When my two boys were ages 8 and 4, they loved to play with all kinds of toys, but especially LEGOs.
When it came time to clean up the playroom, they moaned and whined and sometimes even cried with overwhelm.
One reason for their despair was because they were often in the process of creation. To put things back in drawers, boxes, and on shelves, meant disrupting or destroying what they were attempting to create.
The other reason they fought the cleanup process — and the point of this week’s message — is because cleaning up an entire room (with every square inch of floor covered with a huge variety of colors and shapes and sizes) was a huge and daunting task. In the face of having to climb such a high mountain, their cognitive functions shut down and they become purely emotional creatures. “Mom, no! It’s not fair! I can’t!” Their mental Saboteurs were reigning over their experience, and they could not – or did not know how to – access their Sage perspective.
With so many challenges happening in our world – the on-going pandemic, political and economic uncertainty, on-going social injustice, and your own additional personal challenges – you may find yourself reacting in a similar way to small decisions and also to big projects.
If you shut down when it comes to moving forward with an important decision or goal or task… just know you are not alone. I am sharing here again (as I did six years ago) the wisdom of The Red LEGO Olympics!
What I taught my boys many years ago was a simple strategy that I call “The Red LEGO Olympics.” It originated years ago when my husband said to my older son and oldest nephew:
“Okay, boys, let’s play “Clean Up Olympics. I’ll join in and let’s see who can be the first to put away the most number of toys. Count as you go. Ready. Set. Go.”
This approach in and of itself would sometimes get them excited enough to jump right in and clean the room with joy and speed. They were not alone and they also had a parent acting as both a buddy and a coach, providing encouragement and accountability.
But after a few rounds of Cleanup Olympics, I observed my older son shutting down again, just lying on the floor, not participating.
So I broke it down more simply. What was the smallest, simplest next step they could take? What would still make it fun and motivating, but reduce the overwhelm and allow them to make tangible progress?
And herein evolved what in my mind I now call “The Red LEGO Olympics.”
“Okay boys, let’s break it down and see how quickly we go. Miles, first you find all the red LEGOs and put them in the LEGO bin.” “Okay, Mommy,” he says with bright responsiveness as he pivots back and forth around the room, pouncing on each little piece with a triumphant “ha!” or a little squeal. “Okay, Ian, you stack up all the books and put them in a pile next to the bookcase.”
Do they get distracted mid-stream? Of course! But I am there as clean up buddy and encouraging coach to keep them on course.
“Remember, we’re not playing right now. Just one last color of LEGOs, Miles – finish up the gray ones. You’re doing great, Ian – just a few more books to put back neatly on the shelf. You’re almost done! Then we can go get a treat!”
Breaking Down The Wisdom of the Red LEGO Olympics:
Use these elements to simplify your next goal or daunting task…
(1) Make it SMART
Use the SMART acronym to clearly state your larger goal
(2) Connect it to your big WHY
You have a bigger purpose, a bigger vision in your life. These are at the heart of WHY it matters for you to get up in the morning. Ask yourself: “How does this goal or task support my big WHY?” Understanding this linkage is essential to staying motivated and committed through to completion of your task.
For my boys, their WHY is inherently clear: they are here to play and learn and have fun and grow.
(3) Buddy Up!
Tell someone what you’re doing and why it’s important. Ask someone to provide encouragement and hold you accountable. Maybe check-in with him or her on a regular basis (hourly, daily, weekly – depending on the scope of the task) or at the completion of each small step forward. And this brings us to…
(4) Break It Down!
What is the smallest, simplest action you could take in the direction of your goal?
The floor of my boys’ playroom used to be covered with at least 7 or more different kinds of items. That invites breaking down the task into at least seven different steps. But one of those items is LEGOs, which come in many different colors and shapes. So, the LEGO step gets broken down into many smaller steps. And if the LEGO bins were too far away, perhaps there would even be a smaller step involving moving piles first to one location, then later to the bin.
(5) Make it Fun!
Ask yourself what would make it fun and enjoyable? I always feel better when I’m listening to music. It seems to smooth out any edges of tension in my body and put a spring in my step. Sometimes I like to invite someone (though not necessarily my accountability buddy/coach) to join me or be with me during certain more drudgerous stages.
(6) Reward Yourself!
Sometimes, just the completion of a goal is enough reward. But other times you might benefit from setting out a little “carrot” for yourself to enjoy at the finish line.
If that is true, choose something equivalent in size or value to the goal, and something you would truly enjoy. Getting yourself a new car after cleaning the bathroom is not a good fit. But maybe ending work early on a Friday would be an appropriate reward for signing a new contract for your business.
My boys were motivated to clean their room because they knew the vacuum cleaner would soon be coming to town and they didn’t want to lose any precious items to the suction monster. They also like being able to find toys when they are looking for them, so having them in their place is an extra bonus that reduces their frustration. And maybe some day they will appreciate just how nice the room looks when it’s tidy and clean.
For you, consider what have you been putting off and why? Where do you feel stuck? Work your way through steps (1) through (6) above and see how you do this time.
And if you get stuck again, email me: let’s talk!