This, in fact, was not my recurring nightmare as a child. I had this thing about flying poisonous snakes I could not escape from running along a path on a cliff side with jagged rocks down below. No matter how hard I tried I could not get away and no amount of innovative thinking would change the outcome. I always fell off this one point on the path where a rock stuck out further than the rest and experienced this terribly long excruciating fall where I got bit by the snakes as I fell and then got dashed on the rocks. I never died, I always woke up as I lay crushed against the rocks waiting to die.
As an adult I am tormented by a more insidious nightmare that is a reflection of one of my greatest weaknesses. The dream starts in lots of different places, sitting in class, waking up before a final exam, opening my report card, etc. and I am experiencing a panic at the deepest level. I have not done my home work for WAY too long, usually I have not touched anything since class started. The class might be American History or French or Calculus but the sense if inescapable failure weighs on me like my fathers death. I can't breath, I can't think, I just mentally curl up into a ball and resign myself to my fate and feel pathetic knowing I am going to fail. This is the worst of all my adult nightmares, worse than being chased by gangsters or killing all the bad guys who are chasing my family. These all leave me with a pulse of 180 and short of breath but they are all fake. They are surreal and have no basis in reality. The procrastination nightmare is different, it did happen, it could still happen just with work rather than school. I wake up from this nightmare and I cannot get away because I failed to focus on what really matters, failed to do the important stuff.
When I was young I learned how to control my dreams to make the nightmares go away. My mom taught me I could recognize I was in a dream and then take the dream in the direction I wanted it to go. This is how I purged myself of the snake dream. One day as I was running along the ridge with snakes snapping at me from every direction I recognized this was THE dream and since it was a dream I could change its course. Well this was easier said than done. I kept trying to turn the snakes into ice cream cones or turn the mountain into a ski slope but none of these worked. Eventually I fell off the cliff as I always did but this time as I experienced the long slow excruciating fall I realized I could fly. I swooped low just over the jagged rocks tearing my pajamas and then I soared through the air and did tricks. Funny, those snakes could fly too but as soon as I changed my dream enabling me to fly they all fell to earth unable to fly. I never experienced that nightmare again. Ever.
The arriving unprepared for class nightmare, however, continued to haunt me throughout my adult life. I was never able to take charge of that nightmare and bend it to my will until it dawned on me the change required was in my waking life not in my dream world. I had to change my life such that I was never in fear of being unprepared. I spent years working on a process that would free me up from this stress and eventually my boss had all his directs take this class to help everyone with this problem. In the end the system I settled on was quite simple. There is only so much time in a day therefor the amount of incoming and outgoing work must balance.
There are 2 big areas you have to balance:
- Emails, keep your in box empty. at the end of the day emails that are more than 24 hours old must either be deleted or you must schedule time on your calendar (literally move the emails to your calendar) to complete them. Don't worry, no one will even notice the emails you are deleting, trust me I have been doing this for years.
- To Do lists, do not keep them, these are repositories of work that must be balanced too so at the end of the day you have to either add them to your calendar, throw them away or put them someplace where you accept you may NEVER complete them or even so much as look at them again.
That is it, its that simple. I feel much of the world's unhappiness is the result of over scheduling which is really just not admitting you cannot get it all done. Keeping too much on your calendar is actually causing stress that is taking time and energy away from what you really need to do, what you really want to do. That is actually the magic of the system, once you force yourself to recognize how much time you actually have and stop signing up for more than you can complete you will start prioritizing the important stuff. Focusing our time on the things that truly matter to us is what makes us happy, successful on our terms, and powerful. Most of you will find you actually choose to do less once you use the system and you will spend more time with your kids, walking with your significant other, tackling hobbies, sitting on your porch, because these are the things that make life worth living. I mean really, do we think the Mayans were over scheduled?
I just had to include this because it was such cool dream imagery!