What Happened When I Stopped Saying I’m So Behind: A Case Study

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I’m Julie

I believe in your butterfly effect to to change the world.


You know that feeling when you’re so swamped with work and life that you can’t keep your head above water? That David Bowie song “Pressure” nails it. And somehow makes me feel better because I’m not alone.

The endless to-do list. Too many things on your plate. Too much to do.
I realized I had to flip that switch and decided to write about my experience.
The theme of my life had become, “I’m so behind”. The worst part was… I was too busy to realize it. It was brutal. I’d wake up each morning with a start and go to bed way too late. If someone asked, “How’s it going?” I’d say, “I’m so behind”.
The problem was that I was behind.
I needed 8 of me. Life is messy and I’m trying to do hard things. Things take longer than I expect. Kids need dinner, dogs need to be walked, and (if we’re lucky and can sleep,) there are only 16 or so waking hours in a day.
I’ll share with you my experiment of trying to change things up.

1. Stop saying those words out loud

I didn’t realize how much I said, “I’m so behind” until a friend gently broke it to me. It had become my mantra and the first thing out of my mouth.
Can you say, “Life of the Party?”
Um. No.
With this in mind, I decided to pay attention to how often I said those words and stop, even if it was for the sake of everyone around me. [I needed to stop for me; I didn’t realize how much.]
And then I remembered dog training…

Replace unwanted behavior with something else

Positive reinforcement and redirection. It works with dogs, kids, and probably everything else.
To get a dog to stop barking, give them something TO do. Like, sit.
I needed to replace my thoughts of “I’m so behind” with something else.


Get Real With What Actually Happened

“I’m right on time”? That wasn’t believable; I didn’t feel it. I needed a first step that my brain would believe.
The truth, was that even though I felt behind, I was actually getting a lot done every day. I’d forget about all the wins or accomplishments because I was so focused on the next. My drive (and that pressure) was getting in the way of seeing things clearly.
So. I made a plan. Before I went to sleep every night, I’d…


List 3 things that I actually got done.

In theory, this should take less than 60 seconds. But this was hard.
My brain was used to discarding the to-dos once they were finished… it’s no wonder that I felt like every day flew by. I had no idea what I’d actually accomplished. Where did the day go?
Sound familiar?
So I made my list – three things before I went to sleep.
The first few weeks, it took a while to write those three. My brain had to stop and go back to reflect on the day. It was like throwing a speeding car into reverse. I had to learn to slow down first.
Full disclosure (and this is important), the 3 things were simple. Example: I walked the dog. I got an order out. I learned something new.

My list wasn’t in any order of importance or impact, the first 3 that popped into my mind. It’s hard enough remembering 3 good things for those of us that push forward full steam ahead. I didn’t rank, organize, or judge them. I just listed three.


2. Stop The Thought

Now that I was getting into a groove with remembering my 3 things… I needed to stop that judgy voice in my head. I mean, would you say “You’re so behind” to a friend? It’s not helpful. It’s actually awful.
One surprising side effect of listing 3 good things before heading off to sleep… was that I began to wake up with more energy instead of stress. Excited. Looking forward to getting things done.
But I still had that mean girl disguised as a ra-ra cheerleader in my head.
You’re so behind.
Burnout? Yes. Inspiration? No.
It was time for action. But I had to wait.

See A Win When It Happens

I needed to FEEL the accomplishment of getting things done. I needed to believe it.
And that was going to take getting even more real: recognizing a win while it was happening

Realizing reality. 🙂 Sounds simple, right? This is why mindfulness training is so valuable…

That hamster wheel that I was on didn’t allow for sightseeing or smelling roses. I knew I needed to slow down so I didn’t skip over the wins. It wasn’t easy to remember even 3  because I didn’t give them any weight. I was already on to the next. 
I’d have to think back to remember a win: meeting with a client, cleaning the press, going to the grocery store. I never thought of these things as “wins” before. But they are. And then the big ones: creating new designs, shipping off a big job, figuring out some tech… 
Because I’m very busy (distracted)… I needed another simple, doable trick:

Take 3 breaths when something good happens.

Three. It costs nothing. I was doing it anyway. Three breaths with awareness of what is actually happing at that moment.
Realizing that I did something productive. Whether it was walking the dog or something out of the ordinary. 
I did this.
Every thought, feeling, or experience we have builds pathways in our brain. Experiencing joy lets us experience more joy. Experiencing wins – lets us have more of them. It’s not enough to knock something off of my to-do list. The wins count. They’re real.
This is the stuff that makes life good.
Knocking things off a to-do list? Meh. 

The More Wins You See, The More Wins You’ll Have

It’s magic! And neuroscience.
I’m finding that instead of rushing through something to get it done…. taking a few breaths to get more present in that moment, helps me to
  • enjoy what I’m working on
  • get things done faster and better
  • open up my creativity
  • focus
  • relax
  • get happier
 And then when I’m done and have something knocked off my to-do list, it feels freakin amazing. I can relish in that for a bit before I’m off to the next. With inspiration.

What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it.

Oprah Winfrey

This was my experience of realizing the harm I was doing to myself with these few words: I’m so behind.

Life was and will always be a series of winding paths and curveballs. I’ll have more and more on my to-do list as long as I’m alive, growing, learning, and striving.
Things will break, I’ll have setbacks, and I’ll have to change course.
I will always be behind.
I can take a few breaths, get curious about the things I say to myself, and get present to see the wins. And there are so many wins.
Life is not a to-do list.
If you feel behind, I hope some of these ideas will help you pull yourself forward. See your wins, let go of feeling behind, because you have big things to do. 
I’d love to hear about your own experience with feeling behind, so let me know in the comments section. 

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