As someone who is intimately acquainted with anxiety, I understand the desire to play out an idea in one’s head, all the way to its hypothetical completion, before ever taking action. In other words, unconsciously finding ways to circumvent the actual experience of doing.
As I sat down to write this month’s blog, for example, I felt paralyzed with doubt just looking at the enormous, white page in front of me. In my mind I had already played out a topic of interest to its full, imagined conclusion. The result was a false narrative that I did not have enough knowledge to fill the post, leaving me overwhelmed and looking for ways to avoid the task through distractions. I can’t tell you how many cat videos I watched, how many BuzzFeed personality quizzes I took, or how many times I straightened (and then re-straightened) the picture frames on my wall.
Then it finally dawned on me; the very topic that I wanted to write about was tied up into what I was doing (or NOT doing). I knew then that I would have to write about diving in and figuring it out as I go; applying the same tools to writing this blog post. Maybe it would work. Or maybe it wouldn’t. And if it didn’t work, I reminded myself, the worst thing that would happen is that I would choose a different topic to write about.
So this month’s topic is about taking action. Doing before you feel “ready” or prepared, and learning as you go.
At its core, procrastination is about fear. Fear of failing, fear of success, fear of rejection, etc. Sometimes, we tell ourselves (and others) that we need more time to prepare: “The theme isn’t clear enough yet…” , “I don’t know how the story will end…”, “when I have more money…”, “when I have more time…”. Proclamations like these keep us stuck in our heads - safe from the fear and risk that comes with action, but sliding deeper down the rabbit hole. The same can be said of using signifiers of time in order to avoid. For example, deciding that you will start exercising in the new year or start writing that novel on your birthday, 6 months away.
Risk accompanies action. The risk of failure tends to be a very common, underlying reason for procrastination. For many, it’s a terrifying prospect. The thought process might look something like this: If I try something and it doesn’t work out, then all my negative beliefs are confirmed - I wasn’t good enough, talented enough, smart enough or (whatever) enough. But what if failure was more about FEEDBACK than rejection, more of a moment of learning rather than a mistake, leading you closer to what does work for you, or showing you where you have room to grow? In this sense, “failure” can be very useful as part of a process of elimination of sorts, leading you one step closer to where you want to be.
WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
A former therapist once said to me, we don’t know what we don’t know. Meaning, you have to actually experience something to know it. For example, if I never tasted a chocolate chip cookie, how could I know if I liked it? Or didn’t like it? (And what a personal tragedy it would be if I never took that risk, denying myself the pleasure of CHOCOLATE. CHIP. COOKIES.)
TIPS FOR DIVING IN
Here are a few ideas and tools that I have personally found helpful when attempting something I felt unready for:
1. Managing expectations around outcome. I do not expect that the next picture I draw will be hung in the Guggenheim, or that I will receive a hundred likes for it on social media. And I work daily to feel that way about other projects in my life, too. I do find that when I am able to remove myself from the expectations of how my creative endeavor is received (re: the positive validation of others) I feel much freer and more connected to my creative flow source. In addition, I am more likely to actually ENJOY the process (the DOING) and create from a place of authenticity. Likewise, expecting negative outcomes such as criticism and ridicule, may keep us from ever getting started.
2. Starting before inspiration arrives. As counter-intuitive as this may sound, we first must do, and then the feeling will follow. Feelings, then, are more of a by-product to action. It’s a magical thing - when we start doing and lose ourselves in the project at hand, inspiration has a way of finding us. So let her chase you, and allow yourself to be found; just show up to the page, the script, the canvas or the barre.
3. Setting smaller goals. Focusing too much on the bigger picture can be overwhelming; trying to prepare for, or defend against every possible negative outcome can be enervating and increase anxiety. Instead, I find that when I focus on a small, manageable task that is directly in right of me, I am more productive. Think about it from this perspective: If everyday we focused on what is right in front of us, just imagine the output accumulated a month from now - a YEAR from now. In addition, satisfaction of completed tasks, no matter how small, can increase confidence and self esteem and build momentum for tackling those bigger goals.
4. Make friends with uncertainty. As the saying goes, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry…”. No one knows what the future holds, what will or will not come to fruition, what impact you will make or who you might help. Your only job is to invest fully into the present moment. After all, life is only a string of present moments.
5. Understanding why you procrastinate. Working with a professional to understand the fears, negative moods and possible triggers underlying your procrastination can be invaluable. Once you can identify your obstacles, a therapist can collaborate with you on a personalized plan to help manage these roadblocks when they surface again.
6. Knowing there is only one you . To quote Martha Graham: “There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” Don’t let your fear and anxiety deny the world of your singular, unique contribution!
The truth is, we will always find a million different reasons not to get started. Mostly, these reasons are based on our perceived shortcomings and insecurities. Deeper exploration of ourselves; our fears, beliefs and overall awareness of how we operate, can help to clear up some of the muck that keeps us from fully engaging with our purpose and passions. Click here to schedule your FREE consultation.