Feelings, & Hacking the system
September 14, 2014 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to ignore how you feel and just get things done regardless of whether you feel like doing it or not? I don't understand why I am having such a hard time doing the things that I used to do? I used to be able to get a lot of things done, and now I find myself resisting almost all the time. Is there a way to just stop paying attention to the fact that you don't feel good or that you are scared or a number of other emotions?
posted by nidora to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) calls this opposite action. Closely related to the concept of radical acceptance.
posted by colin_l at 10:49 AM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I tell myself "action precedes motivation."
posted by aniola at 10:53 AM on September 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

Timers. I use timers. Anybody can do anything for 15 minutes. You can do the thing you don't want to do for 15 minutes.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:11 AM on September 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

I don't understand why I am having such a hard time doing the things that I used to do? I used to be able to get a lot of things done, and now I find myself resisting almost all the time.

This is a hallmark of depression - have you been evaluated for that?
posted by desjardins at 11:14 AM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

It is much easier to momentarily set aside negative feelings if you make sure you are taking time elsewhere to process those negative feelings.
posted by jaguar at 11:47 AM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Others will comment on the emotional and mental health aspect of this so I will just comment on the hack side. I just set myself down, and I remind myself that if I just work hard for X amount of time, I will be done way faster than if I distract myself every five minutes or delay starting by Y hours. And for the love of all that is good on this good Earth, don't tell yourself you're working when you're really just organizing your work as a way to procrastinate. Don't get me wrong, having an action plan is important but it's also a good way to convince yourself you're doing work when you're not.

Also remember that rewarding oneself is good, but don't be ridiculous either. Don't watch an hour tv show after working for an hour, don't tell yourself you'll get 15 minutes free on the internet without a timer.
posted by Aranquis at 11:54 AM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First of all: it's okay to do nothing sometimes. It's perfectly okay, and even healthy. Please, give yourself permission to do nothing at times. (And I'll get to the bottom of your question in a second, I promise!)

I know that advice is counterintuitive, but from your question history I see that you have ADHD. I too have ADHD. I struggle daily (today included) with the feeling that I'm not doing enough, why am I not doing that thing now that I used to always do?, why am I so lazy? and so forth. This is because as ADHDers, we've spent our lives being criticized and poked at for not getting things done, or not doing them fast enough, or not doing them correctly - when the truth is that we have a significant neurological hurdle that makes it feel impossible at times to accomplish even the most basic tasks. But even after going to therapy and learning this about ourselves, it can take a very long time to get rid of that internal dialogue we've absorbed from a lifetime of others' criticisms and judgments. We take that negative, critical, self-smack-talk and adopt it as our own; we start to believe that no matter how much we've accomplished or how much we've done, if we aren't accomplishing something right now at this moment, we still suck as a human being. It's as if we never accomplished anything ever, because we aren't accomplishing something now. We feel like we faked it for a little while but now we're back to the truth of who we really are.

I also see that you recently got your Masters (me too!). Congratulations! For Pete's sake, congratulations. You are awesome for graduating with an advanced degree. You are a person who has graduated with an advanced degree. It's okay to take a break, even for a few months or a year or two. Ever since I graduated and am no longer in school, I've felt like I had a lot less structure in my life. You may be feeling this, too. You want to do something, but you need to be doing something (structure) to get yourself to do something. It's that vicious cycle. Once the ball is rolling you're good for a while; the problem is getting the ball to roll.

The advice given above about discipline/etc is all easier said that done. It's even more difficult when you have ADHD and you feel so overwhelmed by all the things you either want or need to do that it's easier to just sit on the couch and hate on yourself.

So, the first thing you need to do, as I emphasized at the beginning of this comment, is let go. Yes, you have things that you need and want to get done. But you are not a robot and you are not going to spend every living second of your day or week "doing" things. It's the idea that you should be a robot and always doing things that is probably psyching you out. I know it psychs me out. Then it's an absolute guarantee that I never get anything done. Trust me, there have been times in my life where I have spent an entire day wondering "How will I ever be someone who gets anything done?" when I could have just done one (just one!) of the 50+ things on my to-do list and felt satisfied. But I was too busy beating myself up to realize that.

Consider how many things it is that you're trying to do right now. Whether it's three or a hundred, it's possible that the number of things you're trying to do is simply too many for you right now at this particular moment in life. Tomorrow, you may be able to juggle four; next year only one; a month later, ten. Your threshold is going to shift over time. Accept that you are human and that you are only able to do so much.

"A Zen monk doesn’t lead a lazy life: he wakes early and has a day filled with work." Pick one or two things to do that day, and nothing else. Now you can just focus on those one or two things and do them slowly, with more care and attention to detail. It's amazing how when I get myself into this mindset, I'm not only more productive, I'm happier, too. There is one more joy and satisfaction in doing one simple task with loving care and attention than there is in doing twenty tasks in a hurried rush to the finish line (and probably an arbitrary finish line, to boot).

And that's the real endgame here: happiness. Life's too short to punch ourselves in the gut every day because we haven't figured out how to bake a pie while doing our taxes in the middle of a hike to the highest summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro while taking Swahili lessons from our hiking guide. Pick one thing at a time. Do it right. Yes, do it for fifteen minutes like DarlingBri suggests above, then take a five minute break (pomodoro technique). Do another thing for fifteen minutes and take another five minute break. Good. Then give yourself a long break and do something you get pleasure from. Buy an ice cream cone and go for a walk around the block; read a book in the park; call up a friend; play your favorite music and relax with a coloring book (yes, they make coloring books for grown ups, and they are awesome). It's hard to get up and do the things you enjoy, too, sometimes. I've been putting off my new hobby of painting so far this afternoon, but now I've reminded myself that I enjoy it and I have nothing else to do right now, so why not? Also, earlier I felt like I was having a too-lazy Sunday, but I just remembered that this morning I finally sent that email to the place where I want to volunteer, and I did a load of laundry. Important email + laundry done = more productive than still in bed. Neither of those are major big time accomplishments, but when you have ADHD, it's the little victories that count. Also, major big time accomplishments aren't a day to day thing, anyway. You only need one or two of the small victories a day, more if you feel like it (no one is stopping you!).

I hope this was helpful. My answer to your question is lengthy because I know the struggle is lengthy. There's no quick-fix band aid for ADHD productivity struggles; there is no simple solution to the eternal "how to just get shit done" question. I constantly need self-help lectures and pep talks and periodic visits to my therapist to get myself back on track. But it's giving yourself permission to be human, to err, to do nothing at times, as well as the willingness to love yourself as you are, that will over time build the natural confidence and desire to do things when you want to, because you want to.

If you ever want to talk or vent about this or anything else, please MeMail me!
posted by nightrecordings at 12:00 PM on September 14, 2014 [42 favorites]

Short-term, I find it useful to say to myself that emotions are a luxury I can't afford right then. This works for, like, caring for a kid that's up sick all night, crossing a pedestrian bridge as someone who hates heights, or a stupid no-good very bad work thing due tomorrow. It's a less healthy approach if you need to say it in order to get dressed or leave the house every day. From your question I'm not sure which situation you're describing.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:20 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like night recording's answer :)

The only thing I'd add is that I can sometimes manage to motivate myself by giving myself permission to do something crappily. That doesn't mean I stop with a crappy version, I don't. If I have e.g. a report to write, I will do a fast shitty version of it, with placeholders like "insert data here" or "add quote later," and then make revisions until it's actually good. A report is an obvious example but you can do this with any kind of task. I find this helps me overcome the "blank sheet of paper" stage, when the task seems insurmountable and I'm having difficulty getting started.

(This is a thing that journalists do. There's a point at which you have a task completed badly, and just need to refine/improve, that feels really good. In documentary-making for some reason we called that the moment when we'd "broken the back" of the story.)
posted by Susan PG at 12:21 PM on September 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I also use timers. If it's something I really, really don't want to do, my deal is that I will just get started and work 15 minutes, then do something else for 15, then keep swapping out 15 minute periods. If it's just drudgery stuff, like housework, I set the timer for 45 minutes and take a 15 minute break. I can get most anything done in 45 minutes, so that's the deal I usually make with myself.
posted by raisingsand at 12:35 PM on September 14, 2014

Is there a way to just stop paying attention to the fact that you don't feel good or that you are scared or a number of other emotions?

Acknowledge that feelings are not mandates. You've trained yourself that any kind of discomfort means don't do it, now train yourself that discomfort is to be overcome, not avoided, and keep your eyes on the goal, which is generally going to be a good-feeling situation. The only trick is to not make things any harder than they need to be, and do not make perfect the enemy of good.

Most of the time, the end result of doing a thing you don't want to do is positive, even if it's just that you don't have the thing hanging over you. I keep my focus on the part where I feel good, the "you'll be glad you did" part.

This works so well (for me at least) because I love feeling good, and it's really hard for me to say "no, self, I don't want to be glad" because that's dumb and not true. (NOTE: if it is true that you do not want to be glad, that is depression and it needs to be treated - it's how I know whether I'm okay or not, if I want to be glad.)

Self-discipline is a muscle, and the more you work it the stronger it gets. You've let yours atrophy for whatever reason, and that reason might be something you need outside assistance with, but also you just need more practice. Use timers (there's very little you can't get a satisfying amount of completion from in 15 minutes, which is basically no time at all), improve your workflows to try to smoothe out inefficiencies as you go, and just get it over with...over and over again. Eventually it will feel like nothing to do because you've done it so much.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:51 PM on September 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

what if the task you don't want to do takes 5 minutes?
posted by serena15221 at 2:05 PM on September 14, 2014

When I'm being thoughtful and really focused on being productive, DBT is indeed a great thing. Just amazing.

When I'm really low and feel myself getting lower, I treat myself like I'm speaking to a pet. Short simple commands: Up! Go! Sit! Write! Up! Move! Kind of a first cousin to the Opposite Action thing, but with the timer that raisingsand mentioned and almost no thought behind the action. It is short bursts of focused energy to get me through small things. Sit. Write. Up. Gym. Now. Don't think; just do. A list gets made the night before and that is the end of that.

Now this next one is just something I've always done when I'm low and hasn't been suggested to me by anyone*. It may or may not be healthy, and most people may find it weird or silly, but:

When I am feeling the lowest emotionally/chemically and nothing seems to be getting done or indeed will ever be possible ever again I draw on something VERY important to me - my genealogy, genetics, and personal history. Partially true and partially myth. This is no time for rational examination. I trudge through the lowest parts as if I'm battling the fiercest wind on the bow of a ship. It feels like it, too. "WE have been through the best and the worst and WE'RE still here!", "WE'VE built monuments and destroyed cities!", "WE'VE been slaves and slavers!", WE'VE helped build empires and kept others at bay FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS"... &c.

This works for me when I'm bordering on the danger zone with depression. It works for me because I've a really mixed genetic background and can draw on all parts of it as a kind of replacement for the spiritual component that other people use. I don't believe that prayer works, but I DO believe very strongly that I am the result of thousands of years of feast and famine - thousands of years of triumph and struggle. Regardless of how these people felt about x, y, or z, they transcended that to survive, create, and push forward. I am part of that in my core. I will too. I realize it sounds borderline delusional, dramatic, imperious, and kind of over-the-top, but I'm no delusional idiot. I know myself well enough to know that I am kind of dramatic, imperious, and over-the-top.

And really, when you are calling up the bravery of a Prussian soldier or thinking of the internal emotional strength it took to leave a child behind in the Old World and sail across an ocean...
Well, it kind of puts getting up and making sure I've answered those 20 emails or swept my workrooms in perspective: If she didn't throw herself overboard and he didn't just lie down on the battlefield and let the wheels of the cannons run him into the bloody mud, then I can get up and open my mail... I seriously think that these people gave me a legacy to live up to or at least the proof that I can SURVIVE just like they did (hence, I'm here...) and probably better than they did (because I'm living in their unreal very distant future)**.

So that would be my advice if you at all border on the dramatic - find some connection you can believe in and wring it dry. I'm not suggesting genealogy, but finding something that trumps everything and makes you who you are. Find something that, at the end of the day, gives you a connective drive. Maybe something that IS you even when you aren't... you. Or maybe when you aren't the you that you want to create.

Let that mofo drive you.
Even at your lowest you will find something.
You can't live in that place, really; to live in that kind of high-drama would be exhausting and really would border on some problematic emotional/mental stuff. But you can use a little personal mythology and connection to something to find your way - to get through the storm.
To. Take. Action.

*In fact, when I mentioned it to a therapist who was trying to tease/root out something deeper for the inaction, I was getting very kindly redirected/shot down and replied: "Look. I need this. We can sit around braiding each others hair after this has run its course. Right now I need something bigger than myself to frikkin' SURVIVE and function!"
**Also: No cannons facing me down. That helps productivity a lot; you can get all kinds of stuff done when you aren't faced with firing cannons.
posted by Tchad at 2:38 PM on September 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

Medication. Antidepressants, benzodiazepines, amphetamines. You can't just willpower yourself through a medical deficiency in dopamine or amygdala function.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:23 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

> Jacqueline wrote:
Medication. Antidepressants, benzodiazepines, amphetamines. You can't just willpower yourself through a medical deficiency in dopamine or amygdala function.

I have pretty severe ADHD, and while I’ve got the amphetamines covered (Vyvanse), are there particular benzodiazepines you’d recommend looking into?

(It so happens I occasionally take clonazepam for social anxiety disorder, but it hadn’t occurred to me that something like that might be of use for ADHD.)
posted by Handcoding at 11:20 PM on September 15, 2014

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