I recently gave a homework assignment to a young client in my office. The tasks were simple and straight forward and would help make significant changes in her life. But instead of being excited, she shrugged her shoulders and looked away. “That’s too hard,”she complained.
This woman is certainly not alone. Many of us approach beneficial changes with skepticism and fear. We convince ourselves we can’t do it. We refuse to take the first steps.
Even when the chores are well within our abilities, such as removing the cookies from your desk drawer or saying “I love you” every day to your spouse, we frequently balk at doing them. “I didn’t get around to it,” people tell me. “I couldn’t remember,” others protest.
Such reticence is often perplexing. Folks grumble endlessly about their weight or lifestyles. They begrudge the choices that they’ve made. Yet when the opportunity to make things better arises they refuse to grab the brass ring, instead bemoaning, “No, that would be too hard.”
Negative messages play serious mind games on our psyches. They make us feel overwhelmed. We believe that our problems are unnecessarily complex and that there’s no way out of our personal morass.
We also assume that we’re incompetent. Telling ourselves something’s too difficult sends signals that we can’t run our lives. We’ve created a mess that’s beyond us. We’re powerless to effect any change.
Finally, we refuse to accept responsibility for our actions. After all, it’s too hard for us to achieve. We quit before we’ve even started, conceding the loss without a fight.
Doom and gloom thinking is brought on by several factors. Mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, create faulty thought patterns that lead sufferers to feel despondent and overwrought. The slightest effort seems emotionally devastating. Pessimism and defeat are the norm.
But most of the time, we act out of habit. We’ve shied away from personal challenges for so long that we approach every test waving a white flag. We’ve stopped being able to sort through our psychological file cabinets and instead throw up our hands in mental defeat.
Of course, sometimes we’re faced with serious crises that do, in fact, seem beyond our control. The loss of a job or the illness of a child may send us into a tailspin from which we feel powerless to pull out.
Rather than feeling despondent we can decide what needs to be done. We may not be able to alter our circumstances. But we can choose how we want to proceed.
Tips for tackling the tough stuff
Need help reclaiming control of your life? Start with these ideas:
Notice your tendency to feel overwhelmed. Some of us get overloaded more easily than others. We’re particularly sensitive to pressure. Our psychic circuit breakers are easily snapped. Don’t fret if you fall into this category. Understand it’s just who you are.
Take control of your stress. Learn which strategies keep your emotional thermometer from rising too high. Perhaps you take deep breaths when you feel anxious or meditate 15 minutes before going to work.
Make your life manageable. If you’re constantly overwhelmed, you may be cramming too much into your day. Live within your personal limits. Let go of any unnecessary commitments. Allow ample time to relax and exercise.
Avoid ruminating. Don’t over think your problems. That’s confusing and makes things seem worse than they are. Make decisions and don’t rehash them.
Break tasks into workable components. Decide what you can comfortably accomplish, then do only that much at one time. If you’re still overwhelmed, break it down even further until it’s easily within your grasp.
Write things down. Trying to keep all your tasks in your mind is stressful. Instead, write them down so you see what needs to be done. It’s often less than you imagined.
Manage expectations. If you’re always demanding perfection, you’ll be disappointed and stressed. Be more realistic. Everyone will appreciate the change.
Pay attention to your internal messages. Listen to what you tell yourself. If you say, ”This is too hard. I can’t do this,” then undoubtedly you’ll fail. If you say, ”This is a new challenge. Let me see how I can approach it,” you’re more likely to succeed.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com