My life is a mess, and I feel paralyzed to fix it. Suggestions?
June 12, 2013 10:05 AM   Subscribe

My life is a mess right now, and I can't seem to start taking the steps I need to take to dig myself out of the hole I'm in. Any suggestions?

Most of my problems are financial, and most were not my creation (inherited them recently). I know that the only way out is through, and that I should tackle each problem in small steps (selling the house, getting a better job, getting back in school, etc). Each night I make my list of tasks for the following day. I keep them small and manageable. I know that I can't remedy my situation in a day.

When I go to sleep I feel confident that the next morning I'll get started solving my problems. I go to sleep knowing that its going to be tough, but I can do it. One step at a time. I actually feel excited to get started.

I wake up the next morning and I feel as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders. I'm paralyzed. I feel completely overwhelmed, and my problems feel unmanageable. I get very little, if anything, done. Before bed, I once again make plans for the next day. And the cycle begins again.

I tell myself that I'm being ridiculous. Many others have it worse. I'm not dying, I have family that would do anything they could to help me. I have a loving girlfriend. I am not alone.

I practice GTD, and it does help to break down each project into manageable parts, but I still struggle to attack what I know I need to be doing.

I've always been a procrastinator, but never to this level. The worst part is I know that each day I don't get started on solving my problems, the deeper they will get, and the difficulty of digging out will becomes larger.

I don't know if I need a mantra to repeat to myself every morning, or a way of looking at my life. Or a book I need to read, or a poem for inspiration (therapy right now isn't possible). If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears. It's almost embarrassing for me to admit I've turned into such a failure, even anonymously. I don't need to solve my problems to be happy, I just have to be trying. And not being able to even attempt to try gets more depressing every day.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
First, you're not a failure. You're scared and paralyzed. I have paralysis and dread in the mornings that can prevent me from accomplishing my best-laid plans. Here is what my therapist recently had me start doing:

1) Wake up and get coffee (or something you find rewarding) before getting dressed or doing anything else

2) While drinking coffee (or listening to music...or eating toast...or whatever), sit down and do one 25 minute segment (using a timer...also known as the Pomodoro method) doing one task that you have been putting off

3) Get showered, dressed, have breakfast, etc.

4) Spend two more 25 min segments continuing to work on the relevant task

5) Take a break (30 minutes or an hour) to reward yourself with a pleasant experience - going outdoors for a while, looking at the flowers in the garden center, watching a favourite TV show, reading a fun book - whatever it is, it has to be pleasurable.

My schedule then means I have lunch and then work (doing different work) for the rest of the day.

Starting work on something I'm dreading first thing, while making it as enjoyable as possible, relieves the feeling of dread for the rest of the day. Maybe it will help you too.
posted by Ouisch at 10:12 AM on June 12, 2013 [18 favorites]

When you make your list at night and you're feeling confident -- do at least one of the ministeps instead of waiting until morning.

Need to call a creditor? Write down the phone number and a confident script. In the morning, be a robot and just go through the motions - dial the number and read the script. (Pretend you are your own secretary and assigned yourself this quick, impersonal task.)

Take yourself as far as you can go at night.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:20 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I will second Pomodoro, it is a great way to get yourself into the mode of working, and after each 25 minute segment you can congratulate yourself on the fact that it's 25 more minutes than you were getting done before.

I would also consider making your lists shorter, even if they are short already. I know, it seems like cutting back will land you even further in the hole, but if you aren't getting _any_ of your 5 things done in a day, wouldn't it be better to just try, and successfully finish 2?
posted by sparklemotion at 10:25 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Where is your reward for all this?

I don't mean anything fancy, I mean watching a YouTube video when you complete a task.

There's The Artist's Way, that's a good one.

On a more mundane level, try Unfuck Your Habitat.

I also have had great success using lately. I cut it down to *one* good habit at a time, and I've already broken one lifelong bad habit and I'm well on the way to mastering the next. It has a desktop version if you aren't using a smartphone right now.

Also, is it possible that you're still doing too much in one day? I know you want to solve all these problems now, and ideally we'd all do that, but is it feasible for you to just do less? Focus on the one thing that really will be genuinely catastrophic if not tackled immediately, and then when that's under control, do the less catastrophic thing? I know it sounds counterintuitive but, if at all possible, it will get you to your end goal faster than doing everything at once. (Yes, I broke a *lifelong* bad habit but actually broke two lifelong bad habits, the second of which was trying to do it all at once.)

Good luck, mate. I really feel for you.

p.s. I always feel uncomfortable about anything that looks like proselytizing, but on the assumption that you're an adult who can take what you need and leave the rest, may I suggest some Bible study right around now? I read Job a lot when I was undergoing a hella long period of unemployment. It resonated.

p.p.s I've also particularly enjoyed Dexter at times like these. I must caution you, however, that Dexter works better as escapism than as a template for self-help activities. You don't want to add to your problems here.
posted by tel3path at 10:32 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm big on lists and I always start with the task I'm dreading most . By doing the big icky one first thing, the rest don't seem nearly as daunting. And yes, little rewards are very helpful.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:33 AM on June 12, 2013

Hello, me. I had some health issues, and other stuff happened, and a long, wretched depression set in, and it was hard to function on a lot of days. Things that might help:
- You don't need to beat yourself up.
- If friends / family want to help, ask them to drop by and go for a walk with you as early in the day as possible. Once you're up and moving, it's easier to stay up and moving. If you can get 3 people to do that once a week, that's 3 days you're more likely to accomplish tasks.
- If you have a friend with a dog, make a commitment to take the dog for a walk a couple times a week, again to get moving.
- Inheritance means somebody died; is loss and grief slowing you down?
- Lower your goals and narrow your focus for a while. You sound so overwhelmed. Look at what you are accomplishing, give yourself credit, and focus hard on just 1 task. Yes, the list is crazy long, but the only thing you have to do today is call the company about the thing. It might take 15 minutes, or 2 hours, but that's the only task you're thinking about. When it's done, even if it generated 3 other tasks, you get to put a star on the calendar, plus some nice thing. And, you get to praise yourself and feel good. If you feel really good, do another task. But you don't have to. Eventually, the feeling good gets bigger.
- Ask for help.
- Don't be perfectionist. It has to get accomplished, but it may not get accomplished perfectly. House full of stuff? Look on Craigslist for somebody who'll come in, give you cash for the good stuff and haul off the junk.
- Make sure you're good to yourself. Get good nutrition, extra sleep, and schedule some fun, even though you feel swamped with work.
posted by theora55 at 11:01 AM on June 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

I second vitabellosi! Do it at night when you are in the mood and all optimistic. You'd be surprised how much you can get done after dark.
So you say this are your tasks: selling the house, getting a better job, getting back in school.

Write emails! Ask people to call you back the next day between, say 10am an 5pm.

Write emails to realtors in your area, include a description of the house, possibly pictures and ask them to call you back to set up an appointment.

Scan the job boards and apply online right away - don't wait until the next day. Do it that night.

Do some research on the studies/program and schools you are interested in and as soon as you have identified an interesting program drop them an email right away asking for an appointment at the admissions office and for an application package. Prepare your documentation you will most likely need to provide in advance (copies of your diplomas and transcripts from high school/ college or uni + copies of other certifications or licenses + your cv showing your work experience in your profession etc.).

Do it all at night when you feel confident about solving those problems.

Right then you don't have to face anyone or speak to anyone. It's just a bit of filling in online forms, writing emails and that's it.

The next day you wake up and a)the list is way shorter but also b)people are contacting you. You have only to react, not act in that moment. No feeling of dread about getting started.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:02 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have one major tip, which I got from seeing a gifted psychiatrist when I was depressed.

You know that voice in your head that tells you every AM you are a failure and can't handle your challenges? Tell it to shut up. Do that every time you hear it criticizing you.

You aren't a failure, you just have a lot on your plate. So you don't have to listen to an internal voice that is tripping you up.
posted by bearwife at 11:02 AM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

I like the Pomodoro method (which UFYH recommends too). There are some free pomodoro apps, although I've recently started using an interval timer for workouts that would work for pomodoro timing too.

However, 25 minutes feels overwhelming to me! I tell myself I'll spend 5 or 10 minutes on something. I'll put on some music, turn off the TV, and possibly use (less often) a timer.

I think the other part of it is to recognize when you have done stuff. My mental talk is something like that I may not have done some big thing on my list (e.g. rebuilt the deck), but heck, at the end of the day, the laundry is put away and that's different from the beginning of the day. Forgive yourself when you don't do things.

Big lists with big stuff on them seems intimidating to me. I forget how GTD works, but be kind to yourself. Make the tasks small, e.g. not "sell the house", but "look at house prices on zillow"; not "start training for a marathon", but "go for a walk today".

Timing things can be helpful, e.g. dishes. It really can only take 5 minutes to do quite a few dishes.

Trying to decide what to do certainly can be overwhelming, but just doing the thing in front of you and not worrying about where it fits on the list may be more effective.

Meanwhile, clean your kitchen sink and make your bed!
posted by idb at 11:29 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have this exact problem, and here's the best advice I ever got:

Make your bed.

That's it. The first thing you do each morning. Before you go to the bathroom, before you shower, before you take off your pajamas. Just make your bed.

Now you've done something. You have improved your personal space. You have exerted control over your environment. You are not a failure or a slacker or lazy. You are a functioning adult member of society, as evidenced by the fact that you didn't just take the easy way out and leave the blankets all messed up.

Now go do the next thing.
posted by Etrigan at 11:42 AM on June 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

To expand on an earlier point with an example, last night after I got home, I decided to spend 15 minutes doing some mowing. My yard is big and I knew I wouldn't get it all done, but 15 minutes now would be 15 minutes less to do tomorrow or at the weekend. As it turned out, I spent an hour and got a ton of it done, but I would have been happy with 15 minutes, because it was more than zero minutes and didn't feel "big" in advance. In retrospect, 15 minutes mowing (like 5 minutes doing dishes :-) gets quite a bit done.
posted by idb at 12:20 PM on June 12, 2013

You need a team for support and accountability. Find a friend who also has things they need to get done, or better yet two or three. Make a date to check in daily, if that works, or twice a week. Even weekly can be a big help.

During the meeting (which can be by phone or Skype), each of you takes turn checking in about what you're working on. After you're done, the others can offer suggestions and encouragement.

I have been doing this with a group every week for five years, and it is astoundingly helpful. Good luck!
posted by ottereroticist at 12:24 PM on June 12, 2013

Make a "to-do" list for the day, with each thing scheduled for a specific time.

Start your day with something on the schedule it would almost be more difficult not to do. Something like coffee, or shower, or breakfast.

It sounds like you've recently had a great deal of projects and their associated future tasks dropped on you. GTD is great for breaking these down into smaller tasks, and helping you decide what tasks can be done in your current context. What GTD can't do for you is get you used to operating in an environment where you are in charge of several projects without a "boss" -- write a list with a schedule in boss mode, and approach it the next day as though you were your own assistant.

Another thing to try is plan your day first thing in the morning, planning the night before doesn't work for everyone. You might be able to keep that energy you have when planning with you through the day.
posted by yohko at 1:57 PM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do a brainstorm of simple things you have to do
Then look at your list and go through all the steps you have to take to do each thing
Then jump right in an do ONE thing, if you feel too overwhelmed then put the rest in your 'reminders' list on your phone (or whatever you use)
Keep going! From my personal experience, it seems that once you break the pain barrier it all becomes a lot easier and once you do a few things you build momentum.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 3:16 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Each night I make my list of tasks for the following day.

If night is when you're energized about these things, work on them at night.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:16 PM on June 12, 2013

Being in a rut usually involves a whole web of things that are keeping one stuck. Fortunately dealing with just a few issues is often enough to get one's forward momentum back.

One thing that can be a part of feeling stuck for some unemployed persons or work from home folks is too much time in their house or apartment. Deciding to do certain projects at the library or a coffee place might enhance a feeling of accomplishment, could also help mark a time period as dedicated to a particular task.

Taking up exercise, even just walks can heighten focus and energy afterwards.

TV can be a distraction and a motivation sapper for some people. Likewise some people need to have periods where they shut of the ringer and notifications on their phone. Shutting done one's router or modem for a while might help shut down some distractions, If you analyze what you are doing when you aren't doing the tasks you feel need to be done it will likely help you generate other changes that will help.
posted by logonym at 10:32 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Etrigan has it. Seconding make you bed every morning.
posted by snowjoe at 7:12 AM on June 13, 2013

« Older After 15 years in my business, I can't find work....   |   Every day objects in watercolor Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.