Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fear, Procrastination, and Getting Started

Fear. Considering how often I've mentioned it since I started this blog, you might think it rules my life.

I suppose in some ways it does (or at least, it has) but the main reason why I've been focusing on it is because I think it is a main reason why many of us don't pursue our goals.

We fear failure; sometimes we even fear success. We fear pain and death. Many people fear being alone and will accept being in a bad relationship rather than face loneliness. I saw a family member freak out during the earthquake on Sunday--sheer panic took over and she was hyperventilating, squeezing her husband's shirt so hard he thought she was going to strangle him, and squealing for the full 30 seconds of that earthquake. It was a bad earthquake in Baja, California, but where we were it caused very little damage in our city and caused no damage in her house or ours. However, it did bring out fear. She spent the rest of the evening asking if we thought an aftershock would come, and if it did, when would it strike. Since they are impossible to predict, we just did our best to comfort her.

I know that I've had some really bad times with fear at earlier times in my life (as I explained in a recent post). I've been working on facing these fears and getting beyond them, as much as possible.

Since I lost my job last week, I thought I'd be facing a lot of new fears. Perhaps I will soon, if I don't find work after awhile, but so far it has been kind of nice.

However, I know that I still have to fight my great enemy, procrastination. Too often fear leads to procrastination. I've read about it many times and know all of the tricks one is supposed to use. However, most of them don't really work if you've let the habit of procrastination take hold of your life and/or you are plagued by fears. I know this from the years I spent writing my dissertation. Fear and procrastination can control your life and, even when you recognize the problem, it can be hard to do what you need to do.

Here are a few things that have worked for me:

* I make lists. This gives me a sense of control and a reward for doing something--I get to cross something off my list!)

* I set a timer. Sometimes I can avoid the internet/email siren call by setting a timer for tasks. I tell myself, "I'll work on this for 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, I'll take a 10 minute break (also on timer) where I get to do internet stuff." I can have a very productive afternoon if I remember to set the timer, actually pay attention to it when it rings, and pick useful stuff to do (not just busy work that seems productive, but actual things that matter).

* I tell myself "I just need to get started." Instead of saying, "I'm going to clean the office," I say, "I'm just going to start cleaning the office today by putting away file folders for a few minutes." Sometimes that is just enough to break past my unwillingness to do what seems like a long and painful task. Even if I only put way the file folders, at least the office is a little better and I can do another portion later. Good chance is that I did more that just the one item, though, once I got started.

* I set deadlines. This only has worked for me when they are REAL deadlines, unfortunately. When my dissertation chair gave me firm deadlines with real consequences, I finally started making good progress on my dissertation. Otherwise, it was too easy to put it off or just work on it a bit more because it could be better. I've tried setting monthly deadlines to share writing projects with my husband but neither of us took them seriously and so we haven't followed through on this even once since I suggested it. I'm going to reexamine this idea and see if we can't do it for real, starting with the next date (I chose the "Ides" of the month--so we had to show at least 4 pages of progress in our writing every 15th of the month). Since my husband and I have similar problems with our projects, the deadline was supposed to help us but instead both of us blew it off and it didn't work.

As you can see, each of these tips is really a psychological trick to get past a mind block and get a project started.

Since this month's theme (each month will go from my birthdate of the 28th to the next 28th) is all about tackling difficult items on my list, I have to chose three items and get started on them. Cleaning the office is one of these. Writing my novel is another. I'm still choosing the third item. I want these to be projects where getting some significant progress on them will make a difference in my life. I think the third one will be about one of my volunteer positions (I do a lot of community work). I'll record my progress here.

So far, at least, I've kept up my Tues and Thurs posts. If I can manage that for a few weeks, I will probably increase the posting schedule. I wanted to start small to make sure I could handle it. I hadn't planned to be unemployed when I chose my schedule so I was being cautious.

If anyone is out there reading this, try tackling one or two projects of your own in the next month and report in on how you are doing. Sometimes having others trying the same thing can help push past the fear keeping us back!

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