Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Procrastinating 101: For the Worriers Among Us

Marshall Cook, author of Slow Down. . . and get More Done, entitles his fourth chapter "What, me worry?" quoting Alfred E. Newman of MAD Magazine fame.   What does this have to do with getting more done?  Cook opens with this diatribe on the subject.
Worry is a waste of time and energy, a real life-snatcher.  It hides in the shadows, disrupts your rest, damages your ability to make decisions, and steals the pleasure and satisfaction you should derive from work and play.
When you worry, you don't plan, work toward a goal, or engage in positive thinking.  You obsess on a problem, imagine the worst, fail to make decisions, avoid action.
Worry ignores the present to fuss over a future that never comes.  Worry rejects the sweet gift of today to chase the ever-receding horizon of tomorrow.  Worry is a substitute for do, an evasion of yes.  [p. 35]
And here's where slowing down comes in.  Worry has become automatic for us worry-warts; slowing down allows us to "challenge that automatic response." 

Cook tells us that our worries tend to fall into one of three categories:  1) decisions we must make; 2) actions we must perform; and 3) events largely outside our own control.  When worrying provokes anxiety, he advises the following 6 steps to convert the stressful feelings into usable energy:

Step One: Don't resist or deny the fear.  Allow yourself to feel all of it, and it will subside. 
Step Two: Give the fear specific form and substance.  Figure out what's really troubling you. 
Step Three (optional): Push the fear to the ultimate.  Ask your fear "What's the worst you can do to me?" and then "What are the odds?" 
Step Four (definitely not optional): Figure out what, if anything, you can do.
Decide to

  • Do something now.
  • Do something later.
  • Do nothing.

Step Five: Live with your decision.  Make each decision only once. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly, and then get on with your life. 
Step Six: Act in spite of the fear.
Cook provides an example of "getting worry to work for [us]," using public speaking--"America's Number One Fear."  He identifies four "principles" that I can apply to "Mary's Number One Fear" at the moment--swimming across the lake for the first time in next Sunday's triathlon.  They are:

  • Let work replace worry [in my case training]
  • Visualize [swimming peacefully, rhythmically, with enjoyment and confidence, and reaching the shore triumphant]
  • Get out of the way --"This isn't about [my frightened ego-child]."  [Think of the other women swimming with me, of the courage of the breast cancer survivors, of the woman-strength we're showing the world.]
  • Imagine a sympathetic audience [in the case of the triathlon, spectators and other athletes]

    As Cook concludes this useful chapter, the reader is dazzled by more lists and tips and pronouncements--kind of like fireworks building to the finale.  To the preceding advice, Cook adds

    Five ways to stop worrying right now:
    1. For worry festering out of ignorance--Don't worry. Learn.
    2. For worry lurking in the future--Don't worry. Defer.
    3. For worry focused on the past--Don't worry. Release.
    4. For worry feeding on inertia--Don't worry. Act.
    5. For worry thriving on evasion--Don't worry. Pay.
    and the advice to "Protect [ourselves] from contagious worry," to "Get help if the fears get too big," and to "Be gentle with Little Mind."  And the "big bang" that the chapter goes out with is this:

    Exercises to "exorcize" our worry "demons:
    1. List 5 to 10 actions from your past that you truly regret.
    For each, ask "Is there anything I can do now to undo the damage?" If so, write it down and make plans to do it. If not, let the regret go.
    2. List 5 to 10 things you used to worry about. Ask yourself, for each:
    Am I still worried about this?
    How was the problem resolved?
    Did my worry help in any way?
    Which of my specific actions or decisions helped resolve the problem?
    Did it simply resolve itself?
    Did I just have to learn to live with it?
    3. List 5 to 10 things you're worried about right now.
    Ask yourself, for each:
    Will worry help in any way?
    Which actions can I take to help resolve the problem? (Write these down.)
    Will the problem resolve itself?
    Will I just have to learn to live with it?
    I don't know about you, but I'm worried I won't be able to hold all this in my "Little Mind," or figure out how to apply it.  But I intend to try.  That's my decision, and I plan to live with it.

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