Life is full of difficult tasks – tasks that are already a massive chore on their own. The thing is, we then end up making them harder by procrastinating, hemming and hawing and staring up at the steep incline ahead of us with such dread we don’t actually ever get started. The result? The time we have shrinks, the fear mounts and the quality of our lives drops.
Sometimes we let so much time pass and we get so stressed out that when we do actually get to the task, we end up making a hash of it. Even worse, our fail of failure might well become so overwhelming that we end up not taking the plunge. And so amazing opportunities pass us by and fear gets replaced by regret.
Now how can that ever be the right way to live?
The good news is that you can overcome your fears. There are a number of strategies which will help you overcome the crippling fear and anxiety that you’re feeling.
Acknowledge your fear
Just because you’re ignoring your fear doesn’t mean you’re no longer feeling it. That is not how these things work. So don’t try that route. Instead, acknowledge your fear. Understand what is causing you to feel this fear. Move through that.
After all, bravery isn’t blindly ignoring your fear, it is accepting it and moving on despite it (and even because of it).
Make things concrete
Abstract activities are much harder to wrap your head around than things which you’ve actually made more concrete. And that’s not that strange. Abstract things, after all, are filled with far more unknowns and unpredictable things, which leaves a lot more space for the fear to live.
For that reason, when you have to do something that you’re afraid of, the first thing that you want to do is sit down and write out what it will actually consist of. Create an outline, which includes the steps you have to take and the processes you’ll have to go through. Now, make sure that you add detail. I mean, it doesn’t have to be up to the level of a professional writing service, but it should still be detailed and comprehensive.
Even better, divide it up into short tasks that are actually relatively easy to achieve. In this way, you take the focus off the mountain you have to climb and instead focus on the individual steps you’ll be able to take to do that climbing. That will be much less overwhelming.
Small steps are better than none at all
Sometimes promising yourself that you will only do this task you don’t want to for a short time will make it far easier to actually start doing the task. That’s what such things as the Pomodoro timer is based on. Twenty five minutes of focused time on a task you don’t want to do can already make a dent, after all. It can even show you that it’s not half as bad as you have made it out to be.
If you like using something like the Pomodoro timer, also check out Stay focused, be present, as this doesn’t just make you work for 25 minutes, but blocks specific sites that you’ve listed as well – so that you don’t go check social media or read the news.
Start with something you know you can do
Now that you’ve got your outline and you know what you’ve got to do to actually complete the task, start with one of them that you know you can actually do. It’s fine if you pick something that you might actually enjoy doing as well.
The goal here is to build on your successes. For the more we’ve succeeded, the more confident we end up feeling. And the more confident we feel, the easier it becomes to tackle the harder tasks still ahead.
Be honest about when you’re avoiding
Of course, you can’t let that go too far. There is doing the simple tasks first and then there’s using whatever excuse you can to avoid the hard tasks you don’t want to do. If you find that you’re engaging in busy work, like organizing your sock drawer, then it’s time to realize you’re avoiding again.
When this happens, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all avoid our problems at one time or another. Of course, don’t accept that this means you can continue avoiding. Instead, return to the task and move forward – keep doing this again and again and eventually the task will be done.
In psychology they’ve managed to get pigeons playing ping pong by using a simple strategy of rewarding them when they do what they’re supposed to. Now, obviously we’re more complicated than pigeons, but there are still a lot of mechanisms in our brain that work the same way. If we do something and we then reward ourselves, we can condition ourselves to find the task less objectionable and do it more consistently in the future.
The easiest way to do so is to use the reward centers in the brain. This can be anything from having your favorite candy, to cuddling with your cat. After you’ve managed to work for a while on the task at hand, to giving yourself a break with a task you really enjoy.
Now, do note you don’t have to make the reward huge. It can be a small thing. What’s more important is that the one has to follow the other consistently and without too big of a break, as that’s the easiest way for our brain to learn the association.
Watch the distractions
Getting yourself to do something that you fear or dislike can be hard enough if done once. It can be neigh-on impossible if you have to do it over and over again. For this reason, make sure that you turn off the distractions.
This means putting your phone away, blocking websites which are likely to draw you in and telling the people who might try to get your intention to not bother you (consider actually posting a sign). This might sound like a trifling thing, but the truth is the research indicates that people who are the most effective at what they don’t resist temptation, but manage to avoid it instead. After all, we don’t want to waste our willpower resisting the world outside. We want to use our willpower to stay focused on the task at hand. For that’s how we’re going to surmount the challenge and get it out of the way.