Just one thing.

That’s been my theme lately. Theme, mantra, guiding principle. I don’t know. Whatever you want to call it.

“Just one thing” is different from “one thing at a time” or from “don’t take on too many projects”. It’s more … finding the one thought or the one action that will pull me back into … into wherever I need to be.

Into the zone. Into my body. Into a more mindful “hey, this is where I am right now” sort of place (what I’d call “present moment awareness” if this were a meditation class which — hooray — it’s not).

If I were going to just do one thing, and that thing were ridiculously easy to do, what would that thing be?

I like it.

It takes me out of that panicky trying to see the whole picture *and* all the details at once mode.

It takes me from oh god this kitchen is a disaster to “my one thing for now is just going to be putting the mixing bowl away.”

It pulls me out of crap crap crap I really need a three-month sabbatical to work on my book and deposits me back into “what if I just spent a few minutes with my gentleman friend after dinner talking about where I am with this?”

What’s my one thing?

I got the concept from Julie Morgenstern’s book “Organizing from the Inside Out“. She talks about making a habit of always taking one thing with you when you leave the room.

So, leaving the bathroom, maybe your one thing is taking the towels to the laundry basket. And when you leave the office, your one thing could be bringing the empty water glasses back into the kitchen. It doesn’t matter. One thing.

It’s the same principle that Jen Hofmann talks about sometimes in her amazing “spending two hours on your office and astonishing yourself with how much you get done” Office Spa days.

Every time I study with Jen, I realize that almost everyone has the same tendency I do. We just want to wait until there’s time.

And we keep waiting for time even when we’re cognizant of the fact that there won’t be time — that we won’t make time for it.

We want to have a big, huge weekend with nothing planned so we can tackle the garage or finally clear out all those shelves. But when you donate twenty minutes now to working on one shelf… you realize that a lot can happen in twenty minutes.

You can do twenty minutes once a week, and pretty soon you don’t even have that big, huge project that needs a big, huge weekend that it’s never going to get anyway.

The fact that I keep relearning this concept over and over again reminds me that I still don’t really trust the process. Which is okay, I guess.

When it doesn’t work …

The best way to screw up “just one thing” is to choose way too big a thing.

Like “write copy for that webpage”, when it should really be more like “I’m just going to delete those two unnecessary files from my desktop”.

But you can’t really screw it up.

My experience has been that if I’m being even kind of mindful about the whole process, and noticing how I’m reacting to my one thing, it gets really clear which one things need to be scrapped so that I can have a more doable one thing.

You’ll find the one thing.

Symbolic “just one things”.

Several years ago my cousin Michal had some kind of surgery and had to spend a couple months recovering.

I popped over to visit her one day and she had some friend there who was a wacky energy healer and also a feng shui consultant. Keep in mind that this was at a period in my life when either one of those things would have been enough to send me running.

So it was all I could do to be polite and not roll my eyes or anything.

Anyway, this woman told Michal that the first thing she should do was to put all of her many, many bottles of pills and painkillers into a pretty, covered box on her bedside table.

We helped her do it. And it was like magic. Her mood improved dramatically. The room felt brighter. Less like a sick room. More like three women hanging out than the two of us visiting her and trying to cheer her up.

For the two of them, it was all about “the energy” and how it had changed. For me — this was way before “energy” was a word I was comfortable using — it was all about common sense.

But it didn’t matter. The change had already happened. The “one thing” had already done its work.

Some one things work faster than other one things. But it’s not about trying to find the right one thing, because all the little one things add up anyway.

My “one thing” day.

A few weeks ago I woke up in the crappiest, most stuckified mood imaginable. Maybe I hadn’t slept well. Maybe my arms were hurting again. Who knows.

But my head was pounding and my mind was buzzing and I couldn’t focus on anything.

Usually I get up and head straight to meditation. But I didn’t even want to brush my teeth, never mind even consider any other part of my daily routine.

I felt helpless. Panicked. Scared. Bewildered. Completely and utterly overwhelmed.

My thoughts were filled with ten thousand things that desperately needed to be done that I absolutely didn’t want to do. I wanted to stay in bed for a month. But that thought filled me with panic too.

It had been years and years since I’d felt anything like this, and I’d kind of thought that it was never going to happen again at this point.

And then, out of the depths of the nothing, out of years of conscious, intentional working on my stuff and teaching about the art of working on stuff, I heard the words “just one thing”.

Except that I knew that I wasn’t capable of doing “just one thing”.

So I asked myself:

“Okay, if there were — and maybe there isn’t, but just pretending — if there were just one thing that you could do, what would it be?”

And I remembered the weird and creepy power of “Even Though” sentences.

So I did a few.

Even though I don’t feel like getting out of bed, this is where I am right now. This is what’s going on for me right now.

Even though I may never find my “just one thing” because I can’t stop thinking about all the things, I’m just going to stay here and breathe and keep on even-though-ing.

Even though I am so scared that I won’t find my way out of this, I’m just going to remind myself that I am allowed to have a crappy day of being depressed and overwhelmed once in a while, just like everyone else.

And then it came to me. My one thing.

Just one thing. And then another just one thing. And then enough just one things.

I realized, suddenly, in a moment of complete clarity that I really, truly wanted to take the collection of juice glasses off of the bedside table and into the kitchen.

So I did it.

And then I really, truly wanted to take the basket of laundry downstairs. So I did it.

And then I really, truly wanted to put all the books next to the bed into one neat pile. So I did it.

And then I really, truly wanted to go back to bed.

I woke up two hours later and the first thing I saw was the significantly-less-cluttered bedside table. And the first thing I noticed was that I felt fine.

There were choices. I could meditate or not meditate. Eat a late breakfast or not. Decide what needed my attention most at work and then choose one thing from that. But they were just choices. It was going to be okay.

“Just one thing” isn’t always going to solve everything.

But sometimes it makes things the tiniest more bearable.

And it knocks me out how often just that can turn out to be enough.

The Fluent Self