I was talking to a client filled with regret about waiting until late in his life to pursue the romantic relationships he always wanted, and I had the thought, “The belief that ‘I have to meet some arbitrary criteria in order to live my life’ is a really problematic one.
Later that day I had the presence of mind to write the title “Waiting for my life to start” as the type of problematic belief that deserves its own new entry.
As I wrote it I had the thought, “Oh I’m looking forward to when I write that.” And then, I noticed anxiety wondering when I’d actually do it.
Bingo! This is the problem!
And so, because I have some time I am writing the entry now and imperfectly.
Making plans can be very seductive. You may have lots of great ideas about what you want to do and how you’ll do it and thinking about these plans can be very exciting. In addition, “planning” to do something by figuring out when you’ll do it, for how long, with whom, etc., rather than doing it, can feel like you are making progress even though you are not. Sometimes planning is an important part of starting a new project. However, if there are many projects or ideas that you have planned out, but not acted on, your planning is likely primarily functioning as an anxiety neutralizer.
You don’t need to plan better or “make better decisions.” You (likely) don’t need coaching in organization and time management. Rather, you need to notice and label the anxiety you experience when you start to take action and learn to relate to it more effectively.
Whether it is a big thing, like getting into a romantic relationship or moving across the country, or a little thing, like jotting down some notes when you have a new ideas or emailing someone back, the process is the same.
Relating to your anxiety effectively means noticing and labeling it as anxiety, actively allowing it to be there, and doing the thing that is uncomfortable for you. You have to learn to act, in the presence of uncertainty and imperfect and learn to accept of discomfort and doubt.
Put another way, the practice is noticing the belief “I’m not ready yet,” deciding whether you want to live by it, and if you would not like to live by it, committing to a small immediate action that undermines the belief.
Back to the arbitrary criteria…
It may not seem arbitrary.
“I have to feel better before I can…”
“I have to stop feeling anxious before I can…”
“I have to stop feeling depressed before I can…”
“I have to lose weight before I can…”
“My children need to grow up before I can…”
“I have to make more money before I can…”
“I have to be confident before I can…”
Many of these scripts seem like they are speaking truth when you experience them automatically. But, if you can get to know them: when they show up and what to say back. They don’t have to thoughts that you act on.
If this script is one that you resonate with, consider reflecting on a few short questions:
1) What is it that I want to change in my life?
2) What am I waiting to happen before I change this about life?
3) What feelings am I trying to avoid by waiting for the change to occur first?
4) How can I take a small step toward feeling what I want to avoid right now?
5) Are there any small steps toward my goal that I can take today?
Commit to the actions related to answers 4 & 5 and repeat as often as possible.