Few skills are more underrated than knowing how to approach an overwhelming task.
It’s one of those universal human experiences that each of us confronts at numerous points in our lives.
But the good news is, even though the undertaking in front of us can feel like building a brick wall to infinity, that doesn’t make it impossible. Difficult and scary and overpowering and dreadful, but not impossible.
Since starting my own publishing company college, I’ve had dozens of projects and jobs and experiences that initially appeared impossible to me. In many situations, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming malaise that had engulfed me.
But over time, my relationship to impossibility began to evolve. I realized that anything is impossible until we do it once. That if we assume something hard is impossible, we won’t even begin trying to achieve it.
And so, whenever projects threatened to overwhelm my coping mechanisms, I executed an impossibility subroutine. A ritual to help ramp up my energy and snap myself into appropriate state of mind to approach the task.
Not unlike a computer program, this sequence of instructions came packaged as a unit, which I could use in moments where a particular task needed to be performed.
Here’s a case study.
One of my clients tasked me with solving an overwhelmingly complex marketing problem for their new product, which was baby food. Not exactly my area of expertise. But thanks to my impossibility subroutine, I was able to unpack this challenge smoothly.
The first step was to turn on my customized playlist. Because I know which songs are guaranteed to relax and inspire and energize me. These tunes served as associative triggers that echoed the habits of action and allowed me to lock into my creative zone.
The next step was to organize my blank canvases, both digitally and physically. From software programs to dry erase boards to oversized sketchbooks, these tools liberated my imagination and gave me permission to think visually and holistically.
The last step was building a simple spreadsheet to manage my project’s many tasks, resources, questions and timelines. This document satisfied my sense of order and helped quell the obsessive compulsive and controlling instincts from welling up inside of me.
Within a few hours, the problem shifted from impossible to merely difficult. I thought to myself, I got this. Because I knew exactly what it took for me to focus. I knew exactly what my brain needed to feel like in order to attack this challenge.
I’m reminded of the words of my favorite performance artist. Philippe says:
Focus is what allows you to reach beyond your normal abilities and cloaks your frequent intrusions into the domain of the impossible. But you have to have a lifelong complicity with concentration, he says. Otherwise the world cannot pour in freely.
Remember that, and you’ll come away from your next project thinking nothing is impossible.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What steps comprise your impossibility subroutine? * * * *
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.
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