Ever had an overwhelming sense that the world is coming at you so fast that you can’t keep up? The emails and instant messages are arriving faster than they’re being dealt with. The stacks of paper on your desk are growing, not shrinking. When you see the boss headed toward your desk, a voice in your head says, “Please, don’t come this way with something else for me to do.”
And do you sometimes have the sense that there’s nothing you can do about all this? That you’re stuck in this reactive, out-of-control state?
We call this the “victim mentality.” It visits us in those dark moments of the soul when we lack both the sense of control that assures that we can move things forward effectively, and the perspective to know that we’re focused on the right things. And when we think that there’s nothing we can do to get out of that state.
Some people believe that being in this state comes with a badge of honour. If I’m overwhelmed, the thinking goes, it must be because I’m important. Only lesser mortals have empty inboxes, or can go home on time, or don’t feel the need to check their emails at the dinner table.
In my work with clients I’ve always considered that an important aspect of this victim mentality was that it was apparently driven by external factors. The reason I’m in this state, we seem to say, is that my co-workers are rubbish, the boss is too demanding, it’s just the way the world is, etc. Life is hard. Get used to it.
But recently I’ve begun to see this in a new light. I was talking with someone who was telling me that they were constantly thinking about work. At the office, sure, but also at home, in the evening and on the weekend when with friends and family. They were thinking about work a lot more than they wanted to be, and a lot more than was helpful. They weren’t sleeping well, their stress levels were through the roof, and both their health and their relationships were suffering.
And they didn’t think there was anything they could do about it. “I can’t stop thinking the way I’m thinking. It’s just the way I’m wired, so for better or worse it’s what my brain is going to do.”
This is the victim mentality again, but in different clothing. This mind-set has it that life is hard not because of what the world throws at me, but because of the way my brain works. Poor me, I’m burdened with so much intelligence/creativity/imagination that I’m doomed to a life of constant internal distraction.
Regardless whether you’re feeling like a victim for external or internal reasons, when you decide you’ve had enough, Getting Things Done gives you tools to free you up. The fundamental processing questions – What’s the next action? What’s the desired outcome? – are a good place to start. If those two questions don’t quite finish the thinking for you, you probably have something bigger, knottier, or more strategic on your mind. For such things, you might want to deploy the Natural Planning Model – see chapter 3 in the book Getting Things Done for more on this. Using these tools, you’ll eliminate that internal distraction, and you can focus on the things you want to with a clear head.
The cures we’re offering here do require mental effort, it’s true. But would you rather expend the mental effort, or spend more time playing the victim? The choice is yours.