Why Shades of Grey Can Make Everything Clearer

Do you find you make “rules” around things, that they have to be just so, or you don’t do anything?  Like, “I need 3 solid hours of interrupted time before I can get started on xyz project?”  Then you never find that, so you never get started.  Or, you feel like you have to have it all figured out BEFORE you take action, or else you will (fill in the blank ___________; make a mistake; get laughed at; embarrass yourself; fail; not do it perfectly…you get the drift.  This is called black and white thinking, or dichotomous thinking, where it has to be this way or that, with no in between.  It is good or it is bad – there is no grey.  


But grey can be good!  We’ve always been told “that’s a grey area” meaning there is no definite answer, it’s risky, or be wary.  And there certainly are areas like that.  So many times as a CPA I would be asked a question, and have to answer with, “Well, that depends,” or “The IRS hasn’t defined that so it’s left to interpretation.”  We want to be safe.  We want to do the right thing.  It’s good to research and do your due diligence.  But we also want to step out of our comfort zones to grow, which feels risky, so we don’t do anything.  Or the task feels overwhelming, so we go do something more fun, or that feels productive, like vacuuming.  My boyfriend likes to call me out on that one.  If he sees me vacuuming, he asks me what I am really supposed to be doing. 


But grey doesn’t have to mean stop, drop and roll.  In fact, it can part the clouds, revealing sunshine and blue sky.  I can feel you cringing a little bit, or rolling your eyes.  Letting down our guard, the one we have put up consciously or unconsciously to protect us, is scary.  We think by having something be black and white, it’s safer.  And of course, there are things that are black and white, 2 + 2 = 4 every time.  Looking before you cross the road is the safe thing to do, every time (especially with the quiet electric vehicles!).   But never getting started on that email you wanted to write won’t help you build your list.  Avoiding picking up the phone to follow up with the person you met at a networking event won’t help you build that relationship.  Hesitating on sending a DM to someone you in Linked In or IG who you don’t know but want to connect with for your business won’t help you build your network.


But Nike’s slogan “Just Do It,” while memorable and often helpful, doesn’t always motivate us.  In fact, sometimes, it can make us feel worse if we aren’t “doing it” and we aren’t even sure why.  It just feels too hard, or overwhelming, or boring.  Sometimes It can be helpful to think bigger to get something seemingly smaller done.   What is your why?  Why do you want to do that task, that you don’t really want to do, but you know you need to do?  Ok, you kinda want to do it, but are nervous about it.  What will that action get you closer to?  What is your whole reason for wanting to do it in the first place?  Do you have an intention around it, or a bigger purpose?  Knowing the bigger picture can make the little picture easier to draw.


When it comes to making a decision, managing our time, planning our next vacation, or choosing a vendor to work with for our business, or the perfect email marketing software, sometimes we just need to let go of perfect, and lean into “good enough” with the idea that something is better than nothing.  Getting started on the project and getting 30 minutes done instead of waiting for the perfect 3 hours is better than continuing to put it off until the deadline is here and you are panicking, doing subpar work, or worse, never get started at all.  Assuming you’ve done some due diligence and research, you’ve got vendors to choose from, all reputable, all with similar skill sets, maybe similar pricing, it’s time to choose, so you can keep moving forward.


Procrastinating on making a decision IS a decision.  It is a decision to not make a decision.  In the scenario I am referring to, you are in choice.  No one is making you do or not do something.  But out of fear of making the wrong decision, we don’t decide.  We stay stuck, stuck in our heads, stuck in a relationship, stuck in a job, stuck at home, stuck in the what if, when, how.  We analyze the shit out of the situation.  We create a list, and Ben Franklin the hell out of it, weighing the pros and cons ad nauseam, frozen, not moving forward.  


Black and white thinking can show up as procrastination, perfectionism, fear of trying new things, negative self-talk, and even our language, like using words like always and never.  Do you find yourself using those, when really, is that you ALWAYS have tech problems, or you NEVER get any responses when you send out an email to your list? Probably not. 


I challenge you to begin paying attention to your language.  Notice how you talk to yourself – are you kind, would you say that to your best friend, or a colleague?  Or do you beat yourself up, saying you are stupid, or this ALWAYS happens, or I’m no good at this, or I’ve never figure this out.”  Instead, experiment and catch yourself.  Turn it into a game.  Maybe everytime you catch yourself saying something negative about yourself, you have to do a push up.  


Look for corroboration on your always and never statements.  Is that really true?  What is some evidence it isn’t true?  Begin to look for what you are doing right, not what you are doing wrong.  Get a new perspective – talk to a friend, hire a coach, chat with a colleague or mentor.  See what their perspective is.  You don’t have to adopt it, but it helps to see things from outside the lines.   We box ourselves in with our thinking sometimes, and then we can’t even see the box we drew.  


Let’s climb out of the box, look around, and take some action, no matter how small.  Be open to letting go of perfect, and moving the needle, even if just a little.  Acknowledge your own progress.  Reflect on what you did get done, rather than self-sabotage with  focusing on what you didn’t.  Watch the clouds drift, and the sun peek out.  There’s shade, and there are shades of grey.  Use them to color your world, get curious, ask questions, seek new perspectives, make a tiny decision.  Now let’s make some progress!

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