• Joe Cooke

Stop Reading This and Get to Work

I had this conversation with a friend the other day:

She has a dog-sitting business and one of the dogs had spent the night running around the house with diarrhea (nice). We were talking about Sylvia Duckworth's brilliant analogy, "Success is an Iceberg":

Actually, she had just finished two years of preparing and planning for a new charter school in the state of Washington for at-risk students, had finally been approved with a highly commended plan, and days later the state Supreme Court struck down the law.A crushing blow to all the schools in the state. But after a few days of grieving, everyone from board members to students plowed into creating and passing a new law that would re-instate the schools and pave the way for new schools.

Months of negotiating and deliberations later, the Senate and House agreed on a bill and when she sent that text, it was still sitting in the governor's office waiting to be signed or vetoed. He was on the fence, and everyone was waiting, on both sides, for and against, for his action.

My friend has what I call Moxie - the force of character, determination, skill, creativity, fortitude, nerve, guts, chutzpah, call it what you may. It comes from her sense of deep commitment to the cause and the goals that support that cause. It gives her the strength to hold up all of that iceberg that is underwater.

We do what we can for the causes we believe in and then we take what comes and move on. Revise the plan, take action. Never give up.That's all good in theory of course. The hard part is putting the rubber to the road, as they say, and actually making the tough play, doing the hard work and getting up again after you get knocked down. My friend got knocked down. You get knocked down. I get knocked down.

In fact, I recently had a debilitating sense of failure resulting in complete mental paralysis. It wasn't from just one thing. It was a compendium of little consequences, some real, some imagined. No need to go into detail here. That's not the point.

The point is: the way to overcome inaction caused by fear is through action.

Action = Consequences (My Spanish teacher says often, looking from one hand to the other, as if weighing options, "Acción: Consecuencias.").

Everything we are experiencing right now, in the very moment, are the direct or indirect results of our actions combined with the infinitely unpredictable actions of others and the Universe. Bad luck happens. Bad decisions happen. When they do, take a moment to grieve, and then get up and take action.

Go back to your plan. Fix it. Revise it.

Don't have a plan? Well, make one. Start right where you are. Take inventory of reality. Don't polish it up, don't ignore the bits and pieces you don't like. Take an honest, complete inventory and then figure out what to do next.

Think planning is useless? Is that because, in the infinite Universe of infinite possibilities, the probability of a single thread of events occurring in one predicted order with no variations is so close to ZERO that it might as well be ZERO. Yep. Your plan is guaranteed to NOT HAPPEN. It is impossible.

HOWEVER, that's why you need to plan. Set the wheels in motion in your favor, because if you don't have a plan, it is statistically and practically IMPOSSIBLE for you to even head in right direction.

W. Clement Stone said, "Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will." When you feel knocked down, take a moment to wallow in the negative and then get out of your comfy chair, sit down with your plan, revise it, and do the next indicated thing.

Psychologists call the first step of this process "radical acceptance". Not accepting reality = pain and suffering. Byron Katie says that whenever you fight reality, you lose. So. Accept what is. Failure is inevitable. It is simply a judgement attached to an outcome that you did not predict (100% probable) and that you do not want.

Like radical acceptance, DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) teaches three main skills that are helpful for overcoming the paralysis of fear: Mindfulness, Accepting Reality, and Non-Judgementalism. I would add letting go of attachment to that list.

Mindfulness = staying in the present. Plan for the future but live in the moment. The future is the cumulative outcome of all of your present moments. Attend class, study every day, practice and then do well on the final exam. Plan, execution, results (not guaranteed, but more probable than if you do not take those steps). Skip class, ignore studies, cram the night before and it is more likely that you will get a poor score on the exam (fail). Although, in one sense, you will have succeeded, since the likely outcome of blowing off your studies is a bad grade, so if you get an F the plan worked.

Accept reality. It is what it is. Doesn't mean you have to like it, although #3, being non-judgmental, helps. As Shakespeare put it, "...there is nothing either good or bad, but that thinking makes it so."

We get addicted to anger and self-righteousness. Judgement and resentments from being judged. But if we let all that unproductive baggage go, we can get back to work. And by work I mean get back to executing the plan.

Nothing different is going to happen if we hide under a bush and do nothing.

I always think, if I was in a monster movie, which character would I want to be? The one that shrieks and screams and cowers and tries to hide? Nope. First to be eaten. The one that tries to run away. Maybe second to be eaten. Maybe first. No. I want to be the one that picks up a pitchfork or a scratchy recording of Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Call" or commandeers the one ships that controls all the others. Live or die, I want to do it on my feet, taking action. Have faith. Things will work out or they won't. You have a better chance of "success" (aka an outcome you are satisfied with) if you plan the work and work the plan.

So: feeling down? Don't want to get up and work? The solution, distasteful as it may sound, is to get up and get to work.

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