The Italian physician and educator, Maria Montessori, taught children that each activity in life had three important stages – the preparation stage, the activity itself, and the cleaning up process. What a good reminder for us all, so that we can plan for all three stages in our schedule. The beginning and the end of a task deserve their own time, if we are to do a good job, enjoy the activity, and be ready for what comes next.
Some of us are naturally good at planning ahead and getting ourselves ready for an activity. A well-planned shopping trip, for example, may translate into a satisfying cooking experience. A well-planned vacation may provide extraordinary opportunities that would otherwise be missed. Stage one lays the ground work that enables us to have a rich and rewarding experience as we take on the activity itself.
But let’s think about what happens when we skimp on stage three – the cleaning up process. This tendency wreaks havoc in our lives on many levels, whether we fizzle out of energy for the activity or simply run out of time. Opened or unopened envelopes may remain on the counter after the day’s mail has been sorted. Dirty dishes may sit in the sink all evening. Scissors sit out on the table, socks lay on the floor, and eyeglasses are on the loose. Once clutter begins to accumulate, it is a magnet for more clutter, filling our minds with static and our homes with chaos.
If we took on stage three in a serious way, we would have no clutter. If we returned everything to its proper place, we’d be home free. Clutter is what remains from an activity when we don’t take it to completion, when we leave strands of loose ends to trip on and become tangled in later on. Stage three is a powerful clutter-busting strategy, which can help us to change our habits on a moment to moment basis.
And the benefits stretch into the future, paving the way for us as we move forward, and helping us to get off on a good foot the next go round. Asian Efficiency , an innovative time management and productivity site, refers to this process as “clearing to neutral” — creating a clean slate for the next activity that will arise. If our pots are clean, for example, we may be more likely to cook a meal. If our studio is clean, we may be more likely to paint. How we handle ourselves today can support or sabotage our efforts tomorrow. This one strategy can minimize procrastinating, enhance our satisfaction in the present and raise our overall functioning. Like any new habit, it can take some time to work it in, but even small nudges can bring about noticeable benefits.
Our upcoming distance learning program, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness,will also provide some very powerful and practical tools for making changes in our way of living. You will receive a daily exercise, readings and discussion to help support the changes you want to make, based on your own values, interests and goals. The program begins on September 19, 2013.
We’d love to hear about your own efforts to embrace Stage Three in your life!
Linda Anderson Krech, LICSW, is Program Director of the ToDo Institute and has been a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She is the author of Little Dreams: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting and has been teaching Japanese Psychology for over 25 years.