Please Help Me Learn to Hold My Horses
July 30, 2020 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I often struggle with what might be described as an irritating sense of nagging/driving impatience whenever I am doing something, and it’s impacting both my peace of mind and my ability to get things done. Advice?

I would like to learn to be the sort of person who maps out what she wants to do, and then steadily and systematically carries out the plan step by step, contentedly focusing on whatever stage of the process she happens to be in. I can do the planning part, but struggle with the execution because I get so very impatient and frustrated. I want whatever I’m doing to be donedonedone, right now, this minute, so I can move on to the next thing or the next five things, and then of course once I am on to the next thing, I’m still impatient to do the next five things after that. (I'm, er, the sort of person who is constantly coming up with new project ideas, and have about a hundred home reno and needlework projects listed in my planner right now, and more in my head, so I'm never going to run out of project ideas.) This happens even with mundane things that are proceeding smoothly, or with fun trivial endeavours that I’m enjoying. I’ll be in the shower in the morning and get so impatient with how loooong it’s taking, even though I’m doing what I need to do as fast as I can.

Then, when I get impatient, my mind starts acting up. I’ll get absorbed in tracking/quantifying my progress in some way to see how soon I’ll be done, and fretting if I’m not “on schedule”, or I’ll daydream about some future task/project, or even start working on it some way by researching it on Pinterest or shopping for it, when I should be focusing on and working on the task in hand. Or I’ll just go ahead and start new projects when I have a number of higher priority unfinished ones sitting around, or before I’ve done enough research and planning and other prep work, because I just couldn’t wait to get to the new task. Or I’ll get frustrated by snags/roadblocks, give up for the time being, and wind up letting the project sit unfinished for a protracted amount of time (though I do finish basically everything I’ve started eventually), instead of just digging in and patiently working through the problems.

So, what do you suggest, patient and prudent MeFites? How can I learn to rein in this nagging impatience of mine?
posted by orange swan to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Is this a new thing? Or had this always been the case?
posted by lookoutbelow at 6:03 PM on July 30

I would expect that adopting a daily twenty minute meditation would pay off dividends when it comes to your ability to stay present.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:23 PM on July 30

I might start by figuring out if I'm pursuing something or being chased. Is my brain seeking a reward or avoiding a penalty.

For example, if I came to the conclusion that I was greedily seeking the dopamine hit that comes from completing a project, I might examine that. On the other hand, if it turns out I'm running from self criticism then I might explore ways to counter that.

Those are just examples that relate to my experience, your mileage may vary.
posted by Horkus at 6:32 PM on July 30 [5 favorites]

Being impatient to be on to the next thing and not wanting to deal with the finishing-up details of the current thing is one of my major symptoms of ADD. Unfortunately, I don't really know how to fix it, I'm just throwing it out there in case you feel it warrants further investigation.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:42 PM on July 30 [8 favorites]

This is part of the reason I have short showers and listen to podcasts whilst driving! Can't knit and drive, but can think up exciting new projects that are shinier than the old ones.

I try to focus on the enjoyment. Why are you doing this? Because you enjoy at least some of it, right? I love knitting. And thinking up new projects. Also, wearing knitted goods and giving them to people who wear them. I'm not great at finishing things, but I push through when they are for other people - if they are for me, they are often unfinished even when I wear them. But I knit for me, because I enjoy it. Just the feel of wool through my fingers calms my mind. Because wool can be almost infinitely repurposed (unless steeked - I don't steek), I try not to stress about failed projects. I learnt something, I can still donate the wool if I unravel it. I try to be OK with abandoning half finished projects if I don't like them - I also try not to start expensive, difficult projects, because my finish rate is maybe 50%.

I also enjoy dreaming up carpentry projects and renovation plans, but I'm not very good at carpentry, and renovations cost a fortune and take forever and are hugely stressful (also, I rent), so rarely actually do them. I just enjoy dreaming up the perfect shelving system for the kitchen, or how I would rearrange a bathroom so that it would work better. I've let go of the requirement to actually do the thing. It's like window shopping - makes my brain happy, but I don't have to get my hands dirty or spend any money. I do puzzles or play phone games to scratch the "making things fit" itch - much more doable than rebuilding a kitchen, or even installing a new shelf.

I'm somewhat limited as to how many projects I can have on the go by space. I did a big declutter a few years ago, and realised how much happier I am when I'm not surrounded by unfinished projects. I have a bag of in-progress stuff in my closet, but generally, I put things away under my bed if they become unfun. I will try to finish messy take-over-over-the-house projects in a weekend, so that they are done, and I don't have to live with my desk in pieces or my desk covered in half a pair of pants.

Anyway, I'd suggest having some sort of limit, however artificial, on how many projects you have on the go. Probably at the point that you start to feel overwhelmed by all the pressure. For me, this is generally about 4. I'd also suggest prioritising short, easy to finish projects, so that you can scratch your finishing itch.
posted by kjs4 at 7:54 PM on July 30

I’m very very similar (although maybe not so good at the eventual finishing part) I don’t have a lot of answers so I will be following this thread, but I do have one suggestion (and agree with meditation suggested above).

Try setting a timer. This is often suggested for working or cleaning or other chores (for example a pomodoro timer which works wonders for me) when people have trouble on a task, to concentrate on it for x minutes instead of until it’s done. The theory/mindset is a little different here, as it’s usually suggested for when people are staring at a big project that is intimidating to start. But it can be useful to me in this other way, to not concentrate on GET THIS DONE AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, but instead “just enjoy working on this for x minutes. Doesn’t matter how far you get and you won’t finish so don’t even try”.

It’s not always possible for fun things, but it is for some and worth a shot.
posted by sillysally at 8:21 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

I’m like this too. I think it’s ADD.

I find it helps to get into a flow state, which in my case requires:
Food eaten
Caffeine consumed
Pants on
White noise or earplugs- not music
A decluttered area of about 4 square feet around me
At least 2-3 hours of time ahead of me
Phone placed out of my field of view
A clear question that my work is meant to answer
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:17 PM on July 30 [4 favorites]

It helps me to consciously cull my list of projects. Pick two or three and say none of the rest are going to happen right now. If you've got it in your head that all of these projects are on the list and everything you can envision is something you want to make happen, you're going to be under a lot of tension.

What happens in your mind if you take something on your list and think to yourself, this project will never be completed. It is such a low priority relative to the other items on this list that it will literally never be worth my time to complete it. I will scrap it from my list.

I think if you do that exercise for a couple different items, you will start to notice what feelings are driving this. Is it just more fun to plan projects and daydream about them and you don't actually ever want to put in the slog to do them? That's probably fine, these are hobby projects, but you should try not to spend too much money on the planning. Or are you experiencing a bunch of anxiety around the idea of accepting something that's imperfect?
posted by Lady Li at 9:07 AM on July 31

I'm a lot like this, too!

I have just been trying to be mindful about stopping that feeling. I like the quote from the stormlight archives that is "journey before destination" and I try to spend time thinking about and enjoying the process, not just looking towards the end.

I think this is a healthy mindset for just about everything, as I tend to get frustrated when I'm like, trying to get in shape, but I'm not just magically IN shape because I decided to be. Trying to accept that everything is a path you're travelling rather than just a series of accomplishments or things you've "finished" is a lot healthier and seems happier!

This does seem to be what mindfulness is about, so I do some of those thought exercises and try to enjoy the work. I do jot down or draw further project ideas when I have them because I think it makes me dwell on them less to have them written down.

Also I like to start multiple projects at once! I know that seems like the opposite of what you should do, but sometimes I need that dopamine hit of finishing (or starting!) a project, so making some homemade wine, or making a quick card or something can provide that, and then when I'm not feeling so impatient I can work on some fiber arts or woodworking. I also like mending my clothes which is generally pretty quick to start and finish, so if I'm trying to work on something and feeling impatient and unfocused, I'll sometimes mend instead, as it's usually like an hour or two to finish the job.
posted by euphoria066 at 12:05 PM on July 31

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