Those of us with any kind of anxiety challenges often let anxious, fearful, and worrisome thoughts drive our life bus. In fact, we’ve begun to identify with our thoughts as if they were us – I am what I think – rather than recognizing these thoughts for what they really are – mind secretions – because that’s what a mind does, it secretes thoughts; some good, some bad, some helpful, some useless. . . just thought after thought – maybe 50,000 a day according to the National Science Foundation. The big problem, I think, is that they are not all different thoughts, most of them are a repeating series of mind secretions, a broken record; the same theme over and over again, often from the voice of that inner critic. The guy who says stuff like this, “You are useless, incompetent, inept, a fraud, an imposter. Who do you think you are? You don’t feel up to this right now. Take a nap. Do it later.”
What most of us with anxious or
panic thoughts do is we avoid, withdraw, wait until later, and then avoid some more. And so, we take our mind’s advice because we think – “This IS too hard. I AM too tired. It WILL take too long. I’m NOT good enough, smart enough, etc.” We take the advice from this inner critical voice because right now it feels better to not start than the alternative, which is to just get started. So instead we take a nap, take a drink, go shopping, catch up on some marathon TV watching. We do whatever we can think of to NOT DO, DELAY, and AVOID what is right before us, the task at hand, the goal we’ve chosen. We put off the start of the life we want for ourselves. In other words, we’ve handed the keys to our anxious, fear-ridden, and worrisome thoughts, and they’re driving! Yup! They’re not real, these mind secretions, and we’re letting them drive our bus?
So, what’s to be done about this? We’ve spent a lot of time and energy avoiding and we are very good at it – experts in fact! The first thing we have to do is to change our mind – open our eyes – and lean into this moment. This involves three important actions.
SUCK IT UP!
I didn’t promise it would be easy or even nice. Man up! Woman up! Yup! You gotta pull up those big boy/girl pants and honestly answer these questions: “Do I really want to live differently? Do I really want a different experience? Do I really want to start living a new life now?”
All that avoiding gave you a very short moment of good feeling but your three buddies - worry, anxiety, and fear were always lurking in the background. So, avoiding wasn’t really that great. Suck it up means to take an honest look at yourself and the life you want to live and the goals you’ve named and say: “I want to experience this more than I want to avoid just getting started.”
2. SHOW UP!
You must make a move – a physical moving of your hands and feet. Think of it as the beginning of a race – a 5K or marathon. You have to show up to the starting line where there is a lot of standing around, stretching, and waiting. You have to stay put until the race begins. You can’t run after every distraction and excuse that comes to mind. “Oh! Let me check my email for a minute. Let me do some Amazon shopping.” No. You have to let go of everything and focus on one thing – starting the race.
There are so many “urgent” distractions and excuses that arise every day that get in the way of getting started on what is important to you and some of them are real, most are just excuses. Let’s look at a few:
Kids need to be fed, changed, put to bed, bandaged, or otherwise organized. Someone you love is sick or hurting and reaches out to you. You need to go to bed to sleep. These are real life demands that you must attend to.
You have to marathon watch the last five episodes of Game of Thrones. You need a new sweater to go with the 30 others you already own. You need to take a nap. You need to call someone to gossip for just a minute. You need to check your email, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. This is avoidance.
So now that you’ve decided that you have nothing urgent that is real, and despite the urgings of that inner voice demanding that you put this off until you feel better – You stay put. You’re at the starting line and you are ready to rumble.
3. STEP UP!
Just get started. I know this just sounds waaaaaay too simple and easy, even stupid (thank you, my own inner critic, for weighing in. You still don’t get to drive.) But, it is truly the only way to get moving. Go back to the race again. You are at the starting line along with everyone else. The fastest ones are standing right on the line, chomping at the bit like wild stallions and you are somewhere in the back feeling a little anxious, a little dread, and a little excited. The gun sounds and everyone from the fastest, sleekest runners in the front to the less-than-perfectly-in-shape-ones at the back all start the same way; that is, in exactly the same way – everyone lifts and extends a leg, leans forward, and pushes off. The ones in the front just do it a lot faster than the ones in the back, but it is the same motion. It’s the same first step. And that’s what you must do now.
What is the one small thing you can do to get started? Don’t think about results, outcome, achievement, or failure. Just think about the one small thing you can do that gets you started toward the goal, task, or activity in front of you.
I have always wanted to be an author. When anyone asked me about my hobbies I would always say, “Writing.” One huge problem – even though I always intended to write, I never actually did it. There was this gap between my best intention and taking action. It just seemed too far out there because I thought I had to be as good as J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or Ray Bradbury. Then it hit me. I could journal. . . that’s writing. So, for several years writing involved logging entries in my journal every day. I picked a time, a place, and had a memo book I bought at Dollar General in which I would journal thoughts, worries, places I’d been, things I wanted to do, something I read. . . And then a few years ago, I started to blog. I just shared stuff I’d written in my journal and added some sketches because I also always wanted to learn to draw.
Sounds like that should have taken care of my writing problem. No! Because I can put off writing this blog like a champ. I have to start and start again all the time. But I write and sketch not because I think I am going to become a world-famous blogger but because I want to be an author. I have to take my own advice: Suck it up – Show up – Step up – because the inner critic is still here with me, sometimes loud, and at other times just a whisper, but always there. Now I invite him and his buddies along; they can’t drive, but occasionally they come up with a good idea. I am starting to live the life I want to live; the way I want to live it.
And you can too! What is your dream?
The Mindfulness and Acceptance Therapy Workbook for Anxiety; John Forsyth Ph.D., George Eifert Ph.D.
Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, Timothy Pychyl Ph.D