Small Steps

Diane asked about dealing with the overwhelm and anxiety she’s facing when she considers writing a guest blog post for someone else’s site. Previously, we looked at perfectionism and how insidious it can be. Today, we’re going to break it down—literally.

Meet Your Inner Lizard

A lot of anxiety, procrastination, and perfectionism all boils down to fear. Fear that we won’t be good enough. Fear that someone else has already done it. Fear of being seen. Fear of receiving. Fear of failure. Fear of success. And that fear comes from the part of your brain called the amygdala (also known in common parlance as the “reptilian brain stem”—I tend to think of it as a lizard).

Your amygdala evolved to keep you safe—from things like sabre-toothed tigers and other predators. It doesn’t need to keep you safe from things like success or failure, but it hasn’t evolved that much. It still thinks that anything even slightly frightening is actually going to kill you.

Fortunately, you can outwit your amygdala, and here’s how: break your project down. And I mean really break it down. You need pieces that are so small that they won’t set off the amygdala and keep you from accomplishing anything. The step has to seem so ridiculously easy that there’s no question at all that you can do it. (Super-small steps are the “Kaizen” part of Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching.)

Defining Small Steps—REALLY Small

I discussed this idea a little bit in my post on “Small and Crappy” a few weeks ago, but here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to write that guest blog post, but you’re so nervous about it that you haven’t gone near your desk in a few weeks. You get nervous just looking at it, because it now represents the Big, Scary Blog Post.

Your first small step is not to schedule half an hour and start writing whatever comes into your head. Why? Because you’ll never do it. You haven’t so far, so why should this time be any different? You need a really, really small step.

Your first step is to go spend five minutes sitting at the desk. You don’t have to turn the laptop on. You don’t even have to pick up a pen. All you have to do is sit at the desk for five minutes. If you sit there longer, or you feel compelled to start writing, that’s awesome! But you do not have to do it. You’re just going to spend five minutes at the desk.

If that goes well, your next day’s five minutes might be to sit at the desk with your pen in your hands (or your laptop on, or whatever the next piece might be). And so on.

Give It A Try

You’ll know you hit on the next small step when your reaction is, “Well, of course I can do that for five minutes! Any idiot could manage that!” That’s your sign that your step poses no threat at all to your inner lizard.

What’s your first small step? For Diane, it might be thinking about where she could share a thoughtful comment on someone else’s blog. Just thinking about it. Step two might be to jot down a few names. She can build up step by step until she’s had such great interactions in the comments that posting a guest blog doesn’t seem scary anymore at all.

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