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

Thursday, July 7, 2011

When All Else Fails, Baby Steps . . .

My first husband was a clinical psychologist.  Still is, actually.  (A clinical psychologist, not my husband.)  One of the movies I remember particularly enjoying with him was What About Bob? with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss.  In the movie, Drefuss's character, Dr. Leo Marvin, is promoting his new book, Baby Steps.  Murray's Bob is in desperate need of its guidance.

While Bob's multiphobic state is beyond anything I have experienced to date in my history of anxieties and mild mood swings, I find the advice--to break the overwhelming down into small, doable steps, and to take those steps one at a time--useful.  In fact, I believe it can be helpful to all of us, from time to time.

And now is one of those times for me. 

I predictably approach life challenges from the library side of things.  When in doubt, I read about the thing that's troubling me.  Thus, this blog and the study that has fueled it. 

My family members frequently chide me to "quit reading about it, and just do it."  Just get on the plane, cry out my grief, clean up the kitchen . . . . And in this case, STOP PROCRASTINATING and DO STUFF.

When I reach the state, as now, where I am floundering, no wind fills my sails, and the task of life looms large, I try to remember baby steps--an antidote to over-delving. 

Today, this translates into:
1) making a to-do list.  I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists.  I make them too big.  I spend too much time crafting them.  I lose them.  They send me into labor.  But they help anchor me.  And when I have been to-do-less for too long, it helps to go back to the practice of making the list, and referring to it. 

2) employing something I think of as down and up.  This practice consists of making room for frittering and malaise, but interspersing such moments with practical activity.  So I sit down on my backyard swing, reading, dreaming, playing solitaire, for a specified period--a chapter, or 15 minutes, or 5 digital "hands"--and then I get up and load the dishwasher, or fold laundry, or pay the bills, weed the garden, walk the dog, run an errand. . . .  And then repeat as necessary, until the small achievements snag my will and pull me forward.

The challenge with this method is that much of my "productive" stuff happens sitting down, like writing, work-related reading, web design, communicating with clients, working on campaigns, etc.  But when I reach the mental and physical state that harbingers hibernation, physical activity--actual movement, however brief--is required to prevent rusting. 

These are the days for restoring "outer order"--the thing that Gretchen Rubin's maxim promises "contributes to inner calm."

"Baby step, make a to-do list."

"Baby step, sit down and play."

"Baby step, get up and do something."

"Baby step, keep going. . . "

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