During my morning walk, I was thinking about the word priorities. How do we stack the various activities that demand our attention into an order that moves us forward with our goals? Maybe it begins with the way we value our time, how we invest in our day—much like investing our money. The decision begins in the head.
The Disney movie Inside Out has forever changed the way I think about my thinking. If you haven’t seen it, the movie zeros in on the thought patterns of a young girl. Her head is a central control station with five characters running her thoughts, words and actions. These lovable creatures represent her emotions: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Resentment.
In making the movie, director Pete Docter sought the advice of psychologist Paul Ekman to get it right. Ekman suggested using more emotions to accurately describe what’s going on in the human brain, but in keeping with good movie making, only the top five characters were featured. Despite this editing decision, the viewer can see that we choose our emotions.
I think of myself in the same way, but every now and then I sense other characters in my head. One is Eager, who wears crazy multi-colored 60’s clothing and gets excited about every idea presented to me. Her energy is thrilling, helpful, but sometimes overwhelming. The problem of letting her lead is that I find myself running in circles, attempting to help everyone, doing things I don’t really want to do (even though it seemed like a good idea at the point I committed).
Lucky for me a second character, Productivity, is with me. She is dressed in a white pantsuit and holds a clip board. With a smile, she reminds me of the most helpful advice I’ve ever received.
Here are the three she mentions quite a bit:
- Check your goals, not your calendar. The question usually sounds like this: “Are you free on Tuesday to do….?” If I check my calendar, it may look like I have an opening, but does this proposed idea fit with my goals? Jerry Seinfeld credits his success in comedy to his daily writing habit. In order to stick with his goal, he made a red X on a calendar each day he wrote something. After a few days, the Xs formed a chain. He tells us to do the same.“Don’t break the chain.”
- Do what you NEED to do FIRST. A few years ago, I was in the Midwest for a book tour. On Tuesday at 11am I found myself flustered because I didn’t feel completely ready for a presentation I was making at noon. I’ll never forget the loving advice I got from my husband, who is a former project manager for Honeywell. “Think back at what you’ve been doing all morning. There was only one thing you needed to do today. If you would have started to prepare for your presentation when you got up, you would feel more calm right now.” I think of his advice quite often. I begin with the most important task, and use the extra time for the rest of what I want to do.
- What is the next right thing to do? Eisenhower pointed out the difference between doing what is urgent and important. Some days, the urgent becomes the important, that’s life. But the most inclusive thought from Michael J. Fox, is more helpful. He said, “Do the right thing, and then do the next right thing, and that will lead you to the next thing after that.”
In order to use this third bit of advice, I need all the voices in my head to be silenced in order to hear a third character, Divine Spirit. With a golden robe and a velvet voice, this voice speaks to me by using song lyrics, words from friends, sentences in books, pictures that appear in my head or a calming voice. I find this the most helpful voice of all, yet I can only hear Her when I slow down to listen.
We all have a purpose, and when we take the time to stack all the many priorities in our lives, we are free to pursue our purpose and goals without getting bogged down chasing sparkly ideas that look good but don’t represent who we are, or bring us to the place we want to go.
May your self-trust build your confidence,