term plan to tackle them -- can help you feel more in control of these demons that are sapping your energy.

    The results are well worth the extra effort. When you start trusting yourself to follow through on things, it opens up all kinds of other avenues: confidence, dependability and inner peace, all of which lead to greater enjoyment of life's experiences, without all those detractors subconsciously nagging at you.

    Registration for this life course is always open -- no more incomplete grades!

    Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications company specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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