Last weekend, on a beautiful, blue-sky day, I stepped outside my front door and was greeted by a plastic bag of dog poop sitting on the sidewalk in front of my house. (I don’t have a dog, so it definitely wasn’t mine.)
I was on my way to do something, as you are when you leave your house, and so I didn’t have the bandwidth to figure out how to dispose of the poop. Then when I came back from wherever it was, my hands (and head) were full, and so yet again, I didn’t take the time to deal with it.
Thankfully, the poop was inside one of those uniform bags provided by doggie doo collecting stations in neighborhoods and parks. Not thankfully, flies were visiting the bag, so I wasn’t sure how well-sealed it was, or whether there was any, er, residue on the bag, so I really, I mean REALLY didn’t want to touch it.
For the next few days, it went on like this. I would leave the house, being in a hurry or generally already occupied with my own comings and goings, and then I would see the poop bag and a little squiggly black cartoon line would dance over my head.
Here are some thoughts I had during this dark time of my life:
My arms are full, I can’t right now.
I have to be somewhere, I can’t right now.
I don’t even have a dog, and I don’t go near those dog poop receptacles, and I don’t even know where one is located.
Maybe one of the seven dog owners who walk past my house twice daily, presumably on their way to the poop receptacle, will take pity on me and do it.
Maybe another dog owner on my street dropped it there by accident, and they will grab it next time they walk their dog.
Okay, that’s definitely not the case, because it had to be some jerk who doesn’t live on this street that would leave poop on the sidewalk in front of somebody else’s house.
I wonder if that jerk has walked by here and has seen that poop still sitting there. I wonder if eventually they’ll feel guilty enough to pick it up. Yeah, that’s never gonna happen.
I’m going to continue with more thoughts I had, and by now you’re probably thinking, “OMG, you spent THAT much time thinking about this bag of poop and didn’t do anything about it??!?” I have a point. I swear, and I’m going to make it soon.
It’s supposed to rain the next several days. I wonder what would happen to the bag of poop if it gets pounded by rain? Maybe it will get less gross. No, it will probably get more gross. Maybe it will float downhill and become someone else’s problem. But then they’ll remember having seen it in front of my house, and they’ll be mad I didn’t deal with it.
The sidewalk is public property. It’s not technically mine. Why do I have to do it?
What if I don’t do it? Will it just sit there all summer long?
Okay, so if I get rid of this thing, how will I do it? I can’t bring it into the house because who in their right mind brings an unidentified bag of crap into their home. But I can’t walk this thing around the block to the trash can in our garage, which I can’t even open without the opener, which is in the car, and I’m not bringing a random bag of doodoo into my enclosed vehicle.
After only two or three days (yes, that was how many thoughts I was able to collect in just a couple days of running around) I finally bucked up, wrapped my hand in plastic shopping bags, pinched my nose, and picked up the doo doo. Then I walked until I found a poop receptacle. And when I found one, I felt even more pissed off that so many dog owners walked past that poop without picking it up when they were on their way to the f@#%ing poop can.
My point is this: we all have these stinky tasks and obligations that come into our lives. It might be a habit that you need to break for your health—something that occupies way too much of your time and your thoughts, but that you just won’t kick to the curb.
Maybe it’s wine or pizza or potato chips.
Maybe it’s video games or Facebook.
It might be a job you hate, or a relationship.
Or it might be somebody else’s pile of dirty clothes on the floor.
Whatever it is, most of us have something lurking that we don’t want to deal with. But here’s the problem: if you keep walking past that proverbial pile of dog doo and don’t deal with it, then it’s going to continue to occupy your brain space. That poop is going to keep living rent-free in your head, whether you like it or not.
Then we start saying things like this:
I don’t want to do this.
You can’t make me.
If I wait long enough, someone else will do it / rescue me / make me do it / help me do it.
It’s not my responsibility.
I’m NOT doing it.
Okay, maybe I should think about doing it. Nope, not doing it. Wait, maybe? Nah. Yes. No. No, forget about it.
But then your thoughts keep coming back and back and back to this proverbial bag of crap that has now encroached on your life. Even though you might not technically be the responsible party, this dog crap is now your problem and the faster you accept that fact, the faster you can stop thinking about poop.
Open loops—meaning, unanswered email, incomplete projects, conversations we need to have—will all keep coming back and back to us, keeping our brains whirring and checking and making sure we don’t forget until we close those loops and check those boxes.
But too many times we think, “Why should I be the one to waste my time, my energy, my mental capacity to pick up someone else’s poop?”
Because the longer you leave it undone, the more time and energy it will rob from you, whether you give it permission or not.
With the time I spent feeling bitter at the dog owner who had the nerve to leave feces in front of my house, I could have walked that bag of poop to a trash can 10 times over. And guess what? I had to do it anyway. My only regret in life is that I didn’t throw away the poop sooner. Please, listen to my cautionary tale. Don’t die with regrets; clean up the poop in your life.
Katie Morton is the author of Secrets of People With Extraordinary Willpower.