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You’d Freak Out A Lot Less If You Weren’t So Perfect

Topics: Lifestyle & Culture | 4 CommentsBy admin | May 14, 2009

Some ideas for getting back on track when work has you paralyzed with anxiety or feeling like screaming in terror. Any ideas of your own?


This was me about a week ago.

Under ordinary circumstances, I’m someone that most people would refer to as very organized. I mean, I actually ENJOY books like Getting Things Done, I’m easily fascinated by reading about the Noguchi Filing System, and I actually get weak knees in certain aisles of the office supply store. Unfortunately, the same reasonably healthy compulsions that make me so orderly can suddenly turn on me and make me a paralyzed, unproductive twit. Ninety percent of the time, I am the go-to guy, a motivator, a social connector. But when that other ten percent shows up, avoid me. I have horrible skills for dealing with my own failures and shortcomings. But I’m working on it, and I’ll get to that in a minute. It’s actually simple stuff. Especially with the recent economic situation, many of us are facing some unexpected events in relation to our livelihood. Many are facing the loss of their jobs, or pay cuts. Those of us who are self-employed may be more used to adapting to a shifting workscape, but may still find ourselves hitting a new kind of wall. When you find yourself so paralyzed by anxiety that you find it difficult to focus on the work you do have, what can you do? Well, you could panic. But as Seth Godin points out in that brief piece, that’s usually not especially productive. We could alternately spend a lot of time exploring planning and time management tools, but the irony there is obvious. What we’re usually dealing with at times like these is a form of fear. Krishnamurti described fear as the state between the familiar and the unfamiliar, and that is actually a very comforting description; it allows room for the knowledge that the new thing will become familiar, and some level of comfort will return. So what can we do in the interim? First, we have to realize that whatever form our anxiety takes, it literally is our imagination. It is only happening in our head. If you can become aware of that, you have a start, because you’re at least becoming aware of the actual thought processes you’re dealing with. As Einstein pointed out, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” A few other simple reminders (I certainly haven’t cornered the market on this knowledge, sometimes we just need a little nudge):

1.) Relax and breathe.
It’s well-documented that our stress reactions are intensely instinctual, and driven by the primordial fight or flight response to threats. There’s usually no way to kill your projects and eat them, and if you run away, you’ll never get paid. Pause, breathe, and center yourself.

2.) Ask for help.
I find this almost impossible to do because of an irrational self-sufficient perfectionism, but I’m always astounded at the results when I do. People actually seem to enjoy helping people. It’s weird.

3.) Objectify, detach, get perspective.
If you’re stressed out because you’re the person responsible for saving the lives of all the children on a sinking ship or keeping the global economy from grinding to a halt, go ahead and freak out. But otherwise, ponder the importance of the task at hand in a realistic way. Are you freaking out simply because you’re losing face a little? Because you have an irrationally stressed out client? Quite often the task will be done better in its own time. Sort that issue out.

4.) Use the obvious tools.
List the items that need to be prioritized in one shot as they spring to mind. THEN re-sort them into a list of priorities in the fashion that works best for you. Avoid obvious distracting and seemingly productive time-wasters like e-mail or social networking sites like Facebook. A friend of mine actually uses a tool called NoAddict, which pops up when she visits certain sites with the question “Do you really want to be doing this right now?” And e-mail is rarely a critical, time sensitive issue. Get work done, and THEN read the stressed out e-mails that someone sent you because THEY were freaking out in the middle of the night.

5.) Explore your values.
If you have a deeper, long-term issue going on with diminished productivity, ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. If it’s for tremendous financial reward, buck up and collect your check. If it’s for nominal personal or financial reward, seriously assess whether you need a bigger change. Simply getting started on the process of creating new work experiences can ease a lot of the stress of a current situation.

I hope someone finds these things helpful. They helped me.
I have to get back to work now!

Have any tips to share yourself?

Read Comments

  1. Posted by kristin on 05.14.09 9:28 pm

    baby steps. cry a lot alone. cry in somoene’s arms, just to lessen the anxiety.

  2. Posted by » What Are You So Afraid Of? - Dissociated Press on 02.23.10 2:41 pm

    [...] its biological components, but that’s not likely to alleviate much fear for you. I’ve mentioned before that Krishnamurti’s thoughts on fear had a profound impact on how I experience it. He tends [...]

  3. Posted by Getting Unstuck | dissociatedpress.com on 03.21.11 9:29 pm

    [...] of stalled projects, fear of imperfection, fear of failure, and so on. We’ve talked about fear before, and imperfection too. In an upcoming piece, we’ll talk about about eliminating fear [...]

  4. Posted by thewellnessaddict.com » Getting Unstuck on 04.03.11 9:12 am

    [...] projects, fear of imperfection, fear of failure, and so on. Elsewhere, I’ve talked about fear before, and imperfection too. In an upcoming piece, I’ll talk about about eliminating fear [...]