Facing the Massive Steep and Wicked?
Get Ready to Climb
Ever seen the Duracell commercial about free climber Kevin Jorgenson that went viral in 2015? It is powerful imagery echoing times in all of our lives when it feels like we are faced with unsurmountable challenges. The climber’s challenge is a mountain that is so steep, it isn’t even a mountain, it’s a wall. It isn’t a jagged gouged wall with good hand and foot holds, it’s a smooth face and he has to climb it at night. Total darkness.
We have all been there. In front of you is a massive, steep, wicked, and unavoidable mountain that you need to climb. Whether it’s learning something new, achieving a lofty goal, recovering from a massive fall or handling the demands of life, the mountain translates into a list of to-dos on your plate that threatens to suffocate. Instead of productively taking steps towards your goal, you may spend time stressing over the seemingly impossible and endless challenges facing you. Without knowing it, you find yourself paralyzed or trying to back away. You are only putting off the inevitable. If not now, then when? Time to get started.
How are you going to climb it?
Think like a mountain climber.
Break it Down
Climbs up Mt. Everest are planned by tackling the climb to the next base camp, not to the summit. Each ascent is broken down into sections and has its own unique challenges, requiring a specific set of skills, knowledge and equipment. Achieving each new base camp is an accomplishment in and of itself.
When faced with a challenge or group of challenges that seem overwhelming, it’s best to break it down into manageable tasks that can be tackled one step at a time.
The smaller the task the better, because small tasks feel more achievable.
Write each task down. Checklists, with a box next to each task so you can check it off your list are a favorite tool of many. When you are dealing with massive mountains, consider writing tasks on individual cards that can be pinned to a board. This allows for easy viewing and manipulation of each task, enabling you to rearrange as needed. There is also the added bonus of being able to rip down each task as you accomplish them!
Plan Your Attack
Spend some time prioritizing and grouping related tasks. What tasks need to be done sequentially? What tasks can be accomplished in the short term? What tasks will take a long time and need their own plan? What tasks need to be done first? Is there a critical path for your tasks?
During this step, having tasks written on cards can be really helpful. You can label the cards with helpful information and needed resources. Additionally, you can physically organize the tasks and pin them in an order on the board that makes the most sense. Essentially, you are mapping your path up the mountain.
Be conscious of your attitude toward each task. If you are faced with a wall of tasks that drain you, your progress could be hindered significantly.
You may want to spend some time thinking about which tasks are the ones that drain you and which ones energize you. Identify each type and work to integrate the tasks that energize you with the tasks that drain you to help keep you trudging along.
Consider reviewing your list of tasks and looking at how each one is specifically connected to getting you closer to your vision or goal. When we can clearly see how completing an arduous tasks gets us closer to our goal, the task that once drained us might change, with this new perspective, into a source of energy.
The first step can be the hardest, so make it an easy one. Identify a task that you can confidently and easily complete – even if it isn’t a critical path task. This may be counter intuitive, but building your confidence and your momentum by tackling tasks that give you a sense of accomplishment is critical to getting yourself moving.
Once you have completed that first task, realize that you have actually accomplished two – task #1 and getting started! Follow your path and keep climbing.
Take a Break
Working endless hours on a task is not the most efficient use of our brains. In fact, mental breaks are often the key that unlocks our brain and allows solutions and innovative ideas to come forward. Research on the “default mode network” (DMN), a circuit of connectivity that comes to life in our brains when we are at rest has led to conclusions that downtime is “essential to mental processes” and gives our brains an opportunity to “make sense of what it has recently learned”. (“You need more downtime than you think”, Scientific American, 2013)
Researchers have discovered that giving our minds a cognitive break by doing something that is less cognitively demanding can actually help our brains process information and come to better conclusions. “Engaging in an undemanding task” between cognitively demanding tasks “led to substantial improvements in performance on previously encountered problems.” (“Inspired by Distraction” Benjamin Baird, 2012). The Pomodoro Technique, a widely recognized technique for approaching work in 25 minute increments and giving yourself intermittent breaks, can be a great method to try as you approach your work. This is especially effective with creative endeavors.
Focus on working hard (meaning no distractions) for a while and then get up, walk around, play a small game, draw, read a fun magazine, meditate or dance! Just change your cognitive focus for a bit. After you take a break, don’t forget to return to your work. If you feel stuck, move on to a different task and give yourself a reminder to return to the initial task later after a longer break. Whatever you do, keep moving. Keep making progress on your climb.
Sometimes when we are stuck, we just need someone else to give us the added boost of energy or an idea to get us unstuck. Checking in with your boss, a family member or a trusted co-worker to make sure you are focusing your energy in the right area, walking down the right path, or doing the right thing can be all we need to stay productive)
We all need someone sometime. No matter how strong we are, no matter how capable, there are times in our lives when we just need the support of another.
We need someone to check our thinking, reflect our ideas back to us, empathize, and encourage us not to give up and believe in us when we are struggling to believe in ourselves. This is the most poignant part of the whole Duracell battery commercial and the reason I think it went it went viral. It is the emotional connection that we all seek, especially when we are challenged.
Look Up and All Around
When stressed, we have a tendency to get tunnel vision. We become so focused on what’s in front of us, that we fail to see where we are and what’s around us.
Without looking up every-so-often and taking our bearings, we can lose our way or waste a lot of time and effort on tasks that are not getting us closer to our goal.
Are you on the path you are supposed to be on? Has your path shifted as a result of some other event near or around you? Are you doing the work you should be doing? Asking these questions will help ensure that you get where you need to go as efficiently as possible.
Look Back and Celebrate
Climbers of Mt. Everest celebrate each time they achieve the next base camp. They are that much closer to their goal, they have pushed themselves, achieved a lot already and they need a well-deserved rest and affirmation.
As you climb, don’t forget to look back and give yourself credit for what you have done. Celebrate and be proud of how far you have come.
Often, we find ourselves being critical of our performance at these times. If you didn’t do something exactly as you had hoped, own the knowledge, know that you will do it better next time and move on. Likely, “good enough” was exactly what was needed. Perfection can be paralyzing. Let it go and celebrate what you have done. Knowing how much you have achieved already can give you the energy you need to keep going.
Believe in you. Believe in your ability to tackle any mountain.
Mountains often seem the most daunting when we have experienced failure during our attempts to climb it in the past. Continued failures lead to an incredible sense of defeat. When we are at our lowest, when we feel most defeated by the challenges placed in front of us, the hardest thing to do is believe in ourselves. We doubt our strength, our smarts and our ability.
It is at this lowest point that we need to ask ourselves “Am I different person than I was when I started?” The answer is “Yes, I’m a little smarter as a result of the lessons I have learned along the way.” So, despite the failures and hard lessons along the road, now is a better time to believe in yourself than before you had ever even seen the mountain. You know more and are better prepared for what is in front of you. Now is the time to believe in you!
So, what are you waiting for? Plan your climb, break it down into smaller challenges, trust your strength, trust your equipment, trust your skills, find support when you need it, and climb – one foot in front of the other till you reach the summit. You can do it!