Hiding strategies

 Photography: Oscar Keys

Photography: Oscar Keys

I have a problem. 

Did you know that currently I have over 5,000 emails in a folder I labeled "Read Later," or that I have over 1,600 notes in my Evernote application, most of which is stuff I saw online?

Many of these notes and emails contain information that I would consider nuggets of wisdom. Some would make handy reference material for writing a book or when researching on a particular topic. Others have tips, stories and other material that support some of the work I do or want to get into. 

I don't think there's anything wrong with recognizing opportunities to learn and holding onto them to act on them later. But what is definitely happening for me is a phenomenon I consider information overkill. At this point there's too much stored information to ever read through it, while my inbox continues to collect information each day and I plunk more of that stuff into the "Read Later" folder. Just thinking about it now makes me feel anxious and overwhelmed.

I don't only do it with emails or notes. I collect and hold onto website links (using the bookmarks manager) and magazines for this same reason.

The incentive for this habit is that, while I'm not currently working on the projects which these resources would help me with, when I'm ready to start, then they will be there.

I compare it to what a squirrel does before winter with acorns, storing up enough food to get him through the times when those resources are vitally important to have around. But the problem I'm noticing is this: how do you know when enough is enough? When do you stop? Because collecting can become a habit that quickly gets out of hand, like the hoarders who end up living in a house filled to the ceiling with junk.

In the meantime, my digital information is gathering digital dust and filling up servers or hard drive space that could be used for other things.

The "one day I'll need this" mentality is what you do when your goals or dreams are over there, somewhere else in space and time than right here today. In coaching class we called this: "The island where everything works out." It's an unattainable fantasy. You work towards your dreams and ideal life, but right now you think you are: not good enough, not ready enough, not smart enough, and not skilled enough to actually live on that island and reap the rewards. This mentality actually keeps you from living it. 

The pursuit of happiness is keeping you from being happy.

What if I stop trying to get there? Because if I spend so much time and energy preparing, when do I have time to live the life I'm striving for? I collect yoga magazines in the optimistic expectation that I will spend more time developing my yoga practice and then I never even read them. That's just crazy! If I don't even have the time to read these magazines, then I obviously don't think I have time to do more yoga than I'm doing now.

I found out recently that this practice is not so crazy. In fact, many women do this as part of their strategy to stay in self-preservation.

 "Playing Big" by Tara Mohr

"Playing Big" by Tara Mohr

In the book "Playing Big," Tara Mohr calls this "hiding." She writes:

"...brilliant women hide from playing bigger--the ways we stall on and talk ourselves out of the very steps that would bring us more fulfillment and enable us to have more positive impact in the world. All these "hiding strategies" allow us to avoid playing bigger while convincing ourselves we're moving forward in the most diligent way we can. After all, these are brilliant women's hiding strategies: We are sophisticated in fooling ourselves." 

Among those strategies, Tara Mohr includes:

  1. Having the false assumption about the order in which things must happen, such as, "I need to have this before I can even think about doing that."
  2. Designing at the whiteboard, untethered from conversations with the audiences we want to reach, such as, "I need to have this all figured out before I can share my ideas with anyone else."
  3. Collecting and highlighting other people's thoughts about a topic we are passionate about rather than sharing our own ideas. (She called me out on this one! This is what I have been doing with the email collecting habit!)
  4. Creating something overly complex or abstract while omitting our own personal story.
  5. Seeking ever more education, training, or certifications--convincing ourselves we need the degree in order to play bigger. (I do this too, which has resulting in me purchasing about 20 different courses in the past 2 years, most of which I haven't even started yet.)
  6. Doing endless feature polishing and elaboration.

Have your goals and pursue them, but at some point, if happiness eludes you, if you depend on a future state of being in order to feel happiness, then you risk living a life of pursuit rather than that happy life. Can you stop pursuing and start enjoying?

So my goal has been to stop this habit of information collecting, although it's one of those things that I do without even thinking. Just today I purchased a $200 course on marketing, adding another one to my long list of unfinished courses. And those 5,000+ emails are still sitting in that "Read Later" folder, totally unread. 

So, I admit, I have a problem. Admitting it is the first step. Next is doing something about it. I'll let you know how it goes.

What kinds of things do you do in preparation for a goal, without perhaps realizing that the very act of preparing is keeping you from taking action?