Imagine this scenario: A friend or family member seeks your advice for their problem. As they tell you their dilemma, you immediately know what to say and what they should do. It takes very little thought, and it often seems obvious how they should handle the situation.
Now, imagine you have your own dilemma, and you know what you “should” do or have an idea of how to approach it. Then suddenly, you feel completely stuck; analysis paralysis.
So, how is it so easy for us to advise our friends or have an idea of how to complete something, but yet we can’t do it ourselves?
Here’s the major difference: We aren’t as emotionally invested in the action steps required that others take. Doing it ourselves takes much more control and effort. We also must deal with the consequences of the outcome. There is much more at stake.
During sessions, individuals often express that they are aware of what actions would benefit them, but they struggle to find the motivation to follow through with them. It can be extremely challenging to begin a new task – even those we want to do.
So now, how do you get it done?
First, consider: Are you in freeze mode? When we are stressed or overwhelmed, this can trigger a trauma response where our brains are no longer able to easily access our higher-order thinking skills and executive functioning skills. We feel completely stuck and do nothing or anything to avoid dealing with the issues.
Second, pay attention to your internal dialogue. Are you telling yourself things like, “it’s too hard,” “I’ll do it later,” or “I don’t want to do it…” This voice in our head can be extremely compelling.
Now: begin with baby steps.
Take a few deep breaths to calm your nervous system before starting
Break down the task into tiny steps
Choose which task will be your starting point
Check in with your internal voice and see what it’s telling you
Try to reassure that inside voice by saying things like: “I can start small,” “I don’t need to do everything at once,” “I will do what I can,” or “I will feel better when it’s finished”
Do as much as you can
Praise yourself for whatever you achieved
Return to step 1 and repeat until the task is complete
An example: You want to start an exercise routine
Take a few deep breaths
2. Break down the task into tiny steps
Example: Decide what type of exercise you want to do, look at your schedule and find times you can exercise. Decide low long you want to exercise and buy new exercise gear
3. Choose which task will be your starting point
Example: Decide what type of exercise
4. Check in with your internal voice and see what it’s telling you.
Example: “I am too tired, it will be too hard, I am so out of shape, I don’t have time”
5. Try to reassure that inside voice:
Example: It will take time but I will feel better once I get into a routine. My health is important so I will prioritize this and I will do what I can.
6. Do as much as you can
Example: Walk for 15 minutes
7. Praise yourself for whatever you achieved
Example: Go me! I walked for 15 minutes!
8. Return to step 1 and repeat until the task is complete.
It’s important to consider what you experience throughout this process. It could be old feelings or habits creeping up. Perhaps it’s bringing up negative thoughts about yourself or your capabilities. These are all things to continue to explore and determine how to manage more effectively. (These are also good things to discuss in a therapy session!)
“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance - and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” - Oprah Winfrey