I had an “a-ha” moment today as I was watching a video from one of my “life gurus”, David Allen (the GTD guy). He was talking about mind maps and their usefulness in mastering the productive experience. He said “Having an incomplete map, or having it out of date, is like trying to play a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing five pieces – or even ONE piece for that matter – it isn’t worth doing.” That made me stop and think about puzzles. Being the analytical thinker that I am, I enjoy puzzles of all types – word puzzles, number puzzles, logic puzzles. They’re like little workouts for my noggin and there’s just something SO rewarding about solving a puzzle and winning that psychological “gold star”.

Then I began to make a connection about how this personality type of mine sometimes causes me to become stuck in patterns of overthinking, especially when it comes to “people puzzles” – like those times when I don’t feel like I’m being treated in a way that I would treat another if the circumstances were reversed or when a person’s words aren’t consistent with their actions. Disappointment and confusion leads to frustration, which leads to confrontation, which leads to regret – regardless to whether my feelings / actions / words were justified. I don’t typically avoid conflict, but I struggle immensely in its aftermath. If I genuinely care about that person or their opinion of me, I often find myself agonizing over the need to “figure it all out” or “solve the puzzle” to the point that I become stuck and have difficulty moving forward. Over the past year, this has happened more times than I’d like to admit.

But, in reality, I’ve been trying to solve puzzles when many of their pieces were missing. As much as I would love to, I will never be able to see inside the mind of the another person or understand their intentions and motivations. And, as hard as I try to assemble the pieces that I DO have into their rightful places, the image that results will be incomplete, unattractive, or confusing at best.

As we approach a brand new year, I resolve to do the best I can to not waste precious time and energy solving puzzles with missing pieces. I’ll continue to seek out opportunities and relationships that challenge and interest me, but if I count the pieces and they don’t add up, I will simply place the lid back on the box and try to be okay with the fact I didn’t earn that particular gold star.

GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of David Allen & Co.

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