Of autumn leaves and asking the right questions

Back in June, I had a sudden epiphany about how what we chose to do, or not do, affects our sense of well-being, and I wrote an article about that. After paying attention to mood and productivity swings over several days (alright, over several months, maybe even years), I came to this conclusion: “… I’ve recently identified the three instances when I feel perfectly at peace, and quite uplifted actually: After a good conversation with someone positive, when I help someone and after I’ve completed a project I had been avoiding. And THIS, I know now, is the secret to happiness, since happiness depends not on outside circumstances, but on how we feel about ourselves.”

ps - beech

There are hundreds of gurus out there who repeatedly warn us, in books, conferences or merely by example, that procrastinating is a) a self-fulfilling prophecy and b) harmful to the procrastinator more than to the avoided task. They break down for us the mechanics of procrastination and provide step-by-step, idiot-proof strategies to be rid of it. Everything they point out is true. Every trick they suggest beams with common sense. Most of us who choose to make the effort to change our ways fall back to old patterns before we reach the last page of those books we had promised ourselves would change our lives.

We know how to not put things off. Each of us can make a mile-long to-do list and pledge allegiance to it, our hearts filled with certainty and dedication. Still, we stumble.

There is another side to this. It arises with the notion, also proclaimed by many influential authors and gurus, and by accomplished entrepreneurs, that the secret to their success is this: “I followed my heart. If you do what you love, you will have success. You have to do what feels good.”

Following a passion is indeed a key to success, and by this I mean personal success. We need not become Fortune 500 executives to have success and we do not need an audience or recognition. Success is an internal feeling, a personal stepping stone, or rather a series of stepping-stones. We know, we feel it, when we get there. That’s enough.

Success is incremental and it begins with choice. When we ask, “What would feel good?” or “Where is my bliss?” we miss part of the equation. It is as though a master gave this formula to his students, hundreds of years ago, and some of the words he spoke then were lost over time, and now the lesson is incomplete. This is why we do not know how to apply the “follow your bliss” method.

Making things, art, is part of my bliss. Yet I get stumped. Even as a hermit with little interaction with the world outside of my work and home, I can find hundreds of distractions from the task at hand. Take these new leaf pouches, for example. I started working on this new design well before foliage season. I just felt stumped every time a prototype did not turn out quite as I envisioned, so I found excuses to avoid this, convincing myself that I was following my heart by allowing more time to pass, but this only added guilt to the equation. Then it hit me…

The profound and more accurate question to ask, every time a task or choice is at hand, is not, “What would feel good now?” It is, “What would make me feel good about myself?”

I’ve played with this new strategy over the past several days and I am stunned. The moment I decided to ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” putting this aside was no longer an option. Not only that, but something shifted, a burst of certainty boosted my confidence. I finished two leaves in a few hours, and the outcome exceeded my own expectations.

Approaching the daily to-do list with this new question (whether the list is merely a thought or we actually put it on paper), changes everything. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then choose to watch just one more TV show before getting back to a project that truly impacts your life. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then eat an entire pizza to comfort insecurities. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and avoid a career move that could change everything. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and ignore a neighbor who needs help. And I suspect that you cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and then take anything from someone else or cause any harm.

Precisely. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then take anything from or cause any harm to yourself.

This does not mean we avoid restful and playful interludes, or special treats, at all cost and it does not mean we never get angry or sad either. It means we sharpen our ability to map a constructive and satisfying course.

The new Leaf Gift Pouch is available at Ornament Studio.

Related Article: Why we feel like crap

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12 thoughts on “Of autumn leaves and asking the right questions

  1. this is the most useful and practical advice I have heard for some time. thank you! I can procrastinate for ever. although I know that creating is what makes me happiest, I tend to put it off and do the housework, social catch up, watch tv, basically anything other than just getting on with it, I have never understood this about myself, but I think you may have just helped me on the way to overcome it.

    1. Thank you so much! I am glad my words feel useful and thank you for taking the time to stop by and read. Enjoy your weekend.

    1. Why, thank you! “Making it work.” I like that. Things don’t work by accident. A conscious effort is required. It’s taking me a while to get this, but fun journey. Thanks for reading!

  2. This is the most helpful insight! Thank you! So generous of you to share. I’m going to be working with this. Instantly I asked the question of myself in regards to my current endeavor to select and purchase a new car. I realized that the next step of asking if the seller of one I’ve selected would take a lower price will make me feel good about myself. It isn’t the having of the car, but the process of asking for what I want that will make me feel good about myself. Thanks so very much, PS!

    1. You are welcome. It does work with any and all manner of choice, from the complex to the mundane. a car does play a role in our well-being. It has a direct impact on our connections with others and in acquiring the things we need and, perhaps most importantly, being in the right place at the right time to be touched by someone’s words or to touch them. For me, right now, I am doing something I usually avoid for fear of spending or being frivolous. I have decided to change my choice of clothes. I realized I need to feel uplifted, empowered, so I used my question to help frame that sensibly and just completed a little “fashion overhaul.” Nothing expensive at all (gotta love Goodwill), but so transformative! Go figure. Thanks for stopping by. Always enjoy your insight.

      1. Yes, I’m dealing with something right now that triggers the fear of spending or being frivolous. (Clothes shopping does that to me, too.) I think I keep looking for the perfect out of fear of taking a risk or making a mistake. I remind myself I cannot know every result, and if my motive is to follow the spirit, then that is enough. So grateful for you sharing your wisdom.

      2. Well, thank you, again. You remind me of when I purchased my current car, in 2008. I always buy used cars and have never paid over $1,000. All cars have served me long and well, so I had no reason to be attracted to a $5,000 car other than the fact that it did look brand new. But even then, before I understood the concept of doing what is truly good for me, my gut feeling said, “this is the one.” Sure enough. Most reliable car I ever got, and I feel a bit classy in it too, which is a boost to my confidence. I guess I am learning how deeply everything I do and everything that surrounds me has an impact on how I feel about myself. Perhaps this is the distinction: that a frivolous expense would be one that does not add long-term value to our quality of being. It is worth paying for what is good for us.

  3. Thank you for the insight. I have personally been dealing with procrastination issues while watching my To-Do list grow in size and urgency. I think I am going to add “What would make me feel good about myself?” to the title block of the list as both inspiration, and a reminder about what is important in life. Thanks again.

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