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.
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.
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.
- Question your thoughts and fears thoroughly and shine the light of truth on them.
- 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.