I recently had the delightful experience of working with a life coach for a month, an unexpected gift of synchronicity that fell into my lap. It was an extremely fruitful relationship, and I produced an abundance of ideas I was super excited about during our month together.
New business ideas, new book ideas, a competition for high school students, marketing ideas — I was enamored by all the bright shiny things — how could I implement them every one of them?
Simple! Be more productive! Work harder! Be more efficient! Yell at myself more to motivate myself!
My coach smiled and said I reminded her of the fisherman who couldn’t stop fishing.
Once there was a fisherman who left home to bring a fish back to his wife to cook for dinner. He headed towards the river, which was filled with gorgeous fat fish. It would be easy to catch one! But every time he did, a more beautiful one swam by, and he had to catch that one too. Pretty soon his basket and the river bank were full of fish flopping around and dying, while back home his wife was waiting for dinner that never arrived. — The End.
I could totally relate to the fisherman’s desire for all the bright shiny things, where each fish that swam by seemed more beautiful than the last and absolutely needed to be caught. I was the embodiment of that!
My planner addiction, for example where I’m always buying and trying a new one before really giving my old ones a chance.
My online course obsession, signing up for course after course without actually competing them.
My hoarding of art supplies, of books, of office supplies — plus this problem I was currently having with all of my new ideas.
But what was my coach implying — I should just choose ONE thing to work on?
Create A Holding Pen
I reflected on the idea of doing that, of choosing just one idea to bring to fruition, but like the fisherman I couldn’t bear to let all of the other ideas go!
So I came up with the idea of building a holding pen at the river for three or four other fish/ideas. What if I took one home, and placed a few others in a holding pen in the river so the next time I needed a good fish/idea I could choose one from the holding pen or let some of them go and see what else came down the river.
What does a non-metaphoric holding pen for ideas look like? For me it is just a new list in the back of my planner literally called “Holding Pen”. But it could be a page in a notebook, an index card, a post-it on my computer. Or it could be a software application, like Roam Research or Notion.
Choose Just a Few of the Bright Shiny Things
How do you choose between all of the ideas and possibilities? There are many ways to do this — gut instinct, making a quick decision using your highest priority objectives or values as a filter, or using some type of choice matrix or other more comprehensive analysis.
I chose option #2, a quick decision based on my priorities. It was important to me to begin building the foundations for my side-hustle, so most of my holding pen ideas do that, but another priority was connection, hence expanding my blog content, which has moved out of the holding pen and become an active project.
I started applying the idea of a holding pen to other areas where I’m smitten by Bright Shiny Object Syndrome. For example, I used to have an entire bookshelf of photography books, and another one full of cookbooks. They made me feel guilty, because I so rarely used them, and then I felt guilty every time I bought a new one because I already had so many.
So I took an afternoon to go through them Konmari style and whittle them down to my absolute favorites, which ended up being three shelves of photography books and two of cookbooks. The others I gave away to friends or donated. These five shelves are now my holding pen — if I bring a new book in, one on the shelf has to go. I’m not militant about this (sometimes I’ll put a book across the top of the others, or tinker with the arrangement of books to get more on the shelf), but so far, so good.
Now I actually use my books, because I am not overwhelmed by options every time I go to my book case. Plus there is something satisfying about establishing a good relationship with a book, when the pages become worn (and perhaps stained if you’re a messy cook) and simply holding the book in your hands gives you a feeling of fondness and warmth.
And there was the added bonus of being able to get rid of a bookshelf and free up a little space.
Not a Cure All
This idea of a holding pen has been helpful to me, but hardly a cure-all. I’m a curious person with a lot of interests! And honestly, Bright Shiny Object Syndrome isn’t destroying my life. I’m not going into debt, I’m not abandoning my responsibilities. And it’s fun sometimes!
However, when I start slipping into overwhelm or indecisiveness, or when I’m not following through on the things that are important to me because I’m getting distracted by all the bright shiny things on the Internet or on my book shelves or what have you, then it’s time for a gentle reminder that I can’t have ALL of the fish in the river. Just take the one I need, put a few others in the holding pen, and trust that the river and the fish will be there the next time I’m hungry.
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