Sometimes I freeze.
It’s a habit with history.
1975: I’m a skinny, timid ten-year old in a needlework class with a granite-faced sewing teacher. We are making dresses and each lesson have to show our work before moving on. But my progress is so slow that I daren’t go up to her desk. Not the first week, not the next, not ever. I spend a terrifying term willing invisibility.
1990, college: my lecturer returns my first essay with “Had you submitted this on time, Rachel, it would have got a first, but as you did not, I have to give you zero.”
2015: I start this blog. I write posts and then delete them; I rewrite posts and then keep them ‘hidden’; I publish posts and persistently postpone sharing them.
It’s sort of like… anxiety running amok with a stun gun.
So, what to do at such times?
There is plenty of ‘how to get stuff done’ advice out there but to be honest, ‘Just do it’ mantras tend to just put me in a rage. Without finding the real reasons for getting stuck, self-discipline strategies only provide more stuff to not get done.
So, I’ve devised an alternative, and it goes like this:
a) Admit that when I say “I will (do that thing) one day…” I won’t. Really I won’t. Unless or until the consequence has reached crisis point.
b) Ask myself why and listen for the real reason. This may be hiding under layers of denial or leap out and surprise me. But it won’t come at all unless I listen with ZERO JUDGEMENT.
c) Speak kindly to the ‘real reason’. Work out whether it’s emotional or practical (or one masquerading as the other) and then match it to a strategy.
Incase this is all a bit abstract, I’ll risk humiliation and share some of my own examples.
Real reason 1: I’m waiting for the grown-up.
Oh dear, you’ve gone to the child place, waiting till the real grown-up arrives to sort it out. But sweetie, the adult in charge now is you. It’s okay, you can still ask for help. I know, I know, you hate it but people actually quite like helping as long as you are really direct. (No passive aggression!)
Real reason 2: I’m overwhelmed
Uh oh, overload shutdown. You always did hate hate multi-tasking. So, here’s what you’re going to do: simplify it. Break it all down into teeny tiny tasks and only focus on the one in hand. If we need to, we’ll break them down even more; in fact, we’ll keep doing it until you can manage.
Real reason 3: I’m paralysed by self-doubt
Ouch! I see perfectionism has reared its toxic head again: terrified that what you’re doing will not be the best thing that any person HAS EVER DONE. I want you to repeat after me: Progress not Perfection. *
*Not sure where this mantra came from but it’s helped me loads over the years.
Real reason 4: I’m freaking exhausted.
Poor you! Let’s see if we can work out whether it’s fatigue or inertia and then:
If it’s fatigue: rest even if it feels counter-intuitive because pushing through makes things take ten times longer to do and costs in recovery time.
If it’s inertia: no doubt this is the result of anxiety, so do a micro-step and then rest. If the deadline is right now, I promise you can rest afterwards.
Real reason 5: I can’t see the point.
Seems like you’ve lost sight of your overall goal and need to go back and remind yourself. Or maybe your goals have changed. Then again, maybe you said yes to something in the moment and now regret it. If you can’t find a reason for doing it, sweetie, you’re allowed to ditch it.*
*Unless it’s ‘‘Futilitor’ telling you lies about not being up to the job. Futilitor is my name for a recurring feeling of helplessness. More on this here.
Real reason 6: I don’t feel like it.
You will probably never feel like it sweetie because, you know, you do have a low tolerance for discomfort. So, you need an incentive. We will do the Task-Reward thing. It doesn’t have to cost anything, it just needs to remind you that sometimes doing something you don’t want to isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Real reason 7: If I do this, there’ll be other stuff to do…Oh god, it never ends…
Precious, it’s time to let go of that illusory goal of ‘getting sorted’. As long as you’re breathing, there will always be stuff to do; repeatedly denying yourself the satisfaction of regular completions is just plain cruel. It feels really fucking good! That feeling is the fuel you need to do more stuff!
You get the idea..maybe it’ll work for you too. Let me know.