50. . .100. . .150. . .200. . .300. . .400. . .500. . . .617. . .?

Is there a mathematical sequence in these numbers? The list starts going up by 50, then by 100. But the last number is 617. The challenge for you is to figure out (or guess) what the next number might be.

But before you get too much brain strain, there is no planned next number for the list – in fact, to my knowledge, there is no mathematical sequence. This was a list of my increasing upper limits for unopened emails in my Inbox over the past 9 months. It was a very busy time with lots of moving parts.

Then, four days ago, I hit 617. My emotional mind was yelling at my rational mind, “Your stress level is going up! You’re spinning too many plates on sticks! Remember me?? I’m the part of your brain that has to monitor all this.” Finally, my rational mind listened and shouted back, “Okay, I get the message! I give up!” Almost like my arm was being twisted up behind my back.

What Was Going On?

Irrational thinking at its best – that’s what was going on.

I was trapped by my own bias of always wanting to learn what was just around the corner – to learn something new about human behavior. It’s one of my stronger biases and I was irrationally attached to those emails. It was like a monkey trap. I had figuratively put my open hand into a narrow-necked jar full of unopened emails. When I tried to grab a handful to throw out, I couldn’t pull my clenched hand back out again. I had to let go of them to get my hand out.

But I didn’t really let go of them. They were still unfinished tasks in my mind. Two things were going on:

1. The Completion Principle (also called the Zeigarnik Effect): It means that my mind needs to keep track of all of the unfinished, incomplete tasks that are stored in my brain. It’s an evolutionary habit firmly entrenched in our DNA. Two million years ago, anything unknown in my environment could represent a danger to my survival.

2. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). The majority of the unopened emails were ones I sent myself with links to newsletters, articles, websites, or videos I wanted to review. I didn’t want to emotionally give up the opportunity to review them even though I had no idea what was in most of them.

What Came Next?

I had to get my rational and emotional minds working together, not against each other. My rational mind planned the strategy and the timeline - a cup of coffee, a bagel, and about two hours at my computer. That’s two of its strengths – planning and strategizing.

Then I imagined how I would feel when all the unopened emails were now easily managed. I wanted to take down all those spinning plates that didn’t need to be spun. I wanted to feel less distracted and more focused. I wanted to feel the relief! So, I let those emotions provide the energy to complete the task. That’s two of the emotional mind’s strengths – imagining (visualizing) and providing the energy to keep going.

Your Challenge

The next time you are procrastinating or dreading taking on some task or project, ask yourself three questions:

1. How do I feel right now?

2. How do I want to feel after this project or task is done?

3. What challenges stand between how I feel now and how I would like to feel in the future?

It’s just three questions and it might take 15-20 minutes to answer them. It might mean talking to someone about them. It might even mean going for a walk to think about your answers.

So that’s your challenge. Are you going to try it . . .. or not?

Remember: it’s definitely worth it and it’s your choice!