Atop my dusty attic shelf stands a well-leafed, well-loved storybook about a teddy bear separated from his owner working out how to stop being and feeling so lost. His little, furry self is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the world and its apparent lack of signposting. But then eureka! He spots a path then knows what to do next, to walk along it. He spots a boat then knows what to do next, to climb aboard it. He spots a hand then has the idea to hold it. Each charmingly illustrated page ends with the sentence “…and then Bear knew what to do next.”
This week in a conversation with a CEO, we discussed the undulations of the past few years with its perpetual disruptions, volatility, technological newness, and so on, and she shared her personal lens on her own daily focus. She stated “I would wake each morning and think ‘what is the next right thing to do today?’. She was fastidious about being very deliberate with what she did next.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, the programme participants take one day at a time and are encouraged to do the next right thing, minute by minute if necessary.
It’s a powerful intention in all walks of life – ‘Do the next right thing’.
Carl Jung was first to guide us simplistically to view life not by planning but by doing, not by fussing about what one ought to do, but instead harnessing what one can do. In 1933 he advised a woeful, anxiety-ridden and desperately directionless client “There is no pit you cannot climb out of provided you make the right effort at the right place… do the next thing with diligence and devotion.”
I like it. There’s no need for all the panic. As Jung advises, we hold the power to stop our laments and overwhelm (and all too prevalent indecisive inertia) simply by seizing diligence and devotion and indeed doing that next right thing.
Zoning intentionally in on the next right thing strips actions back to what will have most impact most immediately. It forces decision-making and the most progressive steps being identified and taken. It also stops any mental swirling too.
Go macro or micro but the key is always lampooning the next right thing inextricably to a clear end objective.
If, for instance, there is a macro objective of let’s say an annual KPI of ‘Demonstrate solid team unity and effectiveness.’, the next right thing will inevitably vary day by day, but perhaps today’s next right thing is to book that offsite team bonding day, then perhaps tomorrow’s next right thing is to host a cross-unit status meeting and the day after simply to spontaneously embrace an unscheduled water cooler chat with a new colleague.
If, it’s a micro goal of perhaps eliminating refined sugar from your life, the next right thing may be to eat porridge without the twinkly stuff sprinkled on top when you eat breakfast shortly.
There’s something pleasingly simple about the purity of the question.
What, my dear Watson, indeed is the right thing to do next?
It halts confusion when there are myriad options, routes and tasks whirling ominously all at once. It becomes an efficiency mechanic keeping us focused on what matters most.
A business owner I interviewed recently told me she has ingrained this efficiency mentality into every member of staff with daily scrutiny of the task list that prioritises the next right thing to ‘make us the most money’. Logical. From administrative staff to product designers to the sales team, the entire culture is infused with this this streamlined decisiveness.
It’s not only efficient but soothing on the mind as in fact it lessens the cognitive burden. Whilst we make 35,000 decisions on average per day, 90% are unconscious so those 10% we do need to concentrate on can make us weary. Framing the decision with ‘the next right thing’ becomes reassuringly neat. We settle into tight immediacy thus avoiding the daunting complexity of a wieldy long-term plan.
It’s also sweetly as spiritual as it is productive. On a soul level, what truly is the next right thing? Listen to your gut and all that.
Even sages like dear Winston Churchill agreed “The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”
6 ways to bring this Jungian philosophy impactfully into your life:-
1. Upon waking, do not look at your phone, listen to the news, or even talk to your children before you have pondered the question as you contemplate your day ahead, “What is the next right thing?”. Your subliminal mind hasn’t receded fully yet and intuitive guidance is generally to be trusted. It will lead you to the next right thing.
2. When dissecting your inevitably vast task list, organise the priorities by the highest impact aligned with the organisational/personal/team purpose and do this next.
3. When overwhelmed in a situation with constant moving parts, examine the status right here right now and honour the perspective of the next right thing as it relates to right now.
4. When self-managing and swarming with temptation take deep breaths and do the next right thing moment by moment until the craving passes.
5. When your brain is overloaded with the enormity of an uncertain future and how to navigate towards that new horizon, stop over-thinking, over-analysing, over-designing and just do the next right thing that feels like the best thing right now.
There’s definitely a mental and emotional liberation in the simplicity of the next right thing. I think that teddy bear is my hero.
PS I was scribing this in bed at 6am this morning focused on publishing before my shower, then heard a splintering crash downstairs. My youngest had decided to cook a noodle, tuna, egg breakfast then tripped spraying soy sauce, hot sauce and shards of tuna mixed with lumps of noodles over the hallway walls, floor, fireplace, plants, everywhere…! And so, in a salty blast of divine exemplification, the next right thing was to wipe away his tears and get the mop out. Amen to doing the next right thing and does it really matter that I’m publishing now 3 hours later on the commute??? Nope!
As ever, this article is written freely with love from me to you to encourage you to flourish. Please subscribe and share and if you’d like to read more of my work, I have written a couple of books and many more articles you may enjoy and grow from. To work together, let’s chat — email@example.com.
Thank you, Bianca x
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