Tackle the little things that trip you up every day

November 29, 2023

The Skilled Helper by Gerard Egan

I’m working my way through a relatively well known counselling book called the “Skilled helper” by Gerard Egan

I really like this model as it reminds me of old Army days and something called the Combat Appreciation, which was a handrail for thinking through a problem under duress.

In its basic form, it would ask you to consider several elements which I remembered by the mnemonic AF-DE-COP - which stood for Aims, Factors, Deductions, Courses Open and Plan.

The “Skilled helper” book by Egan proposes a similar pathway but looks at it from a counsellor’s perspective.

Egan proposes 3 stages:

Egan’s approach is relatively intuitive and I’ve seen it working well in action and it appeals to my pragmatic side which sees life as war with ground to seize and obstacles to overcome.

Seeing problems is easy. Dealing with them is less interesting

The good news when using this approach, most people won’t struggle to see the problems but the more challenging part is to get them enthused about tapping into their skills to get beyond them. Most people need to see progress in their lives to feel a sense of meaning. When it doesn’t happen, people get stuck and the rot sets in. We see the 'promised land' in the distance, but when we don’t tackle what stands between it and us, all hell breaks loose in the camp.

As I look at my life, I’ve made progress over the last few years in faith and learning about how my life should look, but I know there is a long way to go. If I had to identify the giant that I need to tackle, it is inertia. The daily loss of momentum.

I’ve long recognised that I’m an inspirational type who can achieve more in 1 hour than others can in 8, but only when the mood takes me. The trouble is - it seldom does, and while I know “the grind” is the answer, it sucks the life force out of me. How can I make progress without dying of boredom and depression? How can I even out the twin peaks of idleness and frenetic activity?

If you have read other posts, I’m always saying the aim in life is to glorify God, but how this looks for me will differ for you. My deepest desire is to live with fire in my belly, make progress daily, and to strive for personal excellence. Sounds noble, but the only problem is that most days I really can’t be bothered! There is no fire, only dying embers. Inertia rules my life and I get bogged down thinking about all the things I should do and nothing meaningful ever gets done.

Problems and goals

So what might some problems be? How can I frame my obstacles as problems to be overcome?

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to use my story to throw some excuses and problems against the wall and see what sticks? Perhaps within this list there will be something that, if dealt with, may grease the axle and things will trundle forward again.

I’m going to keep it simple, but these statements could be mined deeply to get to the heart of the problem. Asking who, what, when, where, why and for how long until there is no further useful meaning to be extracted.

Why is there inertia in my life?

Too many things and processes in my life

Accretion, There is so much I have brought into my life and it all needs maintained. There are just too many things and layers of tasks in every area. I almost can’t keep on top of it. Time to stare into space and think about all the things I really should be doing but can’t think where to start on any of them.

Never the right time?

It is always hard to get into action, especially with a narrow window of opportunity and the right tools are never to hand.  Also which task is more important in the 15 mintues I have. Cleaning the shower or fixing the hinge in the basement door? “Ach.... do neither - What if I start and don’t get finished in time?”

Saying “I’ll do it later”

This is always the easy option. I leave stuff at my backside because, sure, I can take it down to the garage later. It always gets done but at any given moment nothing ever feels finished. This is dispiriting and leads to lethargy

Waiting around for others to do their bit

How often have you stood at the front door waiting to go out somewhere and the wife is never ready? 10 minutes you’ll never get back. Time to look at your phone or cause a row by telling her in a loud voice to “hurry up”. That always works!

Seldom feeling energised

This is the killer for me - I know I will get energy by moving, but getting the flywheel spinning again feels like more than I can muster. When momentum stops - I stop. I feel a quick power nap coming on followed by a few YouTube videos. That’ll do the trick.

Wasting precious personal hours on digital devices

I genuinely hate this about myself - I don’t have enough control. Even when I try to be virtuous with my phone using it for positive activities, I end up cheating with social media.

Not wanting to deal with the friction of others opinions

Isn’t it sometimes just easier to go with the flow rather than upsetting those close to us. “It is a 9pm. Now is not the time, Mark, to be painting skirting boards,” said my wife on the one occasion the mood actually took me!

How do I tackle this inertia?

Ok, so I have identified several problems or excuses, but what comes next for dealing with my inertia and living like the victorious Christian man I want to be?

All these problems probably can’t be tackled at once, but each of them at any moment is taking me away from my life’s aim. As you look at them, you will see common themes running through each.

So, I want to lead a vibrant life of personal excellence where I can see progress. As I look at the various excuses, I can see that I’m not managing the inertia in my life. This is where we come to the important part of this process. That of setting goals which target the root of my problem.

Set the goals to deal with the problems

It would be easy to say that my problem is laziness, but actually the problem is around critical moments during the day when the path can fork left or right - left leading to sloth and right leading to action.

There are several goals I could set, but the one that jumps out for this problem, is daily planning focused on momentum building and friction reduction. If I did this consistently and held myself accountable for it. My life would change.

Genuinely, this would take only 15-30 minutes in a day and yet would give me the “biggest bang for my buck”.  

The goal doesn’t have to be an “ultimate” goal like running a 4 minute mile. It is about having an “instrumental” goal, one that is repeated daily. It just has to be targeted at the underlying issue which causes you to stumble daily.

The goal doesn’t have to be an “ultimate” goal like running a 4 minute mile. It is about having an “instrumental” goal, one that is repeated daily. It just has to be targeted at the underlying issue which causes you to stumble daily.

What is the take away?

I’m not asking you to set a goal arbitrarily because achieving it would be nice. Think about who you want to become or what you want to do. Really work out what is constantly tripping you up. This is the problem. Set a goal to deal with this and get creative in tackling it and stop daydreaming. Get busy clearing the road so you can make some progress.

I’m not saying anything new. I’m telling you what you already know, I’m just here to remind you that you need to do it.

Nothing else for it. Pray over it and get to work.

Main image from flickr link here

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