Turning Intention into Action

Story by Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.

As the temperature just keeps rising and it just feels “too hot” to tackle some of the items on my summer “to do” list, I wonder how the time got away from me. If it seems like your list keeps getting bigger rather than smaller, you may wonder what what happened to all your good intentions. We want to make some changes. We want to get certain things accomplished. We have made a “commitment” to accomplishing these goals by putting them down on paper— on the “to do” list. It is easy to think, “well, life just gets in the way”.

Sometimes there are identifiable factors that get in the way, that are surmountable. For example, I know, personally, that I typically expect to be able to do about twice as much (as I really can) in about half the time. What happens, of course, it that I actually accomplish about half as much in about twice the time. I know that for me, more reasonable expectations are in order.

I know that I am not alone in the mismatch between my intention and accomplishment. Not only do unreasonable expectations get in the way of accomplishing goals, other personality characteristics or distorted beliefs can derail the best of intentions. Sometimes the size or the perceived difficulty of the project or the goal feels overwhelming. When people feel overwhelmed they often have difficulty just getting started. Negative thought steps up and makes you question why you wanted to do this thing in the first place.

Perfectionism can certainly dissuade us from taking care of things we would like to accomplish. Perfectionists may have the notion that it must be completed in one session, that gathering up tools and supplies, setting aside the time, and getting ready to do it, is just more energy than you can muster. If you feel like you must do it perfectly and that you must do it all yourself, even when you don’t have the skill sets to accomplish it all, you are probably going to avoid this project, rather than run toward it with joy. Your perfectionism might not allow you to break a more complicated or lengthy project into small, manageable pieces because that might leave a mess in your garage. Just thinking about the project with all the unreasonable rules in your head could turn it into a “no win” situation.

Control and perfectionism go hand in hand but don’t play well together in project completion. Sometimes we have trouble relinquishing part of a project that we don’t have all the skills we need. Maybe there is a learning curve and we may not master it well enough on this particular project for our very particular standards. We “should” still be able to do it. We “should” still do it-capable or not. We fear coming across as needy if we ask someone else to help. Or they may not do it any better than we would, and it probably wouldn’t be on top of their priority list anyway. See how immobilizing that can be?

I feel overwhelmed already. What can I do? Take it one step at a time.

Let’s take action.

Pull out your “To Do” list.

  • Review it for items you can eliminate right from the start. Maybe they are someone else’s ideas about things you “should” do. Maybe they are tasks or projects that would be better handled by professionals right from the start. See if you can delete some items. Look at your list with fresh eyes. What are the most important items on the list? Why are they important?
  • Differentiate between projects and tasks. Tasks are typically some chore or job that can be accomplished relatively quickly and easily. Projects tend to take more time, effort, and usually expense.
  • Prioritize the items on your list. Pick one project or a few tasks. Once you start on one, don’t get distracted or multitask on out of the ordinary chores. For example, if you working on cleaning out your garage, don’t start cleaning out your closet in the middle of the project.
  • Break projects down into small, manageable, bite-sized pieces. As you run into roadblocks, don’t give up. Tackle each obstacle as a problem to be solved. Ask for help. Hire someone to help with specific tasks. Adjust your time frame expectations to accommodate for problem solving.

Why do we feel so overwhelmed when trying to turn our intentions into action and accomplishments? Sometimes we just have to get out of our own way by changing how we look at things and we respond to challenges. We set up our own obstacles with avoidance, indecision, perfectionism, procrastination, and unreasonable “shoulds”.