Getting to work when you’re prone to get stuck pondering


If you make a rough generalization, you can divide people into two camps. You have those who are prone to say hang on, let’s think this through, and those who get impatient with the first camp and go ahead anyway.

Let’s call them ponderers and explorers. You can find them divided up into different roles everywhere. The architects and the builders. The plotters and pantsers. The ones who like strategy games and the ones who like adventure games.

But we can’t always divide up in camps. When doing creative work on your own, you need to be able to wear both hats. And most likely, there’s one hat that fits more comfortably.

Me, I’m a ponderer.

The safe shore of pondering

The thing about being in pondering mode is that it’s not just sitting and staring out the window.

It can look like spending a lot of time on the things that surround the work. Researching, planning, strategizing, improving things, tinkering and analyzing.

None of these activities are bad in themselves. In fact, I think we often spend too little on the groundwork of a project and dive in too quickly. (Of course I do, I’m ponderer!)

But we can get stuck pondering. It can become a safe shore where you can build and rebuild your raft, plan your course and study maps, but never actually get out on the water.

You always plan to leave the shore, but you’re just not quite ready yet. Or you do get out on the water, you wobble and get wet, and decide to go back. To think it over again. Instead of letting yourself get a little brushed up, to learn as you go, you want things to feel as safe and steady as possible.

So you end up spending a lot of time on that shore.

I’ve loved sitting on mine. It’s comfy and safe, yet on the brink of adventure. I’m always working on something, yet I stay still. I can dip my toes but let them dry in the sun when it gets too cold.

It’s not a coincidence I’ve been on the shore. My sea is to build a small creative business, and I’ve decided to wait until after the third draft of my novel is done, and until after our move. So the shore has been a good place, planning and thinking, but not yet acting.

It’s been so good, it’s hard to get off now that the time for sailing is creeping up on me.


Getting out onto the sea

Getting myself off the shore will involve one big thing: a shift in my focus. From the raft to the waves. From the plan to the work. I need:

Less introspecting, theoretical pondering, self-conscious worry and watching those I admire from the sidelines.

More doing the work, finding the value I bring, focusing on those I serve and building a business.

When you’re a ponderer, getting out of your head and into your hands is the main objective when you know it’s time for things to start happening. It can feel terribly scary, especially if you mix it with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Here are some strategies (carefully pondered) that I’ve found helpful when putting the raft into the water:

  • Let go of perfectionism. It’s easier said than done, I know, but expecting things to sail smoothly right from the start won’t help. Expect things to be flawed and to learn from it.

  • Divide up your time. If you get stuck thinking and make small actions big and complex, try giving yourself time blocks for different activities. It can help you move forward and get things done.

  • Check in with the plan as you go. If you like spending time strategizing and planning, keep the work you’ve done in that area easy to access. That way you can remind yourself of where you’re going and why doing the work is important. And curb the urge to rethink it all over again.

  • Stop trying to figure everything out. When we stay in planning mode, we hope that we’ll be able to think ourselves to every answer. But we’ll never have enough knowledge beforehand to do that. We have to dare to live it.

  • Awake you inner explorer. It’s there whether you know it or not, and if you tap into that side of yourself things will become much easier. Open your eyes to the world. Allow things to unfold and delight you.


Happy sailing for a ponderer

When your comfort zone is that of the ponderer, a wallflower watching from the sidelines, sailing can feel unnatural and scary. You feel exposed, because you’re no longer in control of what’s happening and you haven’t considered all the possibilities yet. In those moments, you have to learn to let go.

Neither being an explorer nor a ponderer is better than the other, they both have their perks and drawbacks, and we all have both inside of us. We just have to learn to access the side that we’re a little less confident using.

If you like the pondering stage, you’ll do good to find a journey that plays to your strengths. One that allows for you to sit down, unfold the map and study it now and then. To ponder over the magical things you encounter in your travels. To adjust your course as you go.

And then, and this is the key, then you have to remember to put down the map, look up and keep on exploring.

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