When my thoughts get in the way
Ever find yourself stuck in analysis paralysis?
You want to start a project, a task, an assignment and have all the great ideas…but when it comes time to start, you have NO IDEA what to do or say. All of a sudden the stack of dishes, the pile of laundry, the hundreds of unread emails all seem super important and you think “I’ll start the project as soon as I get this other really important thing done first”.
Procrastination and perfectionism often go hand in hand and they are both bred from various distorted thoughts or cognitive distortions.
If you’ve ever found yourself thinking in terms of all or nothing, black or white, or two extremes and caught yourself saying “I’m NEVER going to get this right” or “I ALWAYS need to be perfect in order to succeed”, you’ve experienced the cognitive distortion of All-or-Nothing Thinking.
When we get caught up in this distortion, our thoughts play really mean tricks on us and we have a hard time seeing the in-between or the gray. There is risk of uncertainty involved in seeing and living in the gray and learning how to manage the uncomfortableness we experience in the gray can help us open our line of vision.
For example, I have wanted to start this blog for months and every time I sit at the computer and stare at the blinking cursor I feel like it is taunting me and whispering all the self-doubt thoughts that sound like ‘you’ll never get this right’, ‘So-and-So’s blog is always so put together’ and the go-to ‘why bother if you can’t guarantee it’s perfect’.
These thoughts are beyond frustrating and even though I study cognitive distortions and teach my clients how to challenge them, they still pop up and can create self-doubt if left unchecked.
As much as these thoughts frustrate me and keep me feeling stuck, they serve an even greater purpose by helping me feel ‘safe’.
Let’s take a look.
If I tell myself I’ll never get this right, someone else is always better than me, and if I can’t be perfect then don’t bother, then I have an ‘easy out’ and don’t even have to try. And if I don’t try, then I get to be in control of ‘failing, not being good enough, or not being perfect’ and I already know what the outcome will be. When I have this distorted sense of knowing what would happen, I have a distorted sense of feeling safe. So, I can tell myself it’s ‘okay’ I didn’t do something because it wouldn’t have been good enough anyway.
The scary part of challenging All-or-Nothing Thinking is sitting in the gray or the unknown of what might happen. So, what if I never get this right? And, what if someone else has a better blog than me? Or, what will happen if this isn’t perfect?
When drilled down, the answers to all of these questions is that I will still be OKAY. I will still be me and love what I do as a therapist. My family and friends will still support me and I will continue to practice sharing the messages that I wholeheartedly enjoy sharing in my work.
As a therapist, I read a lot of therapist-y books and I’m currently re-reading one of my favorites The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. If you aren’t familiar with her work, I highly recommend all of her things. She breaks down some tough topics like shame, fear and vulnerability and makes them a bit easier to digest.
Over the past few days, as I was reading her explore vulnerability and explain how we need to show up as our authentic selves, it helped me see what was really going on and how my thoughts were getting in the way.
Being authentic is hard and the potential for rejection can be fierce. We all want to have a sense of belonging and when we are faced with a task, an assignment, or a project that puts us out there and allows even a little bit of our vulnerability to shine through, the unknown creates a fear that can be paralyzing.
Writing is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and recently I have noticed less power in the black or white side of the thinking and more strength in what is showing up in the gray. I know that I will be okay when all is said and done and if I feel beat down or not good enough I know the people I can turn to for support. Thoughts are just thoughts and with the right tools and support we can learn to challenge them so we can show up as our true authentic selves and live our best lives.
If you are having a hard time getting unstuck, I encourage you to take a breath, stand up and stretch or take a quick walk around the block. These will help you get back into your body and out of your head where all those scary distorted thoughts live. When we can slow down our thoughts we have a much better chance at challenging them and seeing what is in the gray. It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay that this is a struggle. You can do things differently and you will very likely still be okay. So when your thoughts get in the way, take a step back and look for the gray. When it feels hard and scary, be brave and show up as the authentic you.