Slowly — but painlessly!
“By taking steps so tiny that they seem trivial or even laughable, you’ll sail calmly past obstacles that have defeated you before. Slowly – but painlessly! – you’ll cultivate an appetite for continued success and lay down a permanent new route to change.”— Robert Maurer
Often despair is the result of feeling totally overwhelmed by misfortune. Or, less dramatically, procrastination is the result of feeling overwhelmed by a task. I’ve found it helps tremendously to apply a process that Matt’s occupational therapists used to call “task analysis.” Basically, it means breaking a task or situation down into very small, almost unnoticeable steps and pinpointing where difficulties arise, working on them one by one.
When I was in graduate school full time, I had to juggle the meal preparation, housework and other demands of caring for two kids in grade school, along with all the medical and educational needs of our younger son. Every semester when I would attend the first day of classes and get the syllabus for each class, I would panic and think there was absolutely no way on earth I would get through this semester. Then I would come home, print out four month-at-a-glance calendar pages on my dot matrix printer (that’s how long ago this was) and take every assignment in each syllabus and break it down into tiny steps, penciling them in on each month’s page. I would then plan my menus for the next four months according to what I had to do that day for school, and then fit in Matt’s special education meetings, cardiology appointments and so on.
There was something reassuring about proving to myself on paper that it really wasn’t impossible to get through the coming weeks. In fact, it was fairly painless and I ended up enjoying school as much as I’ve ever enjoyed anything that demanding. I learned to anticipate the feeling of panic at the beginning of each semester and accept that some anxiety was an inevitable part of the process. Then I’d just print out my blank calendar pages and break it all down. Having the steps clearly plotted, I was able to relax and enjoy life in Hawaii despite all the challenges.
When we are not so overwhelmed, we can see the beauty of the staircase and even enjoy the climb. If you are feeling overwhelmed by life, I hope you will be able to take a deep breath and design your own steps, going at your own pace and enjoying as much as you can along the way.