mental health

Cue Annie

At some point in time, everyone uses the word “tomorrow.” Usually, we break it out when confronted with a chore we HATE: dusting, organizing the closet, weeding, rearranging the books to fit new ones on the shelf. (Let me clarify: I only hate that because it involves hauling heavy tomes back and forth across the den…and I usually don’t anticipate the space required the first time) Setting a new deadline soothes the guilt in the back of our minds. We’re not procrastinating – not really – we’re scheduling the task for a more appropriate time. Then we can go about our day, proud of our organization skills.

As long as we DO attend to things tomorrow.

That’s always the kicker, though, isn’t it? Because when tomorrow DOES show up, our enthusiasm for the chore hasn’t spontaneously manifested. Then we’re faced with a new quandary. Do we put off the task for one more tomorrow? Or can we sigh, roll up our sleeves, and get to work? How you answer that question depends on your motivation in the moment you stare at the garden patch, dust rag, closet door, or book shelves. And the internal dialogue you engage in will determine your next course of action.

It’s easy to think the pattern works the same when you look at the bigger goals in your life. You know you need to address the next step on that climb toward the top. And you WILL – tomorrow. You equate it to the thought process you use when looking at a sink full of dishes. But are you afraid scrubbing the dirty plates and glasses will lead to absolute failure? Possibly (I try not to judge), but more than likely not. Most of us DO panic that pushing over the boulder on our journey WILL result in a tumble back to the bottom, though. So we’ll confront the obstacle tomorrow – when we’re better able to handle the implications.

And the tomorrows start piling up.

When you’re considering a fear, it’s always easy to find an excuse to delay a task. (For instance, I know that giant spider probably has friends in the front yard. So I’m not about to head out and weed the beds until the coast is clear. Say after the first hard freeze) It gets harder and harder to unearth the possibility of success and write a firm action to DO something. Having a nebulous idea of “tomorrow” settles things easier. We calm the guilty side of us that insists we need to accomplish something, but we also settle our fearful side by refusing to attach a time. And before long? It’s been a month…two months…a year.

I’m a CHAMP at the tomorrow game. I sit in seminars, feeling excitement well up as I learn new techniques and ideas. My mind churns with plans; I can SEE the steps I need to take. I step away to work on an assignment or sleep for the night. And when I come back and confront those steps, worries surface. Maybe my enthusiasm was misplaced. Did I really think I could pull off something so ambitious? I should probably table things until tomorrow – give my brain a chance to marinated.

Then tomorrow arrives, and my anxiety spiral’s had 24 hours to work. The single fear I started with has multiplied. WAY easier to convince myself I need more time to sort through the possible ramifications of each new possible doomsday scenario. (You can’t take action without backup plans, can you?) I need to wait until tomorrow – when I’m DEFINITELY ready. So the cycle begins. And it lasts until I’m willing to call a halt to the madness.

IF I make it stop.

There’s always another tomorrow. That’s the beautiful thing about trying something new. If you encounter a hiccup, you get another try tomorrow. But when you refuse to make the jump, you can end up standing on the edge of the cliff FOREVER. And the only person that can convince you one way or the other is YOU. Do you face your fear and take the risk that, yeah, you might fail? Or do you refuse to move forward? Which action offers the better state of mind?

On one hand, you stay safe and sound. You’re never going to fail. There’s no need to push through anxiety, fear, and potential depression. And, believe me, I get the allure! But you hate that stagnation, remember? If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have set your goals in the first place.

On the other hand, you have to confront the sweating palms, the shakes, and the racing heart. You have a 50:50 chance of things working out on the other side. (And, no, I can’t predict your outcome) You’re rolling the dice, moving out of your comfort zone, and placing your hopes and dreams in the hands of fate. It’s horrifying! But it’s growth, and there IS that chance of success. You could move forward with your dreams. And even if you DO fail, you’ll learn something out of the process. (We like to forget that part)

When I start noticing that more than two tomorrows have happened, I force myself to immediately stop what I’m doing and take action. It’s the only way to break the habit. And, yes, it’s terrifying. I find myself with gritted teeth (don’t do that – it’s bad for your jaw) and a massive stress headache. But I’ve made “progress” each time. No, I haven’t always succeeded, but I HAVE continued to learn and grow. So that means I’m not sitting back on the path, shifting from foot to foot in indecision. And it does feel good to admit that.

That’s how you break the pattern. As soon as the word tomorrow hits your brain, you STOP and implement a plan. Make appointments. Start the research. Take notes. Buy the supplies. Whatever you need to get yourself on the path to that next step, DO IT. Because if you use the word “tomorrow,” you’re verging dangerously close to “never.”

(Incidentally, this advice does not apply to weeding gardens where spiders may or may not be present)