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Agency + Minimum Threshold


When I grow up. Start with Small Career Counselling + Coaching Burlington, Hamilton, Halton, Oakville, Mississauga, Hamilton

How's your week been? What have you been spending your time thinking about? If you're not sure, this is a good thing to pay attention to!


Lately, I’ve been thinking back to when I was a little kid. I was painfully shy as a child and remember taking solace at the thought that one day I’d grow up and things would be different. I pictured the confident woman I wanted to become with her own place and her own….store. Yes, from a really young age, I dreamed of running a store, delighting my customers and operating the CASH REGISTER. Ah, a shiny, noisy register with buttons that were hard to push down and that would make a beautiful “ding” sound when the money tray popped out.


I fulfilled that dream pretty early on. Looking back, as I got a little older, I mostly just wanted to grow up so I could finally make all of my own decisions. I wanted to leave what I considered my little “fishbowl” town behind. I didn’t like that everybody thought they knew me there. I longed to disappear into a city, blend in with everyone and become whomever I wanted to become.


Isn’t this exactly the way it goes? We can’t wait to become an adult because we believe then we’ll make our own decisions and finally have agency over our life.


But is this true? Is this actually how it goes? Of course, we do grow up, maybe we sow some wild oats in our 20s but then what happens?


The we really grow up. Sure, it’s all gas and no brake until we’re what…25? Then we slam that brake on HARD. We get a job and a place to live and buy a bunch of things we have to keep working to pay for AND sometimes, we’re left wondering where all of that agency we were excited for went.


Where did it really go? Do we end up giving all that hard-won agency away anyhow? Do we simply give it away to all of the circumstances of our life? Our boss, our spouse, our family, or society in general? One thing I know for sure, if we do, it’s because we aren’t managing our mind, our emotions, or our conversations with ourselves and other people. We don’t know how to listen to truly hear and understand that little voice inside of us. In my case, the little painfully shy voice that wanted more than anything to have agency over her own decisions—her own life.


We build a comfortable container for ourselves because we gravitate towards what is “known” and we follow the “how’s” of others. That feels hard to step outside of—even when it starts to feel suffocating. We don’t go after what we want because it requires leaving the container we built. We think of what we’ll have to give up, how we think we’ll have to feel, and we imagine ourselves suffering the moment we set even one foot outside of the container we’ve built. We know that’s required in order to have the result we want. We don’t believe it’s possible to have what we want without suffering.


Of course, this is what coaches help with. They teach us how to build a new container so we can get what we want in a way that doesn’t involve all of that suffering we fear.


It is possible to get where you want to go in a way that is so sustainable you want to stay there. You can learn how to create more intention so you’re doing a higher percentage of things you actually care about. You can learn how to set boundaries, say NO, say YES, and unbind yourself from obligations to yourself and other people.


I highly recommend finding a way to get the equivalent of a master's degree in your own human behaviour. Work with somebody who can show you your own brain. You graduate when you have the things you want and are living the way you imagined you would when you talked about “when I grow up”.


I like to say that when you work with me, I’m hired by your dreams so you don’t screw it up.


Okay, so let’s talk for a minute about how you go about creating something intentionally without all of the suffering. This tends to keep us stuck so it’s worth me talking a bit about in case there are some things you’d like to try. I use a process with clients that has them moving forward by doing things that are almost as easy to do as they are not to do. When we take small steps, create micro habits and use the cumulative effect of time, miracles happen.


Minimum Threshold Principle


The minimum threshold principle is the best medicine I’ve found for my brain when it comes to dealing with my own perfectionism. This is a big thing that comes up for us as we’re trying to build a new container for our dreams. We will only do it if we are certain it’s exactly the right thing to be doing and that we’ll do it perfectly. As any perfectionist brain does, mine likes to tell me things like I can’t just write a page of the book, I must write the entire first draft in one sitting and with perfect grammar, perfect spelling, and just the perfect amount of wry humour. Notice if this pops up in your life…it’s that all or nothing stuff, the black and white thinking.

What minimum threshold tells me is that I CAN decide to not believe that everything is all or nothing. Instead, I can commit to writing one paragraph or one page a day consistently. Imagine that. I can pick ONE thing and commit to only doing that at regular intervals that I get to decide. Then, when this starts to feel as easy to do as not to do, I can also decide to write two paragraphs or pages a day, if I want to or not. The important thing here is that I’m keeping my commitment to do the thing, the smallest amount possible—the minimum threshold amount for as long as it takes.


The point is, your minimum threshold should be the tiniest commitment you can make that you’re sure you can follow through with. Not the amount we think we “should” do. You’ve probably heard that our brains tend to overestimate what we can get done in a day and underestimate what we can get done in a month or 6 months or a year or 5 years. If your brain is like mine, it’s not going to like only doing the minimum threshold amount. Actually, it will probably hate it. Your brain will tell you that a 20- minute walk on the treadmill a few times a week is a waste of time and stupid.


It’s not.


What’s better? Doing that slowly and consistently over a period of time or running for an hour perfectly every day for 7 days, then not doing it again for another 6 months, then starting again, then stopping again for years?


We’d rather buy all the gear and make the perfect plan in 5x the time it would’ve taken us to slap on our old dusty shoes right now, hop on the treadmill and just giver.


Of course, the minimum threshold won’t give you the sexy dopamine rush the perfectionist movie playing in your head will give you. I know mine doesn’t. Instead it will seem completely pointless and super boring.

But it’s not pointless.


Tricky, tricky brain. The way to build up a habit is to show yourself you can. You’ve got to do what you’ll say you’ll do. The way to do that is to start with small. Tiny little steps. Keep chugging, little by little. You’ll get results but results are not the only reason to do this. The reason to do it is because of who you’ll be on the other side of it. You’ll build trust with yourself and a relationship of integrity with yourself. Focus on this. If you focus on the goal, it’ll lead to unnecessary suffering. Train your brain to believe the goal is coming no matter what as long as you keep taking the small steps. This builds momentum. Combine constraint (focusing on one thing at a time), and minimum threshold, small forward movement.

This is how I built my private practice. This is how I learned to stop hating my own body. This is how I built confidence in myself. I started with the smallest, easiest step I could. Then I kept going. You can too.

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