We all sometimes bite off more than we can chew.
Take the great deal we stumbled on: A 1940s-era, run-down house we could renovate and turn into a rental property.
Big project? Absolutely.
Yet at first it seemed manageable. In our enthusiasm, we made a lot of quick decisions. Plus, time is is your financial enemy when a property sits empty, which seemed to justify the haste.
Until we reworked our drawings three times. And decided we were better off rewiring the whole house. And fell into the black hole of the city's zoning, permits, and inspections process. And subcontractors didn't show. And utility companies (hi, Virginia Natural Gas) didn't show for weeks. And I fell behind on my own list of tasks.
As usual, I significantly underestimated the time required -- in spite of the fact I knew, from experience, that framing and plumbing problems are always hiding behind old plaster walls. And that rehabbing tends to take twice as long as new construction.
Even though we were working hard, every day it felt like things got worse, not better. Some days I felt like all I did was add things to the overall to-do list.
At the end of one long day I locked the front door and leaned against a post on the porch. I didn't feel like walking the 10 steps to my truck. Even that seemed too difficult.
Yep: What had once sounded fun had become this crushing weight. The distance between where I was and where I needed to be was too great. Too daunting. Too overwhelming. I wanted to give up.
Sound familiar? We all sometimes bite off more than we can chew.
How the small world rule creates focus, clarity, and renewed purpose.
When Stumpf became a SEAL instructor, he often asked candidates why they quit.
For many, becoming a SEAL was a lifelong goal. Why would they give up on their dream?
"Time and time again," Stumpf said, "the answer I got from students was they got overwhelmed. They were doing the opposite of keeping their world small."
According to Stumpf, there are two ways to approach the BUD/S (SEAL training) program. One is to see it as a 180-day program, and by extension to see Hell Week -- the defining event of the program -- as a five-day ordeal. (Hell Week typically starts Sunday evening and ends on Friday afternoon; candidates get about two hours of sleep sometime Wednesday.)
The other is to simply think in terms of your next meal.
As Stumpf says:
They have to feed you every six hours. So if I can stack six hours on six hours on six hours, and just focus on getting to the next meal, it doesn't make matter how much I'm in pain, doesn't matter how cold I am.
If I can just get to the next meal, get a mental reprieve and mental reset, then I can go on.
If you can apply that resilience to setting and approaching your goals from digestible perspectives, you can accomplish an insane amount.
When you're cold and exhausted and sleep-deprived and close to your breaking point, five days is too long. Too daunting. Too overwhelming. Stumpf couldn't imagine making it through five days.
But he could imagine getting to his next meal.
Me? I was taking the five-day, 180-days approach. My emotions got the best of me as I dwelled on all the things left to do. Drywall to hang. Cabinets to install. Bathrooms to completely re-do. Floors to refinish. Windows and trim and doors and caulk and paint and exterior repairs and landscaping and ... ugh.
Too overwhelming. Too emotionally draining to contemplate.
I couldn't do all that.
But what I could do is finish framing the new master bedroom and bathroom tomorrow.
That I could do. And then just move on to whatever was next. I knew all the steps involved.
Instead of seeing the project as a project, the key was to break it down into daily chunks. Or better yet, two- or four-hour chunks.
Keeping my world small would help me maintain focus. Gain clarity.
And feel a renewed sense of purpose.
Because you can't do everything. Not all at once.
So why think about everything? All you really need to do is focus on, and do, whatever is next on the list.
No matter how long your list might be.