I had a recent request from a current client to make this available, so here goes:
How do we get ourselves to do things? Motivation or lack thereof, procrastination, stagnation, and lack of inspiration are frequent topics of discussion in my office. Many factors can influence these internal forces that propel us or hold us back, including depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, fear, or a history of failures (perceived or objective). Or all of the above.
There’s something particularly crazy making about knowing you want to make a change or start a project or finish a project, knowing how much better you’ll feel once you’re actually engaged in making it happen, knowing how solid the finish will be in terms of your sense of self… And then just sitting there. And sitting there.
I have certainly experienced these kinds of soul-crushing (really, it’s not an exaggeration, it feels really, really bad) stalemates (known as problems with behavioral activation in the biz), particularly in the early stages of my recovery (that’s, like, a decade long early stage, just in case you were going to start judging yourselves people), and unwinding the motivation and keep on going riddle for myself was a major breakthrough in my ability to move forward and keep moving.
So, what do I do when faced with a change or a task I feel paralyzed about? I start.
Now, please don’t yell at me. I know that sounds like a really mean and b@#chy thing that someone without these troubles would say to you. “Just start! It’ll be great”.
The problem is that that’s what you have to do. After years of my parents and therapist and guidance counselor trying to jolly me into just taking the first step, which, may I add, did not work, I came up with my own strategy, rather by accident.
The first glimpse of the power of starting happened for me during a month long hospitalization when I was 19, and on a year off before college because no one felt that I was well enough to take on that challenge and my weight had dipped down to a scary place I don’t like to think about anymore.
We had these little paper menus to fill out every day, and everything on the list of options was something I would, at that point, never have considered eating outside of a binge/purge cycle. It was terrifying. In fact, it was so terrifying that my mind broke. I literally could not engage in the activity from my mind in the place that it was. But, that’s when the magic happened. I discovered that I could do it anyway. If I cleared away the rubble of fear and did the first thing, which was to pick up the pencil, and then circle a selection of foods that a person would maybe eat, and then if I sat at the table and put them in my mouth, it happened. It had happened. It was happening. It was crazy. It was like a Nike commercial.
Now, I know that this is subtle. But, essentially, the way this mind trick works is that you gently explain to yourself that the action that needs to occur is inevitable. It’s going to happen. So, you might as well start now rather than go through a whole bunch of mental torment and then start, which is the same result just more unpleasant. Once you’ve pulled off this little bit of self-trickery a few times, and experienced the total rush that is discovering that YOU DID IT! it starts to become more intuitive, and to seem like a pretty good idea.
The way I use this skill in my life now is to use my mindfulness net of awareness and notice when I feel resistant to doing a task. The minute I catch myself in that experience, I make the feared/avoided thing the very next thing I do. It’s a muscle that takes exercising, but the more you train yourself in this methodology, the more success it will bring you and the more likely you will be to pull it out of your back pocket the next time.
Now, go try it. Like, now. Right now. You only have to do the first thing. The rest will follow.