How to Take Control with Confidence

Do you ever feel like your mind has a mind of it's own?

Does it seem like it plays tricks on you, behaving against your higher judgement or desires?

I've been suffering from a tricky mind for the last few weeks, but I finally turned the trick around on my wily mind and took control. Here's what happened.

For the last month, I've had a pile of yucky paperwork that has needed doing. I despise paperwork, especially related to taxes and accounting. I would almost rather jump in a pond of icy water than trudge through paperwork, so naturally I've been avoiding it.

The only problem with avoiding it is that avoiding causes suffering. Every time I see that stack of untended paperwork, or I think about it, or I see a commercial about taxes, or someone else mentions their taxes, I get a sinking, really bad feeling.

It's a combination of “I'm a loser, I'm going to jail, I feel overwhelmed, why do I have to suffer this torment?” kind of feeling. This kind of thinking does a number on one's confidence.

This combo platter of bad feeling has gotten worse the longer I've put off this work. And darn it, I'm a coach. I know better. I teach other people about this stuff. But here I am, caught in the avoidance/procrastination trap myself.

And the funny thing is, the paperwork itself isn't causing my suffering. The paperwork isn't hurting me — it's just sitting there in a calm little stack. Nor have there been any painful repercussions from my avoidance and procrastination (yet!).

But my thoughts about the paperwork have caused me tremendous angst. My thoughts about it make me sick to my stomach and ill-at-ease. My mind is playing a dirty trick on me.

Here are what my thoughts have been saying:

  • This paperwork will be really hard.
  • This paperwork will be really boring.
  • All of your other work is far more important that this paperwork.
  • You will probably encounter something in the paperwork that you can't do.
  • Paperwork is really for someone else to handle because I'm a life coach and a writer, not an accountant.
  • It will be fine if I put this off until something happens to force me to do it.
  • Maybe the paperwork will take care of itself.

But . . . here's what else my tricky and contradictory mind is saying:

  • If I don't do this paperwork, people will know I'm disorganized and lazy.
  • If I don't do this paperwork, I could lose a lot of money.
  • If I don't do this paperwork, I might get in big trouble.
  • If I don't do this paperwork, other people will be mad at me.

There is a strange bedlam of convoluted messages my tricky mind is throwing out. It's like the evil relative who enjoys stirring the pot and creating havoc in the household. So my response is to run away, hide my head in the sand, just avoid thinking about it. I don't want to do it, but I don't want the consequences of not doing it. La la la la la. Fingers in ears.

But hiding works for about a minute. Because the paperwork still sits there. And the thoughts still float through my mind. And the bad feelings still create suffering.

So today, I had just about enough of my tricky mind and my suffering.

I know my mind is devilish and capricious. I know it likes to take me down dead-end streets and dark alleyways. I know it likes to make up stories to trick me into believing that things are really, really bad and hard and scary.

So today, I decided to shine the light of truth on my tricky mind and conflicting thoughts.

Here's what I did.

Thing 1

I called my practical friend, Jeanne, who has a way of kindly cutting to the chase and getting my butt in gear. I told her I need a coach. I told her I needed accountability. I told her about my tricky mind and battling thoughts. I told her I was tired of suffering with their antics. I read my list of paperwork to her, and we agreed on two items that I'd finish by Friday. She promised to beat me about the head with a codfish if I didn't do them. I set up accountability.

Thing 2

I challenged my thinking. I looked at each thought and really inquired into the truth of it. I didn't trust my thoughts to be true. I'll show you . . .

“This paperwork will be really hard” and “You will probably encounter something in the paperwork that you can't do.”

Do I really know that for sure? No. Have I even tried working on it to find out? No. Have I ever done paperwork like this before? Yes. Could I do it? Yes. Do I know ways to get help if I need it? Yes. So I have no proof for these thoughts. They are probably totally untrue

“This paperwork will be really boring.”

Is this absolutely true? Maybe. Were you bored previously doing this paperwork? Yes, but it was short-lived. Can I survive this boredom? Yes. Have I have survived tasks that were more boring? Yes. So it may be true, but it doesn't prevent me from doing it. Boredom doesn't hurt me.

“All of your other work is far more important that this paperwork.”

Do I know this is absolutely true? No. Is there any work that is more important than this paperwork? Maybe for the short term, but this paperwork is probably the most important work I have to accomplish. Would it undermine my other work to stop and do this paperwork? Not significantly. So this thought really isn't true.

“Paperwork is really for someone else to handle because I'm a life coach and a writer, not an accountant.”

Is this thought absolutely? No, I just wish it were. Do other non-accountants have to handle paperwork? Yes, everyone does. Am I an exception? No. So this thought might feel true in my wishful mind, but it's not really true. Paperwork is part of life.

“It will be fine if I put this off until something happens to force me to do it” and “Maybe the paperwork will take care of itself.”

Do I know absolutely that these statements are true? No, it could cause more problems if I wait until someone screams for it or I miss a deadline. Would I suffer more or less if you put it off? I know I'd suffer more. So these statements are not true.

“If I don't do this paperwork, people will know I'm disorganized and lazy.”

Do I know this is absolutely true? There is probably some truth to it, and I will feel disorganized and lazy, I will suffer more from avoiding it. So there's not absolute truth in this statement, but there is some.

“If I don't do this paperwork, I could lose a lot of money” and “If I don't do this paperwork, I might get in big trouble.”

Do I know for sure this is true? It is probably unlikely, unless I avoid it forever. This is just the old fear of “being bad” that is cropping up. So these are not true. In fact the opposite could be true — if I do this paperwork, I could gain a lot of money.

“If I don't do this paperwork, other people will be mad at me.

Do I know for sure this is true? No. Have people been mad at me before for not doing this paperwork? Well, maybe a little irritated for having to ask more that once. Do I mind them feeling irritated? Yes, it's not how I want to behave. So there is some truth in this statement, because if I don't do this paperwork, I will be mad at me.

So you can see that all of my initial assumptions about the paperwork were either totally untrue or in one case only mildly true. And my fears about the consequences of not doing it were mostly unfounded.

So what did I take away from this exercise?

  • I discovered that my random thoughts have very little to do with reality, and that my fears have very little basis in reality.
  • I learned that my tricky mind can lead me down a primrose path toward avoidance and therefore toward suffering, and I will inexplicably go down the path that my thoughts lead me, even when I know better.
  • I learned that if I don't examine and question my thoughts, I'll continue down that path, only to get further lost and confused. The situation is usually far easier, far less complicated, and far less scary than my mind makes it out to be.
  • And I learned that a system of accountability and breaking up tasks into small parts (in addition to questioning my thoughts) makes it easier to get off of the path of suffering and get the job done.

Why do we avoid and procrastinate if it causes mental suffering? Who knows? I don't think it matters really. What matters is that we recognize how our minds work and that we have the tools in our personal development toolboxes to confidently take control of our tricky minds.

  • Break down the task or problem into small, manageable parts.
  • Create a system of accountability to light a fire under you.

Do these things to be more confident and take action toward anything you want to do.

If you are struggling with issues of a tricky mind or low self-confidence, I invite you to check out Simple Self-Confidence: A Course for Personal Empowerment.

 

Comments

  1. That’s really interesting and new.

    I’ve seen the technique of watching and refuting thoughts before, of course. I’m currently in the process of trying to watch my thoughts and see why my moods turn sour the way they sometimes do. (Still doing a lot of after-the-fact dissection and very little catching-in-the-act. But I’m learning.)

    But I’ve never noticed it applied to the things your mind tells you when it is trying to bludgeon you into action. I’d have written down the first set, but I don’t think the second set (“what else my tricky and contradictory mind is saying”) would have occurred to me as existing, much less needing refuting/examining, at all.

    Right now my reaction is just, “Huh.” And also, duh. How obvious, but I never saw it. I’m gonna be chewing on this and looking for it and letting it percolate for a while.

    Very very helpful. Thanks!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi R.M.,
      I think it’s good to examine and inquire into the truth of all of our thoughts. Some are so clearly untrue, and others are partially true or twisted with our perceptions. When we are really, really honest with ourselves, we see that there are many possible truths. When we aren’t attached to our thoughts, we have so much more freedom. You might want to read the book Loving What Is by Bryon Katie to explore this further.

  2. Hi Barrie ­čÖé

    First, thank you for being so transparent! It makes me feel better that a pro coach still has her struggles…So I really appreciate you sharing that with us.

    I love the idea of challenging your thoughts; I was first introduced to it when I partnered with a coach a couple of months ago, and it was such an eye-opening exercise. You did an awesome job illustrating it, and this was a nice reminder to get back into the habit. Speaking of which, I have a blog post waiting to be written, which I’m toootally resisting…No better time than now to put this to good use! Wish me luck ­čśë

    • BTW, I hope you don’t mind, but I linked to this post in my own for today. I wanted to share with my readers, and it fit in so well with what I was writing about.

      • Barrie Davenport says:

        Hi Kaylee,
        Thank you for your kind comments. I’m so glad you liked the post. Even coaches need coaching! And sometimes it helps others to see how you walk through a solution to a problem. I’m thrilled you want to share the post with your readers. Thank you! ­čÖé

  3. Hi Barrie. I was (internally)” shouting “yes” to some of those thoughts! I struggle with paperwork too, and I love to kid myself with the “I’m a writer/proofreader/translator” discourse, rather than do nasty stuff like taxes and invoicing. Yes, I even had issues with invoicing, the one thing that gets me money in the bank, until recently. I have a great coach-friend that helped me sort that one out. I think my next post will be something along the lines of “Why everyone needs a coach.” And your post has helped me to see that this even applies to coaches themselves!!
    Thanks for yet another wonderful post.
    Louisa

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Louisa,
      I think all of us introspective, creative types hate paperwork. It feels like a distraction from our “real” work. Steve Chandler is a writer/coach who has really helped me reframe how I think about these tedious tasks, trying to see the “truth” in them in spite of my otherwise negative perceptions. Yes, invoicing brings money. That is true and can make invoicing fun if you put your focus on the money that will come in! Great comment — thank you Louisa. ­čÖé

  4. Barrie, the “Thing 1” you did is a step I always find the most helpful in yanking me out of the filthy morass of self-talk that is so defeating! Also, the idea of just putting one foot (one pencil/pen mark) in front of the other is really helpful in getting me out of these self-argument swamps! I make “deals” with myself, such as :”When you have finished the first half-page of this yucky paperwork, you can get a drink of water” and “Fly through and complete all the really easy stuff first”. By this time, I am thinking much more along the rational lines you write about in this post. Bless you for your ongoing leadership with us geeks out here!

    • Hi Rose,
      I really like those “deals.” It’s the idea of giving yourself a reward for taking a small action. Another reward that comes from taking those actions is a little extra self-confidence and mental control! Good for you. ­čÖé

  5. Hi Barrie,

    Our mind is a great servant but a bad master. It can indeed cause us problems in the long run if we do not take control of it. As you know, it is better to deal with a problem early instead of giving it time to grow. By addressing an issue as early as possible, we can nip it in the bud while it is still small. But the trouble is sometimes we face situations that seem really large or distasteful. As a result, we tend to procrastinate.

    That said, I love what you shared about how our minds can play tricks on us. By exposing our negative thoughts and seeing them for what they really are, we can overcome them. Negative thoughts may thrive in the dark recesses of our mind, but they cannot face up to the light of day.

    As you rightly point out, we need to break down a problem into small, manageable parts so that they do not daunt or overwhelm us. From there, it is a matter of focusing on the solution and doing what we need to do. If we can motivate ourselves to do mundane tasks by linking it to a greater purpose, all the better.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • Hi Irving,
      You said two really profound and well-stated things: “Our mind is a great servant and a bad master” and “Negative thoughts may thrive in the dark recesses of our mind, but they cannot face up to the light of day.” I love both of those because of the imagery. Our “super ego” or “higher mind” must be the master who holds the light to shine in the dark recesses.

  6. Doctor Cris says:

    I believe we all, at one time or another, suffer from procrastination when we do no look forward to the action we have to take or something we have to do. I even procrastinate on things I love to do, like exercise—knowing that I feel so much better afterwards and it is so good for my body.
    I love the idea of challenging your thoughts—because I found that most of the time, I am projecting my fears into things and people that are not really there—just as you have discovered. Thank you for this delightful article and keeping us on the right track for wonderful living.

  7. Yes the mind is a great tool for daily practical purposes but most of us mistake the mind’s thoughts for who we are including myself. I have lived in the mind (ego) state most of my life avoiding any relationship with a girl once it got to a vulnerable point. I’m 36 years old and it is sad that I have let my mind control me as to what I supposedly need and want in life. It does this by using fear of what can happen in the future and what has happened in the past. My mind would manipulate me that I was losing myself and to fear the future as if I was stuck and it was dreadful. As a result, I had tremendous fear of commitment. I battle these thoughts from my mind still to this day. Presently, I’m dating the girl of my dreams. We have been dating for close to a year which is about that point where my mind starts throwing out distorted thoughts telling me that is wrong and what can go wrong in the future with us. Truly, it is the best relationship I have ever had and I believe that is the point. I love your suggestions in this article..do you have any other insight? I would love to hear more Thanks!