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How to get your shit together

Not getting my shit together

I've wondered for a long time what 'getting your shit together' meant and 'how to get your shit together' applied to me. At my age, urban slang isn't at the forefront of anything. 

So, I tried Google. The few sites I looked at didn't really help me; tidying wasn't my problem and neither was life insurance, living wills or for that matter getting over my boyfriend/girlfriend leaving.

However, getting my shit together was my problem.

My problems ran a little deeper, were more complex and would take more to fix than tidying my wardrobe and sorting out my life insurance.

I first heard the phrase 'get your shit together' while watching a boxset on Netflix and it sounded as if they were speaking directly to me. 

The character was behaving in a similar way to how I was behaving at the time. Lazy, no motivation, no idea what they wanted to do, and perhaps most troubling, no real interest in finding out what they wanted out of life.

I, of course, chose to ignore this metaphorical heads up and continued to be the asshole I had been for a long time. 

When some months later I had a scare that was significant enough that I had to revisit getting my shit together, I looked at what was involved a little more closely.

Thinking about getting my shit together

I knew I needed to make some changes; big, ugly changes and the phrase, getting my shit together, seemed to fit the bill as a way of describing what I had to do.

The definitions I had found via Google — tidying, life insurance, living wills — meant nothing to me and they seemed shallow, superficial and prescriptive. Do this and everything will be great, don’t and you’ll be covered in the shit you that you were trying to get together. 

I needed to identify what I needed to do and then I would have my own version of getting my shit together that I could use to move forward.

Identifying what shit I needed to get together

Resorting to pad and pencil I made a list; a long list, of every aspect of me that I wanted to change.

  1. Lazy
  2. Overweight
  3. Unfit
  4. Procrastinator
  5. Unmotivated
  6. Scared of everything
  7. Depressed and miserable
  8. No focus
  9. Few ideas
  10. Lacking in willpower

That is the edited highlights but it gives a flavour or where I was and the size of the task.

Attacking this daunting list, issue by issue, could take a lifetime and as most of them had a common theme, I decided to approach them all head on in one foul, painful swoop.

How I got my shit together

I had planned to take all of my numerous and various issues on together and rip off the Band-aid in one go. However, looking at the list I saw that there were areas that had a natural symmetry with each other and could be treated essentially as one.

Lifestyle

When I say I was unfit and overweight, I'm not exaggerating. I hadn't purposely let myself go, but the end result was the same; an inability to run more than a hundred yards without hyperventilating or throwing up and waistline that was embarrassing.

When I decided to rip off the Band-Aid, I figured that if I could get myself in shape and lose quite a lot of weight that would help a lot of the other problems that I had identified. Don't be under any illusions, this was hard work, really hard work.

Here's what I did.

Food and Exercise

Owning a catering company and having a wife who is a fantastic cook should be a dream. But surrounded by temptation and being presented with amazing meals every night makes dieting difficult.

To make this possible we decided to cut out all processed carbohydrates, most sweets and desserts, and increase the amount of salads and vegetable we are eating by at least 50%. As you imagine, the kids weren't happy but with treat nights included they came around.

The exercise part was even harder.

Running was out of the question, as were team sports and high-impact sports (heart problems), which left the gym.

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the gym and have continued going reasonably regularly. Some weeks are more sporadic than others but I'm still going, still enjoying it most of the time, and I'm beginning to see a body emerge from the blob that I had been before.

Eat more healthily by cutting back on refined carbs, desserts and biscuits and increase exercise. Most importantly: Keep moving and don’t overeat — the weight will begin to disappear

Mental Health

I had spent years miserable, depressed and scared of everything. The ridiculous thing was that I hadn’t even realised, it had just become my norm. When I honestly looked at how I felt, when I decided to get my shit together, I saw myself for what I was — a very unhappy, unfulfilled person. 

That sounds as if my whole life was shit, it wasn’t. I had a happy marriage to an incredible woman, wonderful children and on the whole a reasonable life, but inside I was miserable. Why? I’ll get to that part in a moment, first I need to fix this part.

The exercise helped, as did a short period on pills from the doctor and counselling but the thing that really worked and I believe saved my life, was mindfulness.

Mindfulness

I’d heard about mindfulness from my wife and had of course immediately discounted it as new age shit from the outer edges of desperation — I was still in my asshole phase. She knew how good it was and badgered me into giving it a try. So, I did.

I tried a week — nothing. 

A second week — less stressed and anxious but hey, that could be anything. 

A third week — calmer, less irritable, occasional small smile.

Fourth week — I was nicer, happier, less anxious, positive and I began to believe. Believe that maybe things could get better.

As the weeks have gone by the effects have compounded — it’s not all unicorns and rainbows — but overall I wouldn’t be without my mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is definitely worth trying. It won’t hurt and may even help. I found I was calmer, less anxious and able to be much more positive

NB: I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice. If you feel you may be depressed, see your own doctor for advice.

Getting things done

Lazy, unmotivated, lacking focus, few ideas, no willpower and a chronic procrastinator; that was me. Add in; feeling sorry for myself and expecting the world to provide me with everything I wanted but wasn’t prepared to work for and you have the whole me.

Embarrassing and shameful.

What turned it around?

Exercising because I wanted to feel and look better. That helped.

Losing the depressive, miserable, anxious me. That had a huge impact.

What else?

Getting Started

Getting started.

Whatever you want to do, take the first step towards your goal.

I also found that to avoid intimidating myself with the massive projects that I wanted to take on, it was important to break the project down in to bite sized chunks.

If these chunks still seem overwhelming — break them down further until you get to a size that doesn’t seem too scary and unobtainable.

Nothing kicks motivation and enthusiasm in the crotch harder than looking at a task and feeling that it isn’t possible. 

Why start when there’s no way you can possibly finish?

This website, The Lazy Man’s Guides, is a good example.

I knew I wanted to provide a resource for people who were in a similar situation to me. Excellent idea, now what?

I had little idea what was going to be involved. So, I made a list of everything I could think of that I would need to do. Then I did some research and doubled the size of the list.

Each item on that list represented a significant challenge and to be honest just reading the list made me want to head for the hills and hide.

Mission Impossible, is Possible

The size of the task I had set myself was stupid. There was no way that I could learn the skills needed to design the web page, optimise it, write the copy, optimise it, market the site, link everything coherently and so on.

So I started, just started. I took the first job — setting up the website and I broke it into doable chunks.

  1. Find someone to host the site
  2. Download WordPress
  3. Decide on a theme
  4. Customise it
  5. Design some pages
  6. Write a first post

And so on.

The list I originally wrote still looks enormous and over half of the items on the list are still waiting to be crossed off, but I started and each day I keep moving.

One Step Closer

Starting, moving forward, means that you are one step closer to getting to where you want to be. Each day is a little easier. As you learn new skills and overcome challenges, each day also becomes more exciting and interesting. 

Motivation and focus have stopped being the problem they once were. Willpower is like a muscle I am training and it grows each week. 

Ideas that were once random and only occasional now happen more regularly and they’re not all shit.

Procrastination can sometimes be a problem but I have discovered I like treats. Do the work, finish the article, research the keywords then I allow myself an episode of Suits or something else.

Whatever it is that gets you going and keeps you going is great.

Just get started, that is the key.

Break down whatever it is you want to do — lose weight, exercise, build a website or another dream you have — into manageable repeatable chunks.

Make it fun by treating yourself or if that doesn’t work for you try the opposite and have consequences for not doing what you should be doing instead.

Have I got my shit together?

I think the fairest and most honest answer is that I’m a work in progress. 

I exercise more now than I have done in the last twenty years. Is it enough? No, but I’ll get there. 

It’s a question of balancing my work schedule with the other parts of my life but ultimately my health and vanity need to take more of a priority.

I’m also trying to eat even more healthily and overall I’m succeeding. I now eat very little processed food, love green vegetables (really) and I’ve even committed to stopping drinking alcohol until Christmas. 

If all of that doesn’t do some good then the New Year is going to become a salad fest.

Habits help

Mindfulness continues to help me and is also one of my biggest struggles. 

It isn’t that I don’t want to practice mindfulness, I do, I’ve seen the results. It’s that I haven’t managed to form a habit yet and so I forget.

I’ve decided to try using a trigger which will make the habit easier to form and will be flexible enough that I won’t be able to forget what I have to do.

The thing that had the most significant impact on getting my shit together?

Getting Started Again

I have discovered that I am far more able than I or anyone had realised. Rediscovering the power and pleasure in learning has been amazing and has helped me to set up my SEO copywriting business. 

It has let me indulge my passion and fascination with history, particularly mediaeval and early modern history by starting an online business to help people enjoy history as much as I do.

And finally just getting started has has allowed me to enjoy the research and kept me interested and engaged learning how I should manage my own procrastination or laziness and allowed me to share my experiences — the successful and the failures for anyone else who’s interested to learn from.

A year ago I couldn’t have imagine getting my shit together or how positive an experience it could be, now I can’t imagine going back to my old life.

Suggested Reading 

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