Tag Archives: stress

Start with the smallest step you can think of

The bigger the fear, the better this advice is. You know that joke about how you eat an elephant? The trunk first? There’s a reason why there’s no such joke about eating a quail. And it’s not just because a quail has no trunk.

The bigger the fear, the better this advice is. You know that joke about how you eat an elephant? The trunk first? There’s a reason why there’s no such joke about eating a quail (and it’s not just because a quail has no trunk).

I reminded myself of the smallest step technique today, because I know I need to restart my November project soon, and I dread it. I had to quit the project because of the flu – two or three rounds of it, I lost count. Then Christmas came, and then work happened. In the meanwhile my brain has labeled the project a FAILURE, and it’s frantically sending anxiety signals as soon as I consider picking it up again.

But it needs to be done. I want to get it done. And I want my brain to recogniseI did well, even when I didn’t finish it. The failure interpretation is an unfair distortion, and harmful too. Not to mention that it’s a clear invitation for procrastination!

So, my first small step today was revisit this blog. I replied to some of the comments I hadn’t replied to before, which reminded me of what a positive the experience othe blogging about my project has been.

It helped me reconnect to the feeling of ‘I want to get this done’. So I decided on a second small step: checking my diary if I had space (both time wise and mentally) to restart next week. Turned out I have SOME space. Which is enough when you think about small steps; it’s not too daunting to work on it a bit.

Obviously my third small step has been to write this blog post. It’s out in the open now: I will restart my November project. In February. Those taxes need to get done…

Today’s illustration is linked to the idea of taking a first small step. I made it on a day when I hadn’t painted for a long while. I wanted to paint, but felt like it would be impossible to create something beautiful. I felt I had lost all my skills, and certainly all my faith in being capable. So I decided to simply grab paint and create something that I would probably throw away because it was ugly. But at least I’d have handled some paint again. I did it. It worked. And I never threw it away. My son loved it (much to my surprise), so I gave it to him.

My brain is being mean to me

Dear diary,

My brain is being mean to me. It’s not fair.

I was doing really well, working on my November project. I still don’t know where some of my administration is hiding. So I was searching for it, organising stuff in the meanwhile.

I was creating good results, sorting papers for the recycling bin, freeing up a box to put assorted old stuff in. But my brain started whispering: it’s not good enough. You’re supposed to work directly on your planned result. This is a distraction. You’re giving in to scope creep

So I told myself: No. Look how good this will feel. I’m saying goodbye to an old project, which is quite a big step. The papers will leave the house and that creates space. I’m saying goodbye emotionally too, that will create space on my mind. Really, I’m on the right track.

Then my brain whispered more loudly: look at what you’re doing. You’re making small piles of stuff you don’t know where to put. You’re not sticking to your planned result. You’re not sticking to your method. You’re doing a bad job. You’re stupid.

I felt the tension in my shoulders rise and decided to quit after 15 minutes, the maximum that I had set for this round (hoping to do more than one round today). This was sticking to my method, but my brain didn’t care about that.

It got louder and louder: Look at that mess! This isn’t right! Work a bit longer in this, so you’ll reach some satisfaction. If you can’t put those papers away, do more of the easy bits. Find yourself papers you CAN sort and put in the right place. Go to the recycling bin with those papers that can leave the house. Try to… It was frantically ordering me to do anything but take a break now. Go get RESULTS! Make yourself feel GOOD!

Like I wrote before: old patterns don’t die easily, if ever. But I’m learning how to cope with them. So I decided to step away and do some thinking. Who was running the show at the moment?

I encountered some familiar company:
1) My inner schoolmaster: demanding I’ll do too much. Of course this is not how it puts it: please do too much. Instead, it will tell me this isn’t enough yet. “You should do more.” Activiting the other side of my horse shoe: the part that says “I’m not sure I want to”. This part is not strong enough to resist, and let me inner adult do the talking. It means I’ll probably give in to the demands, because otherwise I face criticism.

One way I recognise my inner schoolmaster is when I feel overwhelmed, pressured and a failing. The schoolmaster thinks I have no right to boundaries, I just have to do my job.

2) My inner critic lies in wait, ready to take over if I lean towards not giving into the schoolmaster. Or when I don’t (surprise!). If I decide to take that break, it will claim I’m lazy or unfit for needing one in the first place. If I don’t take a break, it will tell me I’m stupid for doing too much.

One way I recognise my inner critic is because it calls me names and exaggerates: stupid, fail, twat, bad, lazy…

The message of my inner schoolmaster is that I don’t do enough. The message of my inner critic is that I’m no good.

Dear diary,
My brain is mean to me, but I’m not going to be a meany to it in return. There was a time when these patterns were helpful to me, they were part of my survival kit. But now I want to break free (*insert Queen song*). I wonder how I can picture that?

I’ll file a complaint against the schoolmaster, with legal terms and small print any many things that will keep it busy while I go out for a walk and a coffee. I’ll ask my inner critic to make an inventory of all the bad things it calls me, and sort them on how many times they are used AND alphabetical order.

While they are busy, I’ll enjoy a bit of fresh air and sunshine, a small chat with the waiter who brings me coffee, perhaps read a nice book… Self care.

Me and my inner adult are running this show!

Blessed are those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. It’s wonderful if you can organise, declutter and work without distracting voices in your own head. I’m not schizophrenic (in case you wonder) I’ve just learned to tune in to my self talk and see where it’s getting me. When my self talk brings me down, I try to realise that and change it.

A pat on the back can be helpful against your inner critic, if you manage to mean what you say. My pats on the back for today are:
– After a lousy morning, I took a break before I started. I listened to my needs.
– I started working on my project without resistance.
– I listened to my body when it told me to stop.
– Managed to not listen to the voice that urged me to do more, more, more!
– I took the time to find out what’s going on inside of me and learn from it.
– Changing patterns takes an effort. A pat on the back for being dedicated.

I’ll add some visual proof to show how out of line my brain gets. These were the ‘piles’ that caused all that stress:
Mini piles

I could have told myself they weren’t that scary, but my brain wouldn’t have believed it. This half mocking dead serious dear diary post, did help. And it got me #NaBloPOMo done for today. And if anyone wonders why I’m sharing such private stuff: I hope it can help other people.