How do I follow through with things that I think about all the time?
October 29, 2010 7:56 PM   Subscribe

How do I follow through with things that I think about all the time?

I have a very bad tendency to think a lot about a lot of things. Things I want to do or things I want to change. I complain often about not liking what is taking place in my life and come up with ideas of how I am going to handle them but then never follow through. I either a put things off or more honestly I think of reasons why I wasn't thinking right before. I know this all sounds a little confusing, I am battling with myself just to post this question at all. let me give you a little history. I am 30 a single mom of two children. I have been through a lot of abuse from parents too relationships that I have had. I still have A LOT going on in my life....(which I think contributes to why I don't do things more then I want to except, but I don't want that to be an excuse either) I ponder things from how to eat healthier to what I am going to do for the day to not continuing to have relationships that seem to be not good for me. I am not a procrastinator, at least I don't think I am. I tend to make decision easily and I do get A LOT done in a day. However, when it comes to me I don't feel good about myself and I want companionship that is healthy and not feel worthless and used. I sit at night and ponder over actions that I could take on how to make that happen and then for what ever reason (which is why I am posting this) I can't seem to find the drive to follow through with my thoughts or reasons. I question myself more then I would like. I want to improve as a person. I think that this is what life is about change and learning from mistakes. Please offer any insight on what are some REAL things that I could do to help find motivation, will power or what ever it is that I am lacking....thank you
posted by 4Spokenwords to Human Relations (10 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds simple and maybe really obvious, but are you a listing type? I really don't get anything done unless I write it down on paper with pen, and I get immense satisfaction out of crossing things off. I carry a little notebook around and everything goes in it, from mundane household tasks to notes from meetings for business or school to grocery lists.

The act of writing something down, for me, helps it become a thing that must be completed. Maybe immediately, maybe eventually (there are "to-dos" in my notebook that are intended for "when the kids are grown up", and those kids are still in elementary school, but having written them down gives them power).

I definitely write down things that are intangible, like "spend time laughing about something", as well as things I'd simply enjoy trying some day ("learn to take better pictures"). The notebook is incomprehensible to anyone but me, I'm sure, but I flip through it often to see what's left to be done as well as what I've already accomplished, and filled notebooks get tucked away in case I need them for validation later. I can see the progress that way. The un-crossed items aren't judgments, they're just things that will either come later, or no longer be found necessary to do.

Things that everyone in my household needs to know about make their way to a calendar, but my notebook is my best-case-scenario life, and it's the starting point for every day for me.
posted by padraigin at 8:43 PM on October 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Try Kaizen; the philosophy of tackling big challenges one small step at a time. This is just a general example that popped into my head, but the basic ideas can apply to any challenge: Let's say you want to clean up a messy room, but doing it all at once seems too daunting. Rather than doing nothing at all, commit yourself to the simple action of removing one single item from the room each day. If you're comfortable removing more than that, then feel free to, but just know that you only have to remove one item each day.

The obligation is so tiny that it can actually become enjoyable, rather than scary like having to clean it all at once might seem. And as you get comfortable with removing one item each day, after a week or two you could decide to remove two items each day, etc. Gradually build up to a level of achievement you're comfortable with. You'll start off slow, but that's better than not starting at all because the task just seems too big.
posted by Ryogen at 8:43 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

First of all, I think you need to calm down and stop blaming yourself so much. I don't have any kids, but the last time I even sat two kids, I was exhausted the whole time. And this was with my wife running interference.
I don't know if lists work for you or not, but they tend to paralyze me; big long lists of things that I have failed to do.
Instead of picking a task you'd like to accomplish, maybe you can imagine how you'd like your life to be different. Think baby steps. Then start working toward those goals, always remembering to give yourself room to catch your breath. Yes, this is a slower way to approach it, but it's also more likely to become an ingrained habit, rather than one you can barely keep up with and which you quickly drop when you start to feel bad or get stressed.
posted by Gilbert at 9:28 PM on October 29, 2010

I wonder if the problem is not a lack of motivation or will power but rather one part of you that wants to change and another a part of you that is actively resisting. For many children who grow up in an abusive home, they learn that their needs and feelings don't count, that they aren't worth taking good care of. That belief (which is often very deep and hard to shake since it was hammered in when she was a vulnerable child) can make it very hard for the children to take good care of themselves when they become adults.

This does not mean that you are permanently scarred - as an adult you have the capacity to heal yourself that you didn't have as a child.

One option, now that you are aware of this, is work on building up your sense of your own value - that you deserve to be treated right - by yourself and others. Focus on all of the things that you do right - it sounds like you are doing a lot of things right (if not perfectly, at least well enough) You may even know this logically. However, once you believe this emotionally, it will be easier for you to take advantage of all the good advice here. This is work you can do yourself or you might find it helpful to have a therapist to guide through it.

Another option to take things backwards. Make a list of the things that you already do well as person. Do more of them. Build on your strengths and don't worry too much about the other kinds of improvements

A third option - make a short llst (maybe 6 things) that you would like to do differently. Take the first one, find some very, very small steps that move you in that direction. Do it for just a week, then move on to the next item. Continue doing the things from week 1 that seem natural but don't work at it and don't worry if you seem to go back to your starting point - you will come back to it in six weeks.

Finally, be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. You don't need to be perfect to be a good person. You already are a good person. Nothing wrong with wanting to be better but don't beat yourself up - You are on a journey and you have done well to get where you are today.
posted by metahawk at 9:36 PM on October 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'd second metahawk. This may be caused by low self-esteem since the things you can't bring yourself to do are things that would improve your life or yourself. If you don't feel worthwhile, on some level, then you may be rebelling against helping yourself.
posted by bendy at 9:45 PM on October 29, 2010

Nthing metahawk. I came here to suggest starting small, with one thing that you can do. I, too, tend to think of ways to change *all* the things in my life and then get paralyzed and don't change anything. When I look at any of the things I've been able to change I can trace it back to taking small simple steps.

For instance, I recently realized I'd slipped back into poor eating habits. So I decided to start by cutting out drive-thru fast food. I didn't always pack a lunch, so I still picked up a deli sandwich occasionally, but I got a little more motivated to pack my own lunches. Within a few weeks I found myself going to the store every Saturday morning to buy groceries for the week. Now it feels good to know that I'm saving money and my clothes are fitting better. A couple people have commented that it looks like I'm losing weight, which has helped keep me on track, and motivate me to keep making improvements in this area. A few years ago I had a similar experience with exercise. After a few years of inactivity, I tried to get out for a 30 minute run each day (I did the Couch to 5K program as I couldn't run for 30 minutes straight. About 8 months later I ran a half-marathon.

I find it easier to take a small step in the right direction, and often the positive things that come out of that change lead to more changes for the better.

Also, what Gilbert said about not beating yourself up. You've got a lot on your plate and the more you focus on the good things you do, the more positive reinforcement will help. Good Luck!!
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 11:11 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yup, start small. Teeny, tiny steps, spaced out so they aren't overwhelming! I find if I start planning some intricate scheme on how to accomplish something, and here's where I foil myself--DEMAND THAT I SHOULD DO IT ASAP--I usually lose steam after completing maybe the first 2 or 3 steps.

Break down something you want to do in the tiniest steps possible, and give yourself a set time to do them. But give yourself enough time so it isn't stressful and annoying to do, but somewhat pleasurable.

For example, eating healthier. I would probably go about it like this: say to myself, once a week, I will try to make and eat a healthy meal. I give myself an hour or so on Friday to find a good recipe on the internet. On Saturday I go shopping and add these ingredients to my shopping list. On Sunday, I cook it. In contrast, if I said, "I will start eating healthy every day from now on for the rest of this month", I think I would find it too stressful and too much work to continue for longer than a couple of days.

Over a period of weeks and months, you may find that you now know how to cook a couple of healthy (and hopefully delicious) recipes, and you'll find yourself incorporating them into your life, without much thought at all.

This book is often recommended on mefi as quite helpful. The book, among other things, is designed to help you revise your "self-talk", modifying your negative expectations about yourself to more realistic or positive ones. A lot of the pain in our life comes from the way we think about things, and not the actual things themselves. Even the bad relationships and bad times in our life teach us something--they show us what we don't want to do to others, they give us the ability to sympathize with others who are suffering in the same way, and they show us to appreciate the good people and good times we do have. But if we only focus on the bad part, "I was so stupid to believe him," etc., it is hard to grow as a person, and you will spend a lot of time and energy feeling bad about yourself. Time and energy you can be spending making life better for yourself.

Anyways, best wishes to you. Here's to a great life!
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:04 AM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just do some little thing.

That sounds glib. But what I mean is: for some people making lists becomes a substitute for doing.
The same goes for asking a question on mefi instead of doing.
Thinking of all the steps that need to be done instead of doing one thing first.
Thinking of how to do it right instead of just doing it with the chance of making a mistake and learning for the next time.
posted by joost de vries at 6:50 AM on October 30, 2010

I was told recently that when we're ruminating like that--thinking in circles--the part of our brain that is most active is the emotional center (the amygdala, I think). Our frontal lobe--the place where the grown-up part of us resides, basically--is not very active when we're thinking in circles like that about all the stuff we should do, or all the stuff that's wrong with us, or whatever.

The frontal lobe gets active when your thinking gets a little more linear. Like, when you make a plan to do something. When you make a list. When you visualize the next step you're going to take.

Now, I don't have anything to cite, here. I was told this by a mental health professional, but even so, take it with a grain of salt, because my interpretation of what I was told is probably fuzzy at best.

But isn't that a useful thing to believe? That the rumination, the crazy-making thinking about all the crap you need to do, is not accomplishing anything, and is somehow an expression of your emotions? I don't know about you, but when I get to thinking like that, a part of me feels like I'm accomplishing something, like I'm working up to some big change with all the thinking. And that's completely not true--what I'm doing, when I'm thinking like that, is sitting there in a stew of negative emotions. It's pointless.

I don't have any recommendations for how to find "motivation," today. I just wanted to share something that might give you perspective on the obsessive thinking you describe. For me, the answer in a situation like this is: Do one thing at a time, and shit or get off the pot. By which I mean, no sitting around thinking about all the shit I should be doing. Either I do it (or take some action that will make it easier), or I chill out and read a book or whatever. But that's me, and I am certainly not always good at this, so.
posted by hought20 at 8:49 AM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also have a tendency to compulsively think about ways that my life could be better, sometimes without taking action. Once I spoke to a therapist about this. She said, "What are the pros and cons of doing that?"

I immediately listed out many cons: wasted time, feeling negative, the thinking is unproductive.

She said, "But if it were all cons and no pros, you wouldn't do it. You're a sensible person. What benefit are you getting from it?"

I was stumped for two days. Finally I realized a big pro. In my case, when I'm faced with a difficult decision between a rock and a hard place, I instead "escape" by imagining a hypothetical third scenario that would've avoided both bad choices. Once I realized this, I was able to deal with it more effectively, by accepting that whatever I chose would be bad, but the lesser of two evils.

Your own reason will be different, but I encourage you to consider: what are the pros of your habit of thinking of self-improvement without acting on it?
posted by cheesecake at 12:42 PM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Big Ideas Social Club?   |   How can I become MORE trackable by GPS? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.