Drop the Gun and Embrace Your Emotions

Society tries to convince us that we can control our internal experiences. We constantly hear messages like “Don’t worry about it. Relax. Calm down.”

That’s dead wrong.  Just hearing the words “Don’t worry” can make us anxious.

Telling yourself “Don’t worry” isn’t much different.  The more often we think, “Don’t feel anxious you can’t feel anxious don’t be depressed don’t be sad you shouldn’t be upset” the more anxious, depressed, sad and upset we’ll become.

Let’s take a metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as an example of how this process works. Imagine that you’re hooked up to a very sensitive polygraph machine. This polygraph machine can pick up the slightest physiological changes that occur in your body, including any changes in heartbeat, pulse, muscle tension, sweat, or any type of minor arousal.

Now suppose I say, “Whatever you do, don’t get anxious while you’re hooked up to this highly sensitive device!”

What do you imagine might happen?

You guessed it. You’d start getting anxious.

Now suppose I pull out a gun and say, “No seriously, whatever you do as long as you are hooked up to this polygraph machine you cannot get anxious! Otherwise, I shoot!”

You’d get extremely anxious.

Now imagine I say, “Give me your phone or I’ll shoot.”

You’d give me your phone.

Or if I say “Give me a dollar or I’ll shoot.”

You’d give me a dollar.

Although society tries to sell us the idea that we can control our internal experiences the same way we do objects in the external world, the truth is that we actually can’t. We can’t control our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, the way we can control objects in the world. In fact, the more we try to control or change our internal experiences the more out of control we feel. The more we try to get rid of distressing thoughts and feelings the stronger they become.

This is what many of us do to ourselves when we experience uncomfortable feelings.  Our minds, like the polygraph machine, pick up sensations in our bodies.  Then we pull out the gun against ourselves and tell ourselves not to have certain emotions. We start struggling with trying to control and eliminate certain thoughts and feelings. The more we try get rid of our experience the more they intensify.  What if we dropped the gun and were kind to ourselves instead?  Thoughts and feelings shift and change like the weather. They are temporary. They intensify when we bully ourselves, and fade away with acceptance and self-compassion.

Painful feelings such as loneliness, fear, sadness, deprivation, rejection, and disappointment are an unavoidable part of life. They are just a part of being a human being. Although we don’t have control over having painful emotions that are a part of being alive, we always have control over our actions. We can always choose to respond in ways that are consistent with our values, regardless of how we feel. We may sometimes think that our emotions force us to act a certain way. We think our emotions are in charge. They’re not. We are. We are never ever truly trapped into actions we don’t want. We can always choose to respond to our emotions in ways that leave us free. So, how can we drop the gun and embrace all our internal experiences?

  1. Notice when you’re pulling out a gun on yourself—judging or struggling with your internal experience.
  2. Drop the struggle. Instead, give the emotion a neutral label. Say to yourself “I feel scared,” or “I feel hurt.”
  3. Notice the sensations in your body that comes with that emotion. Stay present with the sensations. Notice the size, shape, color, and texture of the sensation.
  4. Drop the story in your head about “why” you’re feeling this way. Focus on sensations and feelings rather than ideas.
  5. Open up to the emotional experience. Practicing self-compassion and loving kindness helps us soften up to our emotional experience without pushing it away. Put your hand on your heart and speak to yourself as you would to someone you love. You might say, “This is really difficult” or, ““it makes sense that I feel sad now. “
  6. Remember we are all in this together. Think of all the people right now in this world who are feeling helpless, lonely, deprived, or rejected. You are not alone. Being human comes with pain.

Those steps are the essence of self-compassionate care. Self-compassion is embracing your humanness.

Choose self-compassion and you will be free to act in line with your values.

For now, please take this message to heart. Much of the time, you’re the one with the gun. Don’t pull out the gun and you will be free.

The following questionnaire will help you determine which schemas are most relevant for you in relationships. Schemas are core beliefs or stories that we have developed about ourselves and others in relationships. When we are unware of these stories we are more likely to engage in behaviors that create a self-fulfilling prophecy and reinforce these beliefs. Your responses can provide you with insight into your relationship patterns and dynamics as well as information that will help you deal more effectively in your relationships.

Note: This questionnaire is for informational purposes only and is not intended to function as a psychological assessment or a clinical diagnosis. If you have any questions about your results, please speak with a qualified health professional.

Instructions: 

For each statement, choose the answer that best describes you. At the end of the questionnaire you will receive your results for each schema and how it may be impacting your relationships.

This questionnaire has 110 questions on 4 pages.

 

8 Ways to Procrastinate Effectively

8 Ways to Procrastinate Effectively

Most of us were taught that procrastination is not an effective strategy for getting things done. The common belief is that we shouldn’t put off assignments or projects until the last minute. The implication is that completing a task at the last second would mean being doomed to stress, chaos, and maybe even total failure if things didn’t come together as planned. But is it possible that procrastination may actually be an efficient strategy for some?

Some individuals are happier when completing a task immediately because they derive satisfaction from completing the task. As soon as the task has been completed, they feel relieved and are able to easily let it go. We’ll call these people “non-procrastinators.”

In contrast, procrastinators don’t experience that relief in the same way. They are perfectionists and therefore, even once the task is complete they continue to worry, ruminate, and work towards improving it. Because of this struggle, they only feel satisfied once they have achieved closure through meeting the deadline. If a project is due on Friday and they expect it to take about a day or two to complete, they prefer to begin working on the project on Wednesday and meet the deadline, rather than starting it sooner and still worrying about it for just as long.

Procrastinators also work more efficiently under time pressure. Therefore, they tend to get more done under less time. You may wonder, why not just begin the project on Monday and get it done faster? For people who are natural procrastinators, if they were to begin work on Monday, it’s likely that the project would still stretch out until Friday as they continue tweaking and correcting the work until the deadline. For procrastinators, it can actually be more productive to wait until Wednesday to begin the project.

We know now that procrastination can actually work more effectively and efficiently for some people depending their style of accomplishing goals.

A new perspective on procrastination

When our teachers warned us against procrastinating, they assumed that all procrastination is detrimental and leads to failure. However, some people are inherently inclined to complete work immediately prior to the deadline and are just as successful in doing so.

In fact, research has shown that people who procrastinate can be highly effective. It’s important to distinguish between ineffective procrastination, which causes missed deadlines and doesn’t result in work getting done, versus effective procrastination in which the work happens close to the deadline without sacrificing quality.

If you feel naturally oriented towards procrastinating, you can choose to stop beating yourself up about it and instead actively and mindfully practice effective procrastination. Rather than struggling to change your natural inclination, focus on learning effective procrastination. Below Dr. Lev provides 8 techniques to practice mindful procrastination:

8 tips for procrastinating effectively

1. Use “structured procrastination” to your advantage. Also called “active procrastination,” this phrase means that if you’re avoiding one thing on your to-due list, you use that time to accomplish something less imminent on the list instead. For example, if you are procrastinating on finishing your paperwork, rather than using that time to look at Facebook, you could make several phone calls, clean the dishes, or return emails and check those off the list.

2. Find ways to create external deadlines or consequences. Involving other people can be a good way to keep yourself accountable. Create a deadline by letting another person know that you’ll give them something by a specific date. As an example, if you’re procrastinating on tidying up your guest room, inviting a friend for dinner will motivate you to accomplish this task before your friend arrives.

3. Learn the skill of time allocation. Get good at knowing how much time to allocate to get certain things done. If it only takes twenty minutes to accomplish a certain task, then there’s no harm in waiting until half an hour before the deadline to do it. If there’s a larger project that may take several hours but the typical advice of working on it for an hour a day just doesn’t fit your work style, then you will need to accurately assess how many hours are needed and then block off that time in one or two marathon sessions to get the work done.

4. Accept that this strategy works for you. Don’t feel guilty for procrastinating—there is nothing inherently bad about it. Make procrastination a deliberate choice for yourself, call it a work style instead of a bad habit, and create systems around it that feel right for you. Beating yourself up for having a different work style is not going to help you be more efficient or successful. Accept that you are an effective procrastinator and treat yourself with kindness and self-compassion. Remember, that If you’re finding yourself missing deadlines then its no longer effective procrastination.

5. Know when it’s time to let go. Some items on your to-due list simply may not be that important to accomplish. If you have been putting off dealing with a particular item on your list for weeks or even months and no negative repercussions have occurred, it may be time to take it off the list entirely. It’s also possible that this item still needs to happen but you’re not the person who should do it, in which case you can find someone to delegate to so that it will get done.

6. Use passive preparation. There are a lot of ways to work on a task or project, and not all of them seem obvious to others. You can passively prepare a paper or a project in several ways: read articles about it, think about it creatively, talk with people about it, write down thoughts about it, or create a timeline. This approach means that you can allow yourself to explore ideas without the pressure of needing to get the actual product done just yet. 

7. Get better at prioritizing tasks. One challenge for procrastinators is to decide whether a task is urgent or can wait. Identifying the true degree of urgency for each new task will help you order your to-due list so that “structured procrastination” can be seamless.

8. Reward yourself when you’ve accomplished a task. Treat yourself when you’ve accomplished tasks by their deadline. Give yourself permission to celebrate, eat your favorite dessert, watch a movie, or buy yourself something you’ve been wanting. This will positively reinforce your behaviors in the long run.

Procrastination is what you make it

Procrastination can be a destructive force or a productive one—it’s all about understanding your style and learning the right tools. So, if you’re a procrastinator stop judging yourself for it and start doing it effectively. For more information on effective procrastination or to take a procrastination quiz click here.