Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Situational Paralysis? Start Talking!
Now, I know I'm going to get some raised eyebrows for this one, but I'm secure enough to admit that I'm a bit odd at times (as if you all didn't already know that ;) ).
Seriously, though, have you ever found yourself staring at something that is just so hairy, gnarly and potentially time sucking that you keep putting it off forever? Avoidance may work for a time, but at some point, the issue has to be addressed. I have a built-in incentive that causes me to tackle this kind of situation every year. That is my end of year donation frenzy. I don't believe in resolutions, but I do believe in tax write-offs that I'm eligible to take, and one of the cleanest and easiest is donating things to charity. Of course, you have a finite time limit to maximize this potential, and for me, that finite time limit always ends on December 31st of each year.
So this often leaves me going through all sorts of things that need to be categorized, co-ordinated, grouped, sorted, sifted, and otherwise given some kind of order amid the chaos, and many times it's enough to drive someone to distraction (and a healthy dose of avoidance). Likewise, even outside of donating, having a closet/room/garage/house/project/presentation/talk/thesis/whatever that is in desperate need of corralling, it can be almost impossible to calm your thoughts and your nerves to address the problem objectively.
What do I do in these situations? I start talking. Out loud. Seriously!
Why? Because the act of physically talking out what I have to do, as though I'm explaining it to someone else in the room, even if they are not there, forces me to actually address the root of the problem, which is "good grief, I don't know where to begin!" This analysis paralysis or situational paralysis is "the Lizard Brain" in full bloom, The Resistance in full battle formation, and you looking for any other thing to do than actually tackle the issue.
Here's a very recent example. There are so many things that I have in my office closet that make it virtually unusable. Projects from many areas of my life spread out, intermixed, in difficult to reach areas, all in various states of beginning, in progress, and nearing completion, but that's as close as many of them have gotten. The worst part is that more stuff keeps coming in, day after day, so that it looks like a small scale set of "hoarders" (no, I'm really not that bad, but since I seek that Zen space of "minimalist uncluttered bliss", it sure feels like it at times). Boxes of intermingled stuff, and of course, I've added to it by deliberately getting rid of the catch-all I've been using for years, i.e. the computer hutch. With it gone, the closet is the last refuge for this stuff.
At this stage, I start a very openly verbal dialog (and yes, this is literally what I do, no hyperbole here):
"OK, give me a box. Good, what do we have here? It's the cable to my camcorder so it can be plugged into a television or secondary recording device. That is a video cable, and needs to go to the corner of the table."
"What's next? That is a bundle of USB connectors. Good, are there any more in this box? Excellent, let's gather them all together and classify them. What end do they have, and can I tell what they go to by sight? OK, this one goes to my digital camera. This one is an extension cord, these five are classic USB cables with the Type 1 end. These several are various ends with different styles of connectors... this one goes to my MP3 player, this one goes to the blue tooth headset, separate them all out."
"Excellent. Now let's get some plastic freezer bags and sort them all and get a sharpie and mark the bags to identify what they are."
"Oh look, here are a bunch of photographs. These go into the portable case that's labeled "Personal" and I'll review them later so that they can be sorted and scanned."
"Here's a bunch of papers that are out of date related to a testing tool I work with, and I have updated documents on my flash drive... let's go ahead and purge these."
And so on. I audibly talk my way through this conversation as though I'm explaining what I'm doing to someone in the room. It helps me to keep the avoidance at bay, and it also helps me to shout down the Lizard Brain and quiet The Resistance. It's entirely possible that you will be able to do something similar in the quiet of your own mind, but I find the process of actually putting words to the actions, and saying them aloud while I am doing them makes a huge difference. It also makes what seems like an endless process go so much faster.
So seriously, the next time you find yourself staring down an incredible challenge, one that is scary, difficult or just plain tedious, try talking your way through it. I'm willing to bet you'll be surprised at how effective you can be.
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There is some 'magic' in verbalization. I think that is where the myth comes from that if you say something, it will come true. That being said, I believe our brains change the way we think about things when we do verbalize them, and that seems to be something that helps you work through tasks. Makes sense to me because the though has to take a different path through your brain to be verbalized.
I have used verablization techniques similar to this to help draw my thoughts out of my head and help form them using mind mapping techniques. I find that by adding a voice to my thoughts, I can test them to see how much they really hold weight, or how well thoughtout my ideas/connections are compared to how I think they are.
This technique can also be used to overcome writers block in some cases. If you can't think of the words to write, you can start to say what it is that is you are trying to get out, and then write that. It won't be a perfect solution but it can give you a starting point.
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