Does a Dragon Live Near You?
“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations if you live near one.”
– JRR Tolkien
No, it does not.
Does a dragon live near you? You know, someone who gets your goat, foils your plans, burns up your daily task list with their oh-so-demanding breath of fire…smashes through every boundary you put in place with a quick swish of their spiky tail?
There are many types of dragons, of course…some are real, some imaginary, some are internal, some external. But a dragon is a dragon and regardless of their size, variety and/or location of their lair, if one lives near you, it is wise to include them in your calculations.
Why? Because most dragons aren’t going away anytime soon. So unless you want to keep running away from them, you best identify who they are, where they live, what they want, and how best to handle them.
I used to have a few dragons in my life—of the human variety.
But the dragon I am dealing with these days is of the internal variety. This dragon lives in my mind. She is not a fire-breather. In fact, she is soft-spoken, polite, and rather sweet.
And therein lies the problem….
What this dragon has to say is sugary sweet and easy to swallow…and not harmful in small quantities. But, over time, her kind and understanding nature—and the sweet nothings she whispers in my ear—can wreak havoc on one’s dreams.
This dragon is so lovely (and so powerful), I have even given her a name: Penny.
Actually, “Penny, the Procrastination Princess,” is her full name…for obvious reasons.
Oddly enough, Penny tends to start whispering her sweet nothings in my ear about the same time every workday: in the early afternoon, when my energy and willpower is starting to fade, and I am considering shutting off my computer and calling it a day…before all my planned tasks for the day are completed. Again.
“You’re getting tired,” Penny loves to say (in a rather empathetic tone). “It’s okay to put that last batch of tasks off until tomorrow.”
But the problem, of course, is that when I don’t get my butt in the chair and finish that last batch of tasks, that means my workload for tomorrow is even bigger. And then, when Penny whispers her sweet nothings to me the next afternoon, which she will, I fall further and further behind.
So how am I dealing with sweet Penny?
Well, I realized I have two handy-dandy weapons/tools at my disposal. The first is…a timer.
Yes, you read correctly. My weapon of choice to battle a dragon is a good-old fashioned kitchen timer. Using a timer isn’t new to me. I have used one for years and find it extremely helpful. What is new is the amount of time I set on my timer.
The amount of time I prefer to work on a task (or batch of tasks) is 53 minutes. I have experimented with this over the years and for me, this is the ideal amount of time to work on a computer task…I can get into flow, stay there, then get out before I start to lose focus.
When the timer goes off, I take a break…good for mind, body, and soul.
What I’m experimenting with now is to set my timer for 47 minutes—for the last work session of the day. I finally figured this out about myself: I won’t always sit and work for 53 minutes at the end of the day because I am “too tired.” But I WILL get my butt in the chair and work for 47 minutes. Why? Because 47 minutes is nothing…I can do any task for a mere 47 minutes!
The second weapon/tool of choice I am using to combat Penny is equally simple: I put less work tasks on my plate each day. What a concept!
I know perfectly well what I can achieve in a normal workday. I can comfortably do three 53-minute intense work sessions and one 47-minute work session. Sometimes I can do more…but I dread it and pay for it the next day with mental fatigue and body pain.
So then why did I keep putting twice that amount of work on my plate…then get mad at myself and frustrated for not having the stamina to get my tasks accomplished for the day?
The answer to that question lies in a second dragon ’o mine, who lives behind Penny…deep within the castle on the other side of the moat. Yes, that’s right: dear sweet Penny is just the front dragon for the real dragon, who goes by the name of Fear (with a capital F). It is Penny’s job to keep Fear safe, happy, alive, and well.
And the best way Penny knows how to do that is to ensure that I stay safe and cozy inside my familiar little cocoon. Because the longer I take to complete the work I know I need to get done, the longer my life—and me—gets to stay exactly the way it is now.
So here’s an uncomfortable possibility (that neither Penny nor Fear would be impressed with me for even considering): perhaps I was consistently putting too many tasks on my plate each day as a subtle form of self-sabotage?
Because deliberately setting myself up to fail on a daily basis—albeit in a small way—was very effective in keeping me from having to face the Grand Poohbah Dragon of all my fears: success.
When small daily fails become not only expected but also acceptable, familiar and comfortable, then it’s not a huge leap to begin to expect, and accept, the bigger fails…you know, the ones we put on the back-burner of our mind because it seems easier, and safer, to not try than it does to try and fail. Or (gasp) succeed!
Food for thought…for me, you, and the dragons 🙂
But on a happier note, here’s another little fun fact I recently discovered: happy dragons are quiet dragons. Penny doesn’t whisper her sweet nothings to me anymore…because she knows I won’t listen.
Why? Because I finally found something that feels way better than putting my last batch of tasks off until the following day: sitting my butt in the chair—for that last 47-minute stretch—and getting them DONE.
Fear isn’t going away anytime soon…for any of us. But when we can identify and acknowledge what is holding us back, and why, then we are much better able to…negotiate accordingly.
Penny for your thoughts…do you have a dragon/s who lives nearby? If so, are you including them in your calculations?
Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive her blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.