By Christine Kane
My older brother was a huge Eric Clapton fan. And I was a huge fan of my older brother. So, I’d sit and listen to music with him, while he played bass along with the tracks. One of my favorite Clapton tunes was J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight.” I especially liked the live version.
I knew all the lyrics, but it wasn’t til years later that I realized I had gotten one of them very wrong. The song is all about late night partying, drinking and getting loud. One part says, “We’re gonna cause talk and suspicion. We’re gonna give an exhibition. We’re gonna find out what it is all about…” When I was little I thought that Clapton was singing, “We’re gonna cause tall can suspicion.” I had NO idea what that meant, but I figured it was some adult expression that I just hadn’t learned yet. Tall can suspicion. Maybe we’ll be so loud and drink so much that the rest of the world will eye those extra large Molson cans with a burgeoning sense of mistrust…
I still use the phrase Tall Can Suspicion. It’s my own private embarrassing joke, and I’ve given it my own meaning. Tall Can Suspicion refers to any project, goal, or dream that I have made so big in my head, accompanied by such perfectionist goals that it has become un-doable. The can is so big I can’t even get started. At that point, I need a good dose of Tall Can Suspicion.
It’s actually just a good dose of Ego Suspicion. It’s letting the ego and all of its doubts know that it’s under intense scrutiny. The voice of the ego says, “My life is such a mess, I don’t even know how to begin to throw all this crap out!” or “I can’t write a book! That’s so many pages! Where would I start?” In other words, “Just don’t take me out of my comfort zone please. It all looks too big and scary. And if I make it big enough and scary enough, then I won’t have to begin at all.”
So, once you develop a healthy case of Tall Can Suspicion for some project that feels too big to even begin, here’s what you do after you see those Tall Can fears for what they are…
Break the Tall Can Into Small Chunks
First, you break the project down into steps and/or into small do-able chunks of time. The bigger the fears, the smaller the chunks. Then you schedule that time. Avoid saying, “Okay, I’ll write for 20 minutes a day.” No. Get out your Franklin Covey planner, or open your iCal, and write it in there. Every day this week. The same exact time. Then check in with yourself next week to see if you need to change the time you schedule, or if you want to add or subtract any time from your original goal.
If you’re new to doing this, it can seem like a big ol’ drag. Half the stuff in my blogs (and workshops and retreats) is about action in spite of ego. It’s about tricking the ego. That’s all. And if you tend to get bogged down by emotion or fear or the Tall Can syndrome, then try the small chunk technique. You might not do it everyday, but you’ll start getting the hang of it. And routine actually takes the “bigness” out of it. Just sit down and start on today’s small chunk.
This idea is certainly not original. Lots of the success/time management gurus use it. But lots of artists use it too. Author/artist/speaker SARK calls this idea “Micromovements.” (You can even download a Micromovement Support Sheet from her website if you need additional help.) Julia Cameron calls it “Baby Steps.” I call it Small Chunks. (Leave it to a former bulimic to come up with that one.) Either way, it’s a great concept that I use daily.
Remember this: Action steps build self-esteem. This is one of the keys of Life Coaching. My coach would allow me 3-minutes of whining if I wanted to whine. Then he would ask me, “So, what are you going to do about it?”
Here’s an example. In my post on Creating Order, I wrote about clearing clutter. When I first started on my basement, I didn’ set goals for THE BASEMENT. THE BASEMENT (which I always wrote in all capital letters in my journal) was my Tall Can. (It was a very big basement.) So, I divided the basement into four parts. Then I scheduled the time. “From 2pm to 3pm everyday this week, I’ll work on Section one.” At first, I’d just sit there until I saw what needed doing first. Eventually, I wrote a list of to-dos. If an activity didn’t fit within the allotted time, I didn’t do it. Some days, very little got done. No matter what got done or didn’t get done, I’d walk away after an hour. Even if I was having fun. I didn’t want to burn out on the project. And I had other things going on in my life at the time as well. Now, it’s your turn…
Steps for Moving from Tall Can Suspicion to Small Chunk Completion (Okay, now you’re witnessing why I should never ever write a Self-help book…)
1. Set the goal.
This is the easy part. (Note: I understand that it can be unappealing to make a goal when it comes to creativity, i.e. “I will write 10 songs by December 1.” You really can’t force creativity. However, my coach taught me to have goals anyway. Even if I had only written five songs by the time I had said I’d have ten, he believed that setting the goal itself was an important motivator. He had no attachment to the actual outcome. Five is better than none.)
2. In your journal, write down everything you can think of about this goal.
It may be relatively simple, like “Well, I want to write 10 new songs, so I need to sit down and write with my guitar everyday for an hour.” Or it might be “I want my office to be completely organized and that means the file cabinet needs to be emptied and sorted. Maybe I need to get some new shelves….” And so on. Just write it all out and don’t worry about the order of it right now. This is just to get your mind to break it down into steps.
3. Honestly assess how much time you’re able to give now.
Ask yourself how much time you have and/or are willing to devote to this goal per day. Beware of Tall Can Thinking. For instance, when I get off the road, I’d love to jump right back into writing mode. It’s tempting to say, “Four hours a day!” But I have to unpack, pay bills, get to the office and be office-y, deal with emails and messages. (I’m also typically a little frazzled.) Four hours isn’t realistic. When I first get back into writing, my chunk of time will typically be an hour. You’ll be more likely to do the action if you’re honest and gentle with yourself about your time.
4. Small chunks of time are better than small chunks of space (or form).
The idea here is to keep working at your goals daily. This is easier to do than, say, “I’m going to complete this verse by the end of this writing session.” Or “I’m going to go through the file cabinet!” The verse may not be what needs to get written now. And it (or the file cabinet) may take much longer than you had originally thought, which sets you up to see the time as a failure. But if you have time AND space in your goal, try using both. For instance, “I’m going to play this verse and mess around with the ideas I have for a half hour. The second half hour, I’m going to work on a whole different song.” Or “I’m going to sort through six of the files for this half hour stretch.”
5. Schedule the time.
Get out your calendar. Open your iCal. If you don’t have a calendar, write it in your journal. Include exact times. It’s best to show up each day at the same time to establish the habit.
6. Show up.
I like to call it showing up. Especially if your goal is creative. When I teach songwriting, students sometimes ask, “What do you do during that time?” They wonder if I’m sitting there writing the whole time. No. I show up. I sit with my guitar, and if there’s a song I’m already working on, I play it. I make friends with it. It’s a lot like meeting a friend for lunch. I just let it talk to me. I listen. If I don’t already have a song I’m working on, I just play my guitar. I learn someone else’s song. Again, I show up. Something always comes out to greet me.
Even with more concrete goals, you can use this technique. Showing up daily takes the fear away, and eventually you find the best action steps to take.
7. Some things get done. Some things continue doing through the day.
If your goal is to get your taxes done, then you know after several small chunks of time, when they are done. It’s a good feeling. And your accountant is happy.
With creative projects, done is a little more elusive. I find that after I show up for my writing time, songs continue to write themselves during the day. For instance, when I was writing “Southern Girl,” (on my Live CD), I got down to the last lines and didn’t quite know how to end the song. I finished my writing time, and went about the rest of my day. Later, as I was making a grilled cheese sandwich, without even thinking about it, the line “And it has been suggested that I might could go on home” — the last line of the song — came into my head. I laughed. I wrote it down, and I knew I had an ending.
When you show up and consciously work on something, you’re telling your subconscious what’s important. You sit with the song or poem or business plan, and work on it consciously. Then, throughout the day, your subconscious continues to work on it. But that initial chunk of time is very important. I wrote about this same idea in Begin Your Day.
8. After a week of showing up, review what you’ve gotten done. Congratulate yourself.
My coach was excellent at applauding the smallest items I finished. It meant the world to me. In order to maintain motivation, make a list of everything you did at the end of a week. It’s amazing how much can add up. If you need to, call up a friend and say, “Now you’re going to congratulate me for what I’m about to tell you.” And if she’s a good friend, she will. Julia Cameron calls this a Ta-Dah! list — as opposed to a To-Do list.
9. Continue this process.
They say (though I don’t know who THEY are) that it takes 21 days of doing something for a habit to form. The joy you derive from the daily venture into your goals will come long before that. You’ll notice the progress soon enough. And when the Tall Can Fears go away, creativity and fun come alive. I promise.
So now, it is my hope that for the first time in my life since I was six, I can sing along with Eric Clapton that I caused tall can suspicion and really mean it…