A Conversation about Procrastination and Creativity

I recently answered some podcast interview questions about the relationship between procrastination and creativity in a conversation with Rob Lawrence, host of the Inspirational Creatives podcast.  I wanted to share the conversation with you.  Rob is a wonderful podcast creator, thinker, and colleague.  Please give his Inspirational Creatives podcast a listen when you can.

A Conversation about Procrastination and Creativity with Rob Lawrence, host of the Inspirational Creatives Podcast and Christine Li, Procrastination Coach

Rob Lawrence

Rob Lawrence

Christine Li

 

Tell us more about yourself.  You’re a professional psychologist and procrastination coach: how did you arrive into this field of work?

I arrived into the field of psychology with a good bit of luck since I was really uninformed about the entire field and world of psychology after graduating from college.  After college, I had a job as a college admissions officer.  Through that job, I was able to interview and to speak with hundreds of teenagers eager to take their next step into college.  I was also able to sift through their life stories in their application essays.  It was through that process I realized I liked the subject of people’s lives and what they make of them.  A couple of courses in psychology later, I had confirmation that the field was a great fit for me.  I arrived at the specialty of procrastination several years later.  I discovered I was a severe procrastinator myself after having volunteered to lead a workshop on procrastination and after having begun to research the topic. 

What aspects of your work are you most passionate about today?

I’m excited about a lot these days.  I’m excited about learning how to reach procrastinators who might realize there is an easier way to get through work and life — a procrastination-free way.  I’ve been experimenting with different ways of encouraging procrastinators to take the steps to come forward and to start learning how to get things done without stress and strain.  I’m also excited about learning these days.  With podcasts, blogs, books, colleagues, and conferences, it seems like the sky is the limit.  Whatever topic you might want to explore — there’s so much to dive into.  I’ve been exploring topics such as the power of subconscious thought and the connection between the mind and body lately.

Who do you typically work with today?

In my private practice and my online work, I work with many college- and graduate school-aged clients, and I work with them through graduation and their post-graduation journey.  Many of my clients have a history of procrastination, anxiety, or difficulties getting past emotional blocks.  I enjoy working with people in the creative fields, where I feel there is a huge payoff when procrastination is done away with.  After procrastination is dealt with, creativity has room to blossom.

How much do you feel procrastination, and this personal business of us being stuck, is a bit of a “taboo” subject today?

I feel talking about procrastination is one of the last remaining taboos.  There is such an emphasis on perfection, comparison, and success in our culture that talking openly about being stuck can make us feel incredibly unsafe and vulnerable.  I think the perception that there is no way to talk about the issue without hurting our own reputation is one of the main reasons people keep procrastinating — even when it no longer makes any sense and is causing significant harm.

Why do you believe we get stuck as creative beings?

There are so many reasons.  But many of those reasons fit into the category of fear.  We get stuck because we fear judgment, comparison, criticism, failure, inadequacy, frustration, achievement…the list is pretty much endless.  These fears tend to be about what other people will think of us.  We worry whether we will still be accepted and loved.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge for anyone wishing to improve his or her own motivation towards overcoming procrastination?

Ironically, oftentimes we pose the greatest obstacle to our own recovery.  We fail to see our improvements after becoming accustomed to spotting every fall and failure.  Sometimes our mindset is stuck in “nope, no way this is going to happen”-land.  That is why having support from other people is often necessary for procrastinators to make meaningful changes that stick.  We have to learn how to get out of our own heads.

Where does procrastination typically start?

Procrastination starts when the individual finds him or herself with more work that can be managed in a particular period of time.  The other option is when the person finds him or herself with more anxiety about the work that can be managed before the deadline arrives.  As you can tell from these descriptions, procrastination can happen at almost any time when there is work to be done.

How can we spot it?

That’s easy.  When you find yourself focusing on everything but the work, that is when you are procrastinating.  For instance, when you are engaging in “What ifs…?” and worrying, worrying, worrying.  And then, of course, there is the classic, “I just need to read one more thing….”  If you are complaining, chances are there is a good bit of procrastinating involved in that too.

How much do you believe ego comes into all of this?

Ego is often the reason why procrastination happens in the first place.  The ego wants to protect us from danger.  When we perceive judgment to be dangerous to us, we then stop working altogether.  So, yes, ego is big here.

The good news is, when we take ego out of the equation and do work just for the work’s sake, procrastination becomes unnecessary.

And what about fear?

Fear is, in many ways, just a part of life.  There is no way to escape it fully.  However, it is critical that we learn how to function in spite of our fears.  Be courageous instead of fearful; we are all really safe.  Most of us aren’t facing grave dangers when we fuss and fret over our fears.  I wish we were all coached into bravery as much as (if not more than) we are coached into fear. 

How do we begin to overcome procrastination as creatives?

Step by step.  Daily work.  Daily progress.  Making sure to eliminate the self-critical voice and enabling our creativity to emerge as a result.  I think we have creativity inside of us, but we also need to be open to the ideas that swirl around us also, e.g. the inspiration in nature and in daily living.  I think it is so important that we take care of our physical bodies and emotional selves in order to have that creative space be at its fullest.  There may be real obstacles to our success outside of ourselves, but we cannot turn ourselves against ourselves.  We must manage our interior life as best as we can.  We must be the champions of our own work.

I remember you talking recently on a webinar with Pam Slim about the benefits of batching similar tasks – can you tell me more about what you mean by that?

Yes. Batching is a terrific technique where you do tasks that are similar to each other with each other to save the energy that it takes to start working.  For instance, doing several loads of laundry in quick succession rather than having to do laundry multiple times over the course of a week can be a real timesaver.  You save yourself the 5 or 10 minutes it might take you to get over to the laundry room each day and thereby create more time and energy for your creative work.  We can use batching as a way of managing our energy across the day to make sure we are working during our hours of peak focus and resting during the times when we feel less energetic.

Why is becoming unstuck so important in the world today?

I’ve come to believe that being stuck, as opposed to being just at rest, is a dangerous position for a person and a physical body to be in.  We are moving organisms, and everything inside of us is in motion.  I associate wellness with movement these days.  It is important to learn how to be unstuck to learn that we each have incredible power and agency in our lives.  Learning that lesson well will be life-changing for anyone who gets the message.  What is created after the person gets unstuck is just the extra bonus!  Just imagine what we can produce.

What does leading a successful life mean to you?

For me, success means being able to lend other people a hand where I know how to.  I’m trying to do that with my procrastination work.  I try to live focused on joy, and I have been very lucky to have experienced so much of it in my life.  Leaving procrastination behind has taught me that we have all that we need inside of us and in our lives as they are.  We don’t need to achieve or to have things in order to feel like a success.  I guess living without a lot less stress has had me feeling like a success lately.

Who or what’s inspired you most recently?

I am routinely inspired by patients I work with.  Trying to break free from the chains of procrastination is no small feat.  It has been inspiring to see people reach new highs in productivity and well-being after many years of feeling disorganized and unhappy with themselves.  I think anyone who ventures into therapy or coaching or into any path of self-development is inspiring.  Anyone who is trying to find and to use their full voice is my hero.

What are you grateful for today?

Everything.  Life is really daunting, but it is way more mind-blowingly cool than daunting.

Where can folks find out more about you and your work?

I invite your listeners to my website which is www.procrastinationcoach.com.  I have a Free Resource Library (with 13 downloadable items) to share at www.procrastinationcoach.com/freelibrary.  I’m creating new content every week, and I look forward to helping the community of people who want to recover from procrastination as best as I can.

Thank you, Rob, for inviting me onto the Inspirational Creatives podcast and for challenging us all to go more deeply into our chosen work.

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What You Need to Know to Stop Procrastinating

What you need to know to stop procrastinatingWhat in the world do we have to do to stop procrastinating?

Procrastination is super sneaky and annoying.

None of us wants to procrastinate routinely, but many of us get trapped into the never-ending cycle of delay – stress – embarrassment – sleep deprivation – delay – stress – embarrassment – sleep deprivation.  We’re so spent it feels like we have no energy to do other things — especially new ventures which require creativity and clear thinking.

So why is it so easy to fall into a cycle of procrastination, yet so hard to escape from it?

Our false beliefs about how to get things done may be the reason we can never seem to stop procrastinating.  The following is a quick list of 5 common myths about productivity that tend to keep us wedded to procrastination:

What You Need to Know to Stop Procrastinating

Which of these 5 assumptions do you tend to make?  Keep tabs on yourself after reading them to make sure these false ideas don’t block you from being productive in the future.

  1. I need to be very anxious in order to good work.  We are taught as early as elementary school that doing good work is a good thing.  As we make our way through middle school and high school, our work becomes more complex, but so do our feelings about doing that work.  Somewhere on that journey through high school, we become anxious about a paper, exam, or grade, and then, lo and behold, we end up associating our work with stress.  We start feeling stressed before we work.  We can even feel stressed at just the idea of working.  And that is where procrastination walks in the door.  At first, it is an innocent delay, but then procrastination becomes more of a routine reaction to work.  So what’s the answer to this problem?  Realize you do not need to be stressed out to do good work.  We may actually do our best work when our minds and bodies are clear of stress and anxiety.  The next time you have an assignment or project you need to get done, decide what your first steps should be and get those done without creating extra emotional drama and distress.
  2. My work represents my value in and to the world.  This particular myth is probably the single greatest cause of procrastination.  When we believe our work somehow represents our value as a person in the world, our work becomes more than just work — it takes on too great a significance as the concrete symbol of how good or bad we are as people.  No wonder people refuse to finish their work and choose procrastination instead!  The good news is our work is not a full measure of our value as human beings.  It is not even close.  The solution to feeling this way?  The next time you have to get work done, address the work and what the work needs from you.  Don’t demand that the work reflect your value as a person.  Keep it simple, straightforward, and do your best, but don’t overwork it in any way.
  3. All of my work needs to be done perfectly.  This is a variation of item #2.  When we attach our self-worth to our work, we then force ourselves to make everything we produce top-notch.  If we don’t, then we risk facing blows to our self-esteem.  But again, our work does not represent who we are or what we are worth.  So how do you deal with your perfectionistic tendencies?  Do good work but make sure you don’t sacrifice your well-being in the process.  Push away any thoughts about how other people might react to your work.  They are going to have a reactions, but those are not yours to control.  Let your work stand for itself.
  4. I have to keep my problems getting things done hidden from other people.  When we feel badly about our actions, we try to keep them secret from other people.  Our intentions are pure, but we feel the need to isolate ourselves from people around us because we feel ashamed.  Problem is, when we become socially isolated, our procrastination takes over even more powerfully.  We no longer have someone to talk with, someone to alert to our difficulty, someone who can remind us everything will be okay.  Since procrastination blooms in an atmosphere of isolation, make sure you take specific action to reconnect with the people in your life.  Doing so will re-energize you and help you to regain your natural motivation.
  5. I will always feel shame and embarrassment about my procrastination, so there’s no payoff for trying to change my ways.  Thinking that we will never be able to stop procrastinating causes us to feel very negatively about ourselves.  This negativity prevents us from reaching out to others for support or advice or help.  It also makes the pressure we feel about our unfinished work even greater.  The good news is the idea that we have to remain in a shamed and embarrassed state forever is a big lie.  As soon as we make the decision to do anything within our power to move forward, the positive feelings begin to flow in.  If you feel stuck because of negative feelings, make sure you speak with someone who can help you feel better again as soon as possible.

So, are you ready to stop procrastinating yet?

When we realize the ideas that keep rattling around in our heads are erroneous, we get a little more courageous when it comes to fighting the impulse to procrastinate.

We decide we are going to keep our work:

  • simple
  • stress-free
  • good enough (and not “perfect”)
  • connected with the people who need to see our work
  • guilt- and shame-free

Sound good to you?  I thought so.

Adjust your mindset in order to get the things you need to get done done.  If you cannot at this time, please do not worry.  After all, worry is the whole reason procrastination is so powerfully addictive and why it so often seems like the best idea in town. Take the time to develop a more positive mindset, to feel less afraid about what work and working means to your self-esteem, and to have real patience and kindness for yourself.

It is possible for you to stop procrastinating soon.  It will be worth your extra effort.

Related reading:

What is the Most Important Factor for Consistent Productivity?

25 Questions to Help You Make Positive Changes in Your Life

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How to Leave Your Negative Mindset in the Dust

Learn to leave your negative mindset behindProcrastinators are oftentimes victims of their own negative mindset.  Rather than coaching themselves towards success, Procrastinators lean towards doom and gloom, predicting humiliation and failure for themselves.  

It is no wonder then, that Procrastination tends to be a problem that continues without being corrected or halted.  The combination of negative mindset and Procrastination limits our natural leanings towards freedom and forward movement.  We end up being consumed with worry and fear instead of putting our heads down and getting our work done.  

What gives rise to a negative mindset?

The roots of a negative mindset can be found in many diverse areas:

  • low self-esteem
  • lack of self-confidence
  • growing up with overly critical parents or other authority figures
  • growing up in dysfunctional, chaotic environments
  • early notable academic or personal success which gives rise to anxiety about performance as the child grows up
  • depression

Negative thoughts certainly can occur on a daily basis.  We need to be mindful of when they dominate our frame of mind and outlook.  When we become mired in negative thoughts and negative predictions of future events, we short-circuit our own ability to think clearly and to act with the full power of our skills, intelligence, and resources.  

We begin to limit our own sense of freedom.  We begin to act as if we are broken, impaired, incompetent, or less than we really are.

Four ways to break free of a negative mindset

Fortunately, a negative mindset does not have to be a permanent part of your life.  Use the following four suggestions to avoid getting stuck in negativity:

  1. Evaluate the purpose of your self-dialogue.  Are you trying to scare yourself out of taking action?  Are you trying to convince yourself that you don’t have what it takes to more forward?  Be honest with yourself when you do this kind of evaluation.
  2. Question whether you want your negative thoughts to be true.  (I learned this technique from an Amy Porterfield business podcast.)   Look at the picture you are painting with your self-talk and decide if you indeed want this picture to become your reality.  If the answer is “no,” then change the words you are using to coach yourself.
  3. Learn how to generate action from your thoughts.  What could you replace your negative mindset and language with?  A plan?  A deadline?   A supportive person?  A goal?  A work sprint at a coffee shop?  Replace the anxiety that comes from negative thinking with some sort of action.  The replacement doesn’t need to be dramatic, big, or important.  It just needs to put you back in motion.
  4. Decide to give yourself the benefit of a balanced frame of mind.  Instead of walking around with an overburdened brain, decide to give yourself a break.  Allow yourself to approach every new challenge with an open mind and heart, without expectations of failure and with a presumption of eventual success.

Here’s a bonus technique to try

When you think about your next new challenges, ask yourself the question: “Am I working towards keeping my freedom or am I surrendering it?”  As long as you work towards your next action, you maintain your flexibility and your capacity to learn.  Once you decide to stay stagnant and to let that stagnation go on and on, you become more vulnerable to anxiety and stress.

Keep in mind that relying on Procrastination often puts your freedom and flexibility in jeopardy.  Make avoiding Procrastination a priority.  Learn to treat yourself well, in thought and in action, and the payoffs will keep coming your way.

If you are interested in getting some support in your efforts to adjust your mindset, please consider joining the Procrastination Coach Facebook Group.  You’ll find information, articles, and loads of support from me and the community within the group.  

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5 Areas that Procrastinators Have All Wrong

Waste“What a waste.”

What kind of feelings did you just have reading the phrase “What a waste?”  Did you feel guilty?  Did you feel ashamed?  Did the phrase sound really familiar?

I grew up being pretty conscious of not wasting things, like food and material items. Conserve, conserve, and then conserve some more.  And then reuse, please.

Many years later, I read an article (I regret that I didn’t save it) that somehow linked being afraid of the idea of wasting things and Procrastination.  Essentially, those who are afraid to waste things are more inclined to Procrastinate.  At least that’s how I remembered the content of the article.

And that seems to make total sense to me.  If you are finely attuned to not causing waste, you are generally more inclined to hang on to things.  And you guessed it ladies and gentlemen, Procrastinators tend to hang on to things way too long.

A central part of my own recovery from chronic Procrastination was understanding that when I hung on to things, I was wasting the asset I should have been protecting most carefully — time.

Gradually, I started re-evaluating all of my movements.  Were they in line with my needs? Were they time-efficient?  Over time, I began to feel much more comfortable with USING time well.  I wasn’t saddled with an amorphous feeling of time waste any more.  I was able to develop goals that seemed bigger to me than “Don’t be wasteful.”  I now am happy to say, I use my time pretty well.

Here’s a list of items you might have thought were wastes of your time and energy that are actually essential to healthy living:

  1. Exercise
  2. Taking time out or having down time
  3. Spending time with others
  4. Cleaning and tidying
  5. Being thoughtful about your goals and intentions

The list above contains items that on first thought, might make us feel fearful of taking all of our time up.  But on second thought, each item on the list leads to us feeling lighter. Let’s feel lighter.

There’s always going to be a little bit of a time waste factor.  We’re human, not finely-tuned robots.  And time speeds by really quickly.  Enjoy those bits of waste as you learn to use the time that is yours with all the spirit you have.  You won’t be wasting your time.

News to share:

I invite you to join The Procrastination Coach Facebook Group if you are interested in recovering from your Procrastination and if you interested in being part of a thoughtful, supportive community.  Please go here if you would like to start.

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There’s Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You

Your dissatisfaction can go now.There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.

I’ve been trying mightily to train myself to let things be.  This is harder than getting a Ph.D. in Psychology y’all since I managed that but still struggle with the other.

Many life moments have brought this important life step to my attention.  Facing loss, illness, stress, and unwelcome surprises.  Watching some people let things be so magically and watching others spend every spare second figuring out what to worry and stress out about next.  Wanting to get clearer on my own life’s purpose while also trying to reduce any sense of heaviness or burden in it.

Getting into this as a practice of daily living has been interesting so far.  I have tried to be more mindful of my approach.  Simplicity helps.  Limiting how much I worry helps. Believing everything will be alright helps.

There’s an essential anxiety about living.  Tension in every moment perhaps.  Fill it or let it be?  So many of us choose to fill, fill, fill.  Letting it be seems like a loser easy way out.

But there’s the rub.  We’ve been faked out.  We Procrastinators stop functioning because we get scared or frustrated or too busy or freaked out or bored or befuddled or apathetic. We respond to the moment by listening to our feelings about it rather than to the moment and what it calls for.

So here’s what I’ve been meaning to tell you.  You needn’t worry.  You needn’t struggle to find out the gazillion ways you know this moment doesn’t suit you or isn’t perfect.  Your dissatisfaction can go now.  It might leave slowly, but it can definitely go.  And you can handle what is in front of you.

And here’s something I’ve been telling everyone I can: listen to the James Altucher podcast, episode number 119 with Michael Singer — The Surrender Experiment.  It’s a great discussion of how to work the letting go and accepting mindset.  Enjoy.

What do you have difficulty accepting?  Which feelings prevent you from being okay with what is happening around you?  What can you decide to let go of?  Please share some thoughts with us here.  Best wishes to you today.  

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Celebrating 100 Posts! (Lessons Learned Too)

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Celebrating 100 posts!  YAHOO!

Maintaining this blog has become a great creative outlet for me both personally and professionally.  It’s also been a tremendous learning experience.  Every time I sit down to write, it’s a new adventure.  If you’ve been following my posts for a while, you know that the adventure can be a bit hairy, but I sincerely hope you’ve found the adventure to be fun and informative too.

It doesn’t really get easier to create or to write posts, but the fact that I’ve developed a body of work and a routine of posting regularly is a big plus in favor of my keeping going rather than giving up.

I’ve also learned:

  • I can help people just by writing.
  • I can help myself by jumping in and seeing where things go without having a pre-set plan.
  • I can have low-creativity days, but I can survive them and come back from them.
  • I can fit writing work in even when I don’t think I’ll have the time.
  • I can make something out of what seems like thin air.
  • I can feel accomplished when I try new things, even when I don’t know as much as what other people know about those new things.
  • I can make great friends (e.g. those people who know those things).
  • I don’t have to make masterpieces to relay my message.
  • My message is worth working for.

Here’s another thing I learned in preparing for this 100th post:

We can scare ourselves out of just about anything.

In getting excited about this post, I also got a bit hysterical.  First, I figured I needed a really snazzy image or photo to denote the big deal of reaching 100 posts.  Then, I figured I needed some really smash-down content to denote the super big deal of reaching 100 posts.  And then, I worried I wouldn’t have either and my anxiety near shut me down.

In true blogger style, I decided to trudge on and make something of this mini-struggle of mine.  I decided to set it down as it was – my anxiety about something pretty much insignificant and totally made up by me.  You see, 100 is just a number, and it’s actually just another post.  But as Procrastinators, we know well how there are mundane moments or tasks in our lives that we somehow manage to make into momentous nightmares for ourselves, and make ourselves disabled just by our thoughts.

I hope you understand my message — you can move past your anxiety, especially if it’s crafted just perfectly by you for the occasion at hand.  Congratulate yourself on your creativity and your engagement, and then move on and do the work that needs to get done.  No drama, no excitement, just get ‘er done.

Reaching 100 posts does actually mean something to me.  It’s kind of unthinkable that a Procrastinator like me might carry through to 100.  Having readers like you, who care to change your lives for the better makes my journey worthwhile, and the work worth doing.

Here’s looking forward to the next 100.  I’m nervous already.

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16 Tips for Speeding Up Your Productivity

I have a habitual problem with slowness.  Not with how I walk or talk, but how I get to things.  And how I get to a point of being able to focus on what I am focusing on.  It is a constant, daily exercise for me to work on these struggles, and I have learned a few tricks over the years which have helped me to squeeze in a little more work each time.  Making these extra efforts helps me to keep abreast of my own affairs.

Here’s a quick list of 16 of my sneaky techniques:

  1. Add one or two more points.  Get that much closer to starting the next thing on your list by wrapping up the project you are currently doing with gusto.  Use that energy to push you forward rather than letting yourself come to a cold, hard stop.  Jot down some ideas to help you gear up for the next project on your list.
  2. Drop one or two items.  For example, if you are thinking of buying items off a supply list, see where you might be able to shave off some time by re-purposing what you already own.  Save yourself some moolah in the process.
  3. Shorten what you need to write.  This particularly works well when writing texts and e-mails.  This also often helps to increase the clarity of your message.
  4. Change your style and/or format.  As in Tip #3, this works well with texts and e-mails.  A formal e-mail exchange might end up looking like a list of bullet points by the time you are through.
  5. Batch your items.  Bundle your work rather than spreading it out over time.  For instance, you can tackle all your laundry at once.  Batch your work so you don’t have to waste time stopping and starting it again and repeating the process needlessly.
  6. Make a conscious effort to work quickly.  Remind yourself of all the good stuff you want to get to after your hard work is done.  Refresh your work speed by reading “Do Things Quickly.”
  7. Break things up.  This is the opposite of Tip #5, but sometimes it’s good to switch things up to increase your productivity and speed.
  8. Stop and evaluate what is going on when you find yourself working at a particularly slow pace.  Do you need to get a drink of water?  Do you need to eat? Do you need to find a work buddy?
  9. Jot down a quick list of what needs to be done to keep yourself focused.  Don’t be perfectionistic or obsessional with this list.  Taking two minutes to make a quick list will improve your focus right away.
  10. Put distracting thoughts aside.  Jot them down as they pop up, so you don’t forget them and they don’t distract you.  Try the Emergent Task Planner to help you manage the items from Tips #9 and #10.
  11. Identify what your next (small, doable) action step is.  This tip never fails to get people moving.
  12. Decide what your point is.  Sometimes we hover around “the point” and write too much, talk too much, and think too much.  Figure out what is at the heart of your efforts.  Then head in that direction.
  13. Pretend what you’re doing isn’t so important.  Reducing your stress in this way can do wonders for your work speed.
  14. Talk about your plans with someone else.  I find when coaching clients know I know what they are planning to do, there is a higher chance those items will get done.  Go public with your plans.
  15. Make it a game.  Use a timer.  Challenge your colleague.  Track your speeds on a spreadsheet.  Make a bet with your work group.  See how you might adapt the idea of gaming for productivity in your own life.  De-emphasize the work, and up the fun.
  16. Decide it’s important.  Focus by will and intention.  Hone in.

There.  I’ve just told you everything I know.  Best of luck using these tips and creating some of your own.  Let me know how you do.

What tips do you find helpful for speeding yourself up?

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What to Do When You Don’t Know Everything, or, Tips for Every Day

When I began my graduate school training to be a clinical psychologist, I was worried.  In particular, I was worried because not only was I one of the youngest in my cohort, but because I also had almost no experience in psychology.  I had never done or seen an intake session.  My classmate conducted an intake (in front of all of us classmates) like it was something she had done daily for the past 20 years.  I was freaking out internally, but I remained calm on the outside.  Who exactly could I express my anxiety to anyhow?  My new classmates?  Nope.  Not happening.

I was also worried in a bigger way.  I believed I would never be completely ready to be a psychologist because I could not possibly ever know everything.  And that meant I believed at that very important time in my life that because I was training to be a psychologist, I needed to know everything.  I wondered, “What if a patient asks me to explain every sexually transmitted disease in existence?”  “What if I need to describe how planes take flight?”  You get my message.  The potential for on-going worry was endless.

Fortunately for me, I survived my graduate school training.  Fortunately for you, I’m still pretending I know everything by writing this blogpost, but feeling more calm and collected about what I actually know.  What I know now is this:

  • You don’t have to know everything.  No one does.  No one can.
  • Don’t assume you know everything.
  • People do not assume you know everything.
  • Don’t worry when you inevitably get caught not knowing everything.
  • You can use your lack of knowledge to learn more.
  • Keep your mind as open as you can.  People will appreciate that as your eagerness and capacity to learn.
  • Life will teach you what you need to know.  There is actually no getting around this point.
  • If you are a professional, e.g. a doctor, your patients and clients can help you to know more.  You can help them get over their own worries about not knowing it all, e.g. what to do, how to cope, where to turn.
  • Everyone has some anxiety about how competent they are.  Use this fact as a way to connect with people around you rather than to feel inferior or superior to them.
  • Knowledge isn’t everything.  It isn’t what we really treasure most.  For example, knowledge, for me, does not trump trust, love, and kindness.
  • Knowledge is not the equivalent of competence.  So stop beating yourself up if you feel you don’t know enough.  You are good enough.

Thanks for reading about my journeys in graduate school anxiety.  I hope my reflections and tips help you to enjoy your sense of your potential more.

Do you have any tips for getting around the need to know everything?  If so, please send a reply.

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Making Our Differences More Apparent

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a psychologist and working with patients it’s that we are all of different speeds and intensities.  No two of us are really alike in the ways I’m wanting to talk about here.  Though we may be the same age, look like each other, or be assigned to the same work group, we each have different ways of receiving information, processing our reactions, and generating new ideas.

I’ve noticed we tend to get ourselves into trouble when we start to insist that we fit into others’ ways of behaving or vice versa.  For instance…

  • “I have to get everyone to agree with how I’m seeing this.”
  • “I should have chosen A even though I like B more.”
  • “I need to make this decision because everyone thinks I should go in this direction.”
  • “I’m incompetent because I work so much more slowly than my friends do.”
  • “I’m really not in the mood for this, but I will pretend I am because I feel I’ll let people down if I don’t put on my happy face.”
  • “I can’t move forward with this project because it is not perfect.  I cannot let people know I’m in this state right now.”

As you can see, the self-statements are varied, but they are all similar in that they each keep the self in a less-than-good state.  When we try to bend ourselves in ways that don’t suit us, we cramp our own style.  And we need our own style to make:

  • creative work
  • interesting conversation
  • new ways of interacting
  • effective decisions
  • future plans

Without adding our own style and individual pace and rhythm to what we do, we end up not feeling comfortable with what we make.  And then we add to that mistake by believing we are without talent in the first place.  What a very sad way of looking at your very talented self.

Please take a look at how you might be restricting yourself from being your full self right now.  Look for ways your might relax your own constraints.  Find a new way to experiment and to make interesting mistakes and fumbles.  Try a different technique for asking for someone’s help or attention.  Dare I say it?  Make yourself stand out a bit more, particularly in the ways that only you can do.

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If You Feel Irresponsible

I was sorting through the day’s snail mail, when I had the thought about how very responsible I was being, sorting out the day’s mail.  It was a minor thought, but really the idea of being responsible is a pretty significant one for me.

I grew up feeling I was irresponsible.  It wasn’t just a feeling.  I was convinced I was irresponsible.  Like it was an indisputable fact.

I think the idea of my being irresponsible was not wholly untrue.  Indeed, I was called “flaky” and “space cadet” by humorous and accurate peers growing up.  During the college years and somewhat after that, I had a penchant for cancelling on people at the last minute or because I felt overwhelmed by some matter or another.  Oh, and need I mention that I was late all of the time.  Sometimes so late no explanation could possibly cover the gap of time that needed to be explained.

The funny thing is, I am not irresponsible.  I may actually have a case of real hyper-responsibility that is masked as a mess-of-a-life sometimes.  Perhaps my lack of awareness of how to behave in certain situations and of how to be organized enough to avoid undue problems made me seem uncaring to others and even sometimes to myself.  That emotional confusion which was both internal for me and interpersonal with my family, friends, and colleagues remained as a block to my thinking clearly about decisions, obligations, how to have fun, and how best to be responsible.

Good news is, I am a problem-solver.  And with the good fortune that I also possess, I was able to recover from this emotional confusion as an adult.  In many ways, my life is more mundane now, as I am no longer submerged by drama all of the time, or feelings of crisis.  It’s not that stuff doesn’t happen to me or to people I care about, it’s just that I can see what I need to see now.  I am far less confused.

I’m sharing this to help you to understand your own negative feelings about yourself are just that – feelings.  Very little is totally unchangeable about how you are and how you behave.

The next time you think about labelling someone irresponsible (or the next time you think of yourself as irresponsible), pause and reflect on how complex a field and person you may be commenting on.

What epiphanies have you had today while sorting mail?  Please share or else you’ll have to feel irresponsible.  Kidding.

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