The waiting room and the nagging voice

Waiting. Sometimes it feels like we are stuck in a giant waiting room. We wait for all sorts of things. We wait to make the next step in our relationship, for that promotion, to finish our education, to move out from our parents. We wait until we have a new gadget, car, house. And sometimes we wait for ourselves to change, we wait to have more muscle, less fat, be confident, be smarter, more attractive.

There is almost always something we are waiting for and I personally often feel like nothing is improving. It’s always the same. But then there are two question that we have to ask ourselves: Firstly: will my life really be that much better, when I have a better car? And secondly: What am I doing on a day to day basis to move the needle. To get a little bit closer to what I want? What did I do today, to achieve that goal? The underlying issue that both of these questions target is that we often don’t quite know why we feel discontent. We often want stuff to cover up for emotional issues and inner work that needs to be done. And we often just wait until we magically become better people over night, without actually doing anything to get there. It is important to be honest with ourselves.

I found myself feeling stuck in a waiting room, because instead of moving towards the door, I found myself a comfortable chair to sit in. The translation of that analogy being: instead of studying to finish my studies, I find myself gaming and waiting until I am not a student anymore.

There is a few more indicators for waiting room mentality: Feeling dissatisfied, being annoyed or angry all the time, and the most obvious one is probably addiction and substance abuse. These all happen when we try to avoid.

There is this nagging voice inside our heads telling us that we should do more. And we will not feel confident until that voice shuts up, because it knows that we worked hard and we moved towards our goals. I am not advocating busy work here. Because busy work is when that voice does not shut up, despite the ridiculously long hours that we put in.

This means we get a very simple and straight forward plan to grow our confidence and get out of the waiting room:

  1. Set Goals
  2. Find daily and weekly habits, that will make you achieve those goals
  3. Put those habits into practice
  4. Track your progress and reevaluate regularly

Setting goals is not an easy process. There is a ton of emotions involved and it can be difficult to see through all of them and really understand what we want and why we want it. It is important here to set goals because of what we want, rather than what we want to avoid. In other words: go to work, because you want do your work, rather than because you don’t want to be homeless. Be in a relationship, because you want to be with that person, not because you are afraid of being alone.
To set your goals and really nail down what you want, I suggest taking time. Write down what you think and feel and don’t judge yourself. Don’t take into account what you think others will think of you. Instead be truly honest. You can burn the paper you wrote these things on if you want to. No one but you needs to know. And finally: remember that goals can change and evolve over time as you change and evolve. And there is no shame in that. I used to have the goal of publishing a novel. Now I am writing this blog instead. I still kind of would like to get back into writing. But clearly I don’t want it enough. And that’s okay.

Finding daily and weekly habits for each one of your goals can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. When you write these down for each goal, don’t think about implementing all these. But rather think about giving advice to a friend who said he wanted to achieve a certain goal and write down all the things that you would suggest he try. There is one more very important thing to remember: there is a lot you can do to achieve a single goal. You don’t need to go to a gym every day to build muscle. You can do HIIT workouts or body weight workouts or Pilates instead. And there are also many way less traditional ways of working out, that may take longer, but are more enjoyable. Like horseback riding, dancing or climbing. Compile a loooong list. Don’t filter. Just put everything you can think of onto that list.

Now it is time to actually move the needle. It is tempting here to go all out, but resist the temptation. Don’t try to implement it all at once. Take only 1-2 goals to work on, but pick the ones, that you think will make the biggest impact. Then there are two options: You can either pick one habit that you want to implement and use the rest of the list as a fall back in case you don’t feel like doing the habit you picked, or you can give yourself a set of options from the get go. This does one thing: it makes you a lot more likely to actually implement the habit of moving the needle towards your goal, doesn’t matter what technique you use to move that needle.

Tracking and reevaluation aren’t the most fun. It requires us to be honest with ourselves once more. It forces us to face the facts. But the reality is: That little nagging voice telling us to work harder already knows the facts. We don’t. But it does. Which is why we need to get clear on the facts. It’s how we gain some grounds in that battle against the nagging voice. It is how we make sure, we don’t end up right where we started.
There are a multitude of ways out there to habit track. You can use a digital app like notion, create a spreadsheet for each month or tick off the days on a calendar. You can stick 50 little post-it flags on a mirror and remove one each day that you complete a habit, then when you remove the last one, treat yourself. There is lots of ways to gamify habits. Habitica is an app that lets you do that. With these options as with which habit to pick to begin with: there is a ton of options and you will likely need to try a few and see which one suits you best.
After all: Habit-tracking is just another habit.
The reevaluation part is important as well and I suggest doing it at least every 4 weeks, but my recommendation would be to check-in once a week. That way we prevent endless grinding, even though it is important to keep in mind, that habit building will include some level of discomfort just because as humans we resist change. But it can be worth trying to adjust different variables of our habits. Such as: do we track them right after we did them, or rather do that before bed? When do we want to do those habits? How frequently do we want to do them? Do these habits actually still contribute to achieving our goals or has it turned into mere busy work?

The waiting room is what happens when we don’t move the needle. A lack of confidence is the result of the nagging voice being right. The only way to change this effectively that will not cause psychological damage like avoiding and addiction would, is to be honest with ourselves and actually start taking responsibility and acting accordingly. I wish there was a magic pill, but as with -I believe- everything in life, there is not, but it is not actually as difficult as you may fear. But it is a process and it takes some time. It is not a linear process either. But it is very doable if you stick to it. The process, not a single habit or goal, just stick to the process and adjust as needed.

This is the single most important process to gaining confidence and become a mature adult. But the fun thing is: by the time we reach confidence and maturity, we will have reached happiness, because that is when we know that while we may not have reached all our goals, we are making progress in the right direction. Which is exactly what we want to be doing. It’s not about reaching the goals. It’s not about not being in the waiting room. It’s about turning off the nagging voice and about walking to the exit of the waiting room. Or crawl, or roll, but by whatever means, move towards the exit.

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