1. Quieten the self-critical voice
it only makes things worse. My number one suggestion is kindness and self compassion. The Survival Brain will perceive the emotions of anger and frustration as a threat and work even harder to keep you away from the task in hand. Recognise that what’s going on is actually a helpful response and is done with the best intentions. It is under your control but it’s NOT YOUR FAULT. As Dr Pychyl says, “without forgiveness, we’re motivated to avoid.”6
2. Go gently
You have to cajole this part of your brain into understanding there is no threat. If you do too much too soon, it is activated again. So keep things small and manageable. Tim Clare uses the phrase “what’s my next action?” to do this. Rather than thinking he’s about to sit down and write a novel, or a chapter or even a paragraph, “what’s my next action?” might just be – sit down at the computer, switch the computer on, open Word document, generate 10 random title ideas, etc. Just nice and gentle forward steps.
3. Just get started6
“What’s my next action?” really helps with that. Tim Clare also uses the question “better, worse, same?” when assessing whether to do something. After doing this, will you feel better, the same or worse? If the answer, based on previous experience, is the same or better, do it!
4. Try the Pomodoro Technique
Along the lines of “what’s my next action?”, I find my own version of the Pomodoro Technique really useful. This is a time management technique which breaks down the working day into 25 minute chunks (“pomodoros”) with a five minute break between. To keep things to a “non-threatening” level, I’ll set a time which doesn’t activate my limbic system and this will alter depending on the task or how I’m doing that day. I might try 15 minutes, or 30 minutes or it might just be 2 minutes. I set my lovely tomato timer and off I go. There’s heaps of apps out there to help with this but I’ve gone for an old school kitchen timer – I love how tactile it is, the ticking spurs me on and it keeps me away from using my phone.
5. Check in regularly
If all’s going well at the end of a “pomodoro”, I can check in with myself to see if I want to take a break, stop the task completely or do another one straight away. Personally, I find the key is not to have any expectations, like “I’ll do 4 x 15 minutes sessions here” as the Survival Brain will put a stop to it. It’s more about making clear agreements each time and checking in regularly.
6. Practice mindfulness
can be a really powerful tool. It has been proven to shrink the size of the amygdala7. Ruby Wax speaks very eloquently about this based on her PhD research in her books and on podcasts – do check them out. Essentially, it seems to calm the limbic system so it isn’t activated quite so easily or as quickly. A daily practice in whatever form works for you can be really helpful.
7. “Pre-empt that which tempts!”
More great advice from Dr Pychyl. In other words, identify your potential stumbling blocks and get rid of them. Get your gym stuff ready, put your phone in another room, disable your email for a certain time period, close the door on that messy room – spot your weaknesses and remove them. Dealing with these things may “only take a minute” but they’re going to stop you doing what you want to do.