Wednesday, 7 June 2017

How to Get Around the Fear and Self-Doubt That Lead to Procrastination

“Low key change helps the human mind circumnavigate the fear that blocks success and creativity.” ~Robert Maurer

I’m currently working on my doctoral dissertation. It’s something that I’ve been working on for many years.

It’s something that I deeply believe in and want to complete, but I’m also the mom of two small kids and I run my own business. So making time for to work on my thesis is low down on my list of priorities.

For years I’ve been able to justify it to myself that I don’t work on it as much as I should because I don’t have the time.

And that may well have been partly true while my children were younger.

But now as they are getting a bit older, I realize that my procrastination is also about something else.

It’s about all the stories in my head that make working on this project unpleasant.

It’s about the fear, the self-doubt, the worry about not being good enough, the doubt about whether I’ll ever be able to finish, and the expectation that it’s going to be a really hard and frustrating process.

Because I do have time.

I have time to read and work on other projects that interest me. In fact, I make sure I create the time because I enjoy working on them.

This is something that I’ve only recently realized, and it has been so empowering.

Because I do want to finish it. I’ve dedicated so much time and energy to it, it would feel really good to complete.

Since recognizing this and recommitting to the project, I’ve been experimenting with an idea that so far has been really helpful, and I’m really excited about its potential.

Sneaking Past Fear the Kaizen Way

The idea comes from the Japanese art of Kaizen, which Robert Maurer describes as “the graceful and gentle art of achieving big goals” in his great book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.

He explains how when we try to do big things and make big changes, it triggers out stress response and makes us avoid. So the solution is to make tiny incremental changes, so imperceptibly small that you don’t activate your stress response.

All kaizen asks is that you take small, comfortable steps toward improvement.

As I was reading this I could immediately see where I was going wrong.

Each time I sat down to work on a paper I’m writing, I was thinking about how I could make this a brilliant paper that would make the biggest impact and do justice to the participants of my research.

Wow, the weight of the pressure. No wonder that felt like a big ask and made me avoid it.

The two strategies I have been working with involve asking tiny questions and thinking tiny thoughts.

1. Ask small questions to dispel fear and inspire creativity.

Maurer illustrates this point by asking you to imagine coming to work and having a colleague ask you to remember the color of the car parked next to you. You probably wouldn’t remember. If they asked you the same question the next day you probably also wouldn’t remember. But by the third day, as you arrived at work, you would probably pay attention to the car parked next to you.

Asking yourself tiny questions helps you direct your mind what to pay attention to.

He recommends asking yourself your question a few times throughout the day for a number of days in a row.

How I’ve been using this is to combine two questions:

  • If I was guaranteed to succeed, what would I be doing differently?
  • What can I do today in less than five minutes that will move me closer to my goal?

One idea that came to me today was to reach out to a colleague who I know is also working on her PhD while working fulltime. I shared my experience with her and her response: “Ali, I feel like you’re completely describing my experience. Let’s speak more and find out how we can support each other.”

We’re now going to support each other as accountability partners, which I can already feel will make a significant difference.

2. Think small thoughts to develop new skills and habits.

The second strategy involves a kind of mental rehearsal called mind sculpting. Here you identify the task you want to achieve from your questioning process and then begin to imagine yourself doing it.

But instead of seeing yourself on a moving screen as is the traditional visualization technique, you are advised to feel yourself doing the task and incorporate all your senses.

So I see myself sitting down, feeling my fingers on my keyboard, hearing the sounds of the birds outside, and seeing the screen in front of me.

And the important part—seeing yourself enjoying the process. Because we avoid what we imagine will be unpleasant and painful.

What I’m doing with that is giving myself the next two weeks while my children are on school holidays to spend a few minutes a day imagining myself working on it and enjoying it.

The idea here is that by doing this for a period of time, you start to rewire your association to the task which makes it easier to then take small actions.

So what have you been putting off that you would love to accomplish? What tiny questions can you ask yourself to shift your focus?

About Alison Breen

Alison Breen is a psychologist and coach who helps women overcome the fear and self-doubt that holds them back from actualizing their potential and accomplishing their business goals. Sign up for her FREE ecourse to build confidence to create a thriving business with less stress.

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