Not long ago, I set out to learn basic Italian in advance of a trip. I signed up for a course at the Italian Cultural Institute (or, if you prefer, Istituto Italiano di Cultura), bought some phrase books and downloaded the Duolingo app. But as the departure date grew closer, it was clear that my intensity didn’t match my intentions. I didn’t get to the study and practice time I had planned. My homework was rushed and done at the last minute. I started dismissing the reminders from Duolingo’s friendly virtual mascot. My learning progress stalled.
At some point, I undoubtedly said or thought something along the lines of “I really want to do this, but I just don’t have the time.”
Sound familiar? Maybe the thing you want to do is exercise, or cook fabulous and healthy meals using only fresh and locally sourced ingredients, or spend more time with the kids/dog/your mom, or alone. “I really want to _______, but I just don’t have the time.”
If you find yourself stuck in this loop, here’s something to try: Take that “I really want to X, but I just don’t have the time” statement and change it to “X just isn’t a priority for me right now.” Say it out loud. Repeat it a couple of times.
Go on… Try it!
How did that feel?
For me, saying “Learning Italian just isn’t a priority for me right now” didn’t feel particularly good at first. I’d spent some time on the effort, and paid cash money for the class. And I sincerely believed it would be great to chat someone up in Italian when I got to Positano. But where “I just don’t have the time” gave me an out, declaring that learning a language wasn’t actually a priority for me in this moment presented an inescapable reality check. My options were quickly revealed: If this is a priority, I have to do something about it, pronto. Because that’s what priority means! If not, then I could consciously ease up and adjust my expectations.
In the case of Introductory Italian, I chose the latter. Much to my surprise, it felt liberating—I could stop beating myself up for not becoming fluent in three weeks (not a particularly reasonable goal to begin with). In other cases, speaking the words “X is just not a priority for me” aloud brings the realization that the statement is absolutely not true, clearing away whatever was stuck and opening a path to shifting my behaviour.
Declarations are powerful that way. They generate a new context, they initiate, conclude or resolve. Which makes them a powerful tool for transforming breakdowns into breakthroughs.
So, when you find you’re not producing the results you want… I invite you to try this exercise. (And, if you do, please drop me a line or comment to let me know how it goes!)