Friday, October 7, 2016

The Anxiety Of Setting Goals

I'm a dreamer. I am an ideas person, who loves looking at the big picture:  You know what I'd love to do....?  Wouldn't it be cool if.... What I really want to do with my life is....  Sometimes I get so far as  writing it down. Actually, I often do - I'm a writer after all, as well as a planner and a list maker.  I gather ideas in my head, on paper, in my daily writing notes, about what I want to do and where I want to be in life one, two, five, ten years down the road. And it's exciting! Until I start actually trying to create a plan. Then anxiety sets in.

You might find this ironic, as I've mentioned that I'm a planner - literally, I plan things for a living. But those are concrete things. Someone wants to go to Italy. This couple wants to go on a honeymoon to an island, that family wants a reunion in Costa Rica. Those are concrete, at least for me. I know the steps along the way. I have a pattern I know to follow when planning and booking these. I have suppliers in various expertise, in the properties or on the ground in the destinations. I have the travelers to discuss with along the way, to make sure what I'm planning matches what they're looking for. And most importantly, these plans do not rely on my belief of myself from within. I don't have to believe that I can get them a four star hotel, at least not in the traditional sense. I have to get in touch with my hotel contacts and my suppliers, check out rates and availability, provide options to the client with details of the accommodations and prices. While I've encountered some pretty tricky requests, I can usually find something that meets their needs, and if not, there's always the option of saying "I'm sorry, that's unavailable." I hate to have to do this, but people tend to understand it. A hotel has a certain number of rooms. They aren't going to kick someone out to put you in. If you insist on this, I probably don't want you as my client anyway. So I go in search of another hotel. Or the clients have to increase their budget. Or we look at more affordable destinations. But there's always a defined next step.

When it comes to putting my dreams into action, however, it's a different story. I begin by writing generalized goals. Where I want to be in five years, four, three. As it gets down to two, I can feel my shoulders start to tingle. Yes, my shoulders. For some reason that's where I feel the anxiety first. Perhaps it's because they are what's holding my posture upright, and as my confidence starts to wane, I know they'll start to slump. My loss of belief in myself will be visible, physical, or would be if anyone was there. Next, it's my heart and my stomach. They all start to tingle, twinge. Somewhere between "first date/day on the job" excitement jitters and "I'm alone in the house and it's dark and someone's knocking on my door" apprehension. By the time I get down to the "One Year" bullet point, it's more or less all fear. There's pretty much no room for excitement. My brain is on overload, fully in self-deflation mode. You'll never be able to do that! See now you're stuck - you're only good at big ideas. Your dreams are so unrealistic. You're just not capable. You can't get past this first step. And more often than not, I don't. It simply seems impossible to put pen to paper, or fingers to computer, and write down steps that I'll actually have to take soon. Almost like to write it down would be to accept that I can do this, that I could possibly achieve this goal or dream, and therefore I'm unable to continue writing.

I'm not sure, exactly what causes this. I suspect it's a combination of factors. Depression tells me all sorts of nasty things about myself, including the above. It also tells me the moment I get stuck that I'm a failure, again, "just like every other time". Not to mention that it exhausts me, so that even when I have thoughts of trying to push past the negative, I feel like I physically don't have it in me.  Then I feel like a failure and lazy and blame myself further.  There's also anxiety, which stops me in my tracks. I freeze. So does my brain. I cannot think, at least not about the task at hand, and sometimes, about anything. My most commonly used phrases during an anxiety attack are "I don't know" and "I can't." As in "I don't know because I am unable to even think straight for anxiety" and "I can't do what you suggest or I'm mentally, emotionally, and what feels like physically frozen because of anxiety."

When this happens, as much as I want to push through it, I rarely do. I know that it's keeping me from my goals - from even getting them fully on paper. Sometimes I think if I had someone to split up the goals with, someone who's strengths were my weaknesses and vice versa, perhaps I could persevere. Hell, I can't even get past the goal setting. How am I supposed to reach the actual goals. Sometimes, I distract myself, like now, when I used this feeling as fuel for a blog. Sometimes, I think I need to just push past it. Be as uncomfortable as I can possibly stand, and see if I hang on long enough, if that feeling will pass and I'll come out on the other side of it able to actually continue to write my goals. In these moments, I wonder if the anxiety is some sort of perverse self-defense mechanism. If I can't write my goals down, I can't attempt to achieve them, and if I don't attempt, I can't fail. Nor will I have to deal with all of the depression and anxiety that will surely come along with attempting. In these moments, I wonder if perhaps it's just a vicious cycle that I'm unable to get out of.

The only thing I've found that sometimes works for me is to create minute actions that are completely underwhelming (most days). Take one tiny task that I can do in the half hour or less. Maybe it's finding the name of a potential contact that I may need. Perhaps it's finding one source of information that will help with the task at hand. It may be reading one document, or even a couple of pages of one document. And then I stop. I don't try to go any further, to push myself until I inevitably hit a wall and get anxious.  I set another tiny goal for the next day. I try to tackle these goals early on in the day, to feel accomplished, to help build confidence. And if all else fails on a given day, I distract myself completely. Get together with a friend. Pick up a good book. Take my dog for a walk (not always the most relaxing, though). Go for a run. Find a terribly predictable Hallmark movie that has zero surprises and therefore zero opportunities to produce tension. What I absolutely can't do is to allow myself to slip into negative talk. If I can stay away from this, I might stand a chance of trying again tomorrow and making a tiny bit of progress.

Do you have strategies for tackling goals and plans when anxiety kicks in? I'd love to hear them, so please share! 

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