I have a persistent story — a niggling thought habit that pops up in times of high stress and overwhelm. The story is
Falling behind. Running behind. Running late. Playing catch-up.
Perhaps you have a similar story.
The Origin of the “Falling Behind” Story
Where does it come from? Most of our stickiest stories, are a product of our conditioning. This is the story I heard repeatedly about myself growing up, and even into adulthood.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told by people closest to me that I was (and perhaps still am) a “late bloomer.”
And then there’s the cultural story: the expectations of where we should be in life by certain age or time milestones.
Fear of falling behind is a good way to enforce compliance.
We live in a culture that wants us to comply, to follow the rules.
None of this gives me immunity to the myth of falling behind.
How to Dismantle the Story of Falling Behind
The story of “falling behind” is a deeply embedded thought habit; the hardest type of habit to break. Breaking this habit is made more challenging because it’s constantly reinforced by our culture. The thought must be chipped away at, bit by bit.
Here are a few ways to attack the story that you are “falling behind.”
(1) Notice the Expectation
The belief that you are “falling behind” is rooted in an expectation you have about where you “should” be by “when.” This expectation is set by the culture and your environment.
When you feel “behind,” notice and name the expectation and question where it came from.
What happens if you let go of that expectation?
(2) Poke a Hole in the Story
Falling behind whom?
Behind is a comparative term. If you’re behind, it implies someone else is ahead. But where’s the finish line? Life isn’t a race where everyone is running the same course.
Maybe others look like they’re ahead because they are almost at their end. And maybe you have a lot more life to run.
You cannot compare your journey to another person’s journey.
Each of us has an individual path in this lifetime.
(3) Recalibrate Your Perspective on Time
The concept of “falling behind” is dependent on a linear structure of time. But linear time is a human construct.
If you threw away your linear timeline, how would you know if you were “behind?”
Nature’s time is cyclical. Instead of plotting your life on a graph, map it out in a circle.
If you have two points in a circle, how do you know which one is “behind” and which one is “ahead?” You don’t.
In fact, maybe you’re the one who’s ahead.
Sometimes we are late bloomers because the world needs to catch up to us.
That one hit me straight in the heart, surfacing a knowing that I had kept buried deep within.
(4) Just Keep Showing Up
Your job is simply to show up every day and do what you can do. That’s all you can do. It’s all you need to do.
As Seth Godin shares:
[E]mbrace the posture of seeking a streak. Show up every day. Do the work, return tomorrow.
For over six years, I’ve plotted a course in creating streaks of daily rituals (what some would call “habits”). A morning workout. Meditation. Journaling. Writing. Blogging. Taking time to rest.
I’ve learned the hard way that racing to “win” or to “catch up” only leads to burnout and setbacks.
I work in the smallest increments to build sustainably, and for longevity.
Just showing up is more than half the work.
(5) Remind Yourself of the Truth
Above all else, remember this: you can’t be behind in your own life.