Have you ever felt that you simply can’t get started or simply can’t focus your attention on a specific task?
It’s like the task has a force field around it, a sort of deflector shield that keeps moving you away on a tangent to go start doing something else.
This task could be anything.
It could be writing a report, preparing a lesson, filing your taxes, crafting an ad, going for a run, killing a roach, reading a textbook, sending an email, making a phone call, filling out a form, cleaning your kitchen.
It could be a big project that feels too large to tackle, or a small project that requires a significant mental shift from what you’ve been doing.
Whatever it is, it feels like the task is beyond you. You procrastinate like mad. It escapes you, it deflects you, you’re completely paralysed when you try to deal with it, your brain somehow seems to shut down and stop working.
And whenever you try to get it done you always seem to wind up doing something completely unrelated instead.
This happens over and over again, becoming increasingly traumatic each time.
I have a name for this state of affairs.
I call it horror.
What Is Horror and Why Does This Happen?
There are many possible reasons for this state of affairs, but they all have this in common:
the problem is entirely inside your head.
Maybe the task seems too large and daunting, or you’re afraid to fail, or you’re afraid to succeed, or you’re afraid of judgement and embarrassment, or you’ve just been under too much stress lately.
The actual reasons don’t matter. So don’t waste time trying to psychoanalyse yourself.
Because whatever the reasons, what’s actually happening is that your fight/flight/freeze reflex has been activated.
Something about the task is unconsciously stressing you out to the point where you are completely frozen.
And you probably have no idea what it is.
All you know is that the task somehow seems to inspire the same creeping feeling of dread you get when you watch a horror movie.
It feels like the task is doing everything it can to keep you away, like a ghost in a haunted house.
All you want to do is flee.
The unfortunate result: disengagement, wheel-spinning, paralysis.
What to Do When Faced with Horror
It’s tempting to give in to the horror and simply go on to another task.
After all, you can’t even get a handle on what you have to do, right?
You can’t concentrate, you can’t get hold of it, it keeps slipping away from you, you can’t bring yourself to do it, you simply can’t get started.
You can’t even force yourself to get it done; something else always magically crops up that you have to do instead.
In such circumstances, I have learned that only one thing works:
Sit with it.
Try to set a couple of hours aside and keep mentally turning to face your task even as it tries to deflect you away. Keep turning your mind and will to meet it full-on.
You will feel hungry. You will feel tired. You will feel sleepy. Your chair will suddenly be uncomfortable, you will feel distracted, you will feel too hot or too cold, your shirt will itch, you will feel an urgent need to go to the toilet, your head will hurt, your back will ache, your body will start shaking, you will feel like throwing up, your palms will be covered in sweat. Everything seems to be moving slowly, your limbs feel heavy and lifeless, your brain seems to stop working, your speech comes out heavy and laboured. And so on.
All these things are distractions arising from your own discomfort and fear. And the task will throw every single distraction at you in an effort to keep you away.
Keep turning mentally to face it, as if you were facing a bull in the arena.
Slow down your heartbeat (this works). Arrange and gather your materials. Go over your notes. Gather everything you need and place it in front of you.
Sit with your task for at least an hour. More, if you have to. Either it will give in or you will give in.
This can be a very painful process.
Fortunately, I’ve found that by the end of one hour some progress will usually have been made (even if progress only happens in the last 5 minutes). At the very least, by the end of the hour I will have gained a clearer understanding of what I actually have to do.
This can feel like trudging uphill through thick mud.
And maybe you’ll need to sit for an hour before you can finally get started on a task that will actually only take you 20 minutes to complete.
And all this of course is horrendously inefficient.
But it’s better than never getting started at all.