It’s not lost on me that there’s something deeply ironic about being late in posting this because I didn’t know where to start. And when I’ve gone and looked at other people’s posts, I feel that, once again, I’ve managed to completely miss the point of the prompt! But as that happens to me a lot – as a crafter, as a blogger, as a person – I’ve decided not to worry too much, because I refuse to believe I’m the only person who hits these kinds of blocks.
Historically, I’ve been really, really good at starting things and really really bad at finishing them. Until recently, I’d have twelve or thirteen yarn projects on the go at once, and let’s not even talk about the sewing ones. After getting rather overwhelmed a while ago, I cut back that number drastically, trying to get some kind of control. That seems to have backfired a little, because I now have three or four projects that need starting, and I can’t quite seem to manage it.
At heart, I think I prefer the planning to the doing, the thinking to the acting. I love research, plotting, drawing up lists and diagrams, scheming and dreaming. But recently, as the plans I’ve been making have been taking me outside my comfort zone – write a pattern, publish it properly, record a podcast – I’ve been pulling back, scared to move from thinking about doing things into actually doing them.
If you suffer from anxiety, you’ll know that it goes beyond a vague “feeling worried” feeling. For me, there are very physical symptoms involved. My chest gets tight, my stomach drops away, my face tingles and in really bad attacks, my vision greys out. For no obvious reason (because anxiety isn’t rational and doesn’t always rise and fall with actual, objective reality), my ‘background’ levels of anxiety have been high lately, and it’s been keeping me from making a start.
I refuse to believe that it’s just me who gets like this, so I thought the pep talk I’ve been giving myself might apply to other people as well. Mine starts with a lot of prayer and a little crying (I’m sure you have your own starting place!), then:
~ Pick three things. If you’re like me, you already know the whole “how do you eat an elephant? In very small pieces” aphorism, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed, that doesn’t help, because the list of small pieces is mammoth (see what I did there?) So pick three things that you can do. Just three. Easy things. Things that don’t involve research or thinking or any extra information to do them. Then cross them off the list and pick three more. You’ve broken your little things list into even littler pieces, and that can make it a lot less manageable. I find that once I get going, it’s then easier to tackle the next thing.
~ For me, this is about ‘activation energy’. Chemical reactions often require a certain amount of energy to be put into them in order to get energy out. On a bad day, the amount of activation energy required to just tidy my desk can be overwhelming, and I don’t have it in me. So I clean my computer keyboard, or rearrange my yarn into colour/weight/yardage order, or clear out my Ravelry queue, or tidy my sewing box. Once I’ve done that, I go through my to do list and cross out what I’ve done, or what is so far beyond its deadline that no one but me remembers it. This is usually enough activation energy to get me to send an email, which in turn gets me to look up something I need and so on and so forth. It’s finding the little job that will spark off all the others.
~ Leave it half-finished. I know, not exactly one from the productivity manuals, but seriously. If you’re doing something and it’s taken all your energy or anxiety control to get to the halfway point, leave it half-finished. The other half will be there when you’re up to it. When I know it’s a bad day, I only start jobs that can be abandoned in the middle. Then I cross them off and re-write them at the bottom of my list, so I know I did something, and I don’t forget to come back to them. I think this is especially important with creative endeavours. If it falls off my list completely, I forget that I’ve started it, but if it keeps popping back up, I remember, add a little, then put it down until it’s ready to be worked on again. We all know about putting projects in ‘time out’ or hibernating them on Ravelry, and I think there’s a lot to be said for tackling something rather than putting it off completely because we don’t have the time or energy to do it all in one go.
Those are all sensible, practical ideas for getting started when you can’t, but above all lately, I’ve been coming back to this:
Being scared is not a good reason not to do things.
There are good reasons not to do things, and some fears are well-founded. If the cliff is high and the rope is frayed, fear is the right response, as is not starting to climb! Not having enough oomph in you to get past the fear right now is a good reason. The cliff will still be there when you’re ready. But if you’re standing at the bottom of the cliff, with the right equipment, enough energy, and you want to climb? Being scared is not a good reason not to do it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean my computer keyboard.