“I’m too lazy to change.” I’ve heard clients say this a lot.
My clients get down on themselves when they don’t look for new jobs or start the projects. They wonder if they’re doomed to procrastinate forever. I can get caught in nasty loops of negative self-talk when I see myself as lazy. And calling myself lazy just makes me lazier. The same pattern happens for my clients. My first step to getting out of the funk of procrastination is to know that the obstacle to getting myself into gear isn’t laziness or procrastination, it’s anxiety.
There is one specific way I’ve seen anxiety obstruct forward movement in my life and the lives of clients. I am talking about about the Catch-22 Paradigm.
The Anxiety Catch-22
To explain how this works, let me invite you into my worry-brain for a moment.
It is 2007 and I am driving along, worried that I am going to be five minutes late to my job at Panera and also worried I’ll get to my job before this three minute song ends and the DJ says who sang it. Both can’t be true: I can’t be five minutes late and also cut off the three minute song. I’ve created a situation in which I’m impossible to please.
I hear this same worry trap from my clients*.
One client was worried about starting a romantic relationship in France because she’d only be there for the summer, while also being scared she wouldn’t meet anyone special in France even though she’d be there a whole summer.
I had a client who was worried he would never discover his life’s purpose, but he was also scared to find a purpose because it would force him to change his life.
To quote Alanis, isn’t it ironic?
Anxiety is a seesaw. It doesn’t give us any room for balance. It makes us think that any movement will take us down. Of course we procrastinate decisions. No one wants to take a step forward if they think it’s going to take them down. But there is liberation in this. Our situations aren’t actually stressful; the way anxiety interprets our situations is what stresses us out.
Turning a Lose-Lose Into a Win-Win
My client’s problem isn’t that she’ll live in France for the summer. Her problem is anxiety telling her that if she moves to France she’ll be alone forever or her heart will be broken. This situation could just as easily be a win-win.
My client is either going to develop a really meaningful relationship in France or she’s going to have lots of experiences and then dip. Hello! I’ll take either. High school me is either going to get to hear the rest of the song or she will get to Panera on time. Mr. Purposeless is going to snuggle right into his comfort zone or he’s going to discover a purpose so great that he’s willing to upend his life for it.
When you hear yourself constructing a Catch-22 Paradigm like the examples above, put your brain out of its misery and call it out. Then reverse it so that you see the win-win.
I hear these Catch-22s show up in the midst of big decisions:
Committing to a relationship
If you are thinking of leaving the job you love for a job that’ll look better on your resume, find the win-win: you either get to keep doing what you love or level-up. If you want to live somewhere without winter but don’t want to live far away from your nephew, good news: you’re about to live somewhere sunny or you’re going to be the best aunt ever. If you really want to marry your partner but you’re also terrified of commitment, yas queen: you have found someone who makes you want something that terrifies you! You don’t have to do anything. Just know that that’s pretty effing cool.
Notice your energy as you construct win-wins in your own life.
If the Win-Win Doesn’t Feel Good
If the anxiety gets louder instead of quieter as you reframe your issue into a win-win, maybe the lose-lose isn’t the real problem. Here’s what else could be going on:
you’re scared that you won’t be able to handle the good thing coming your way
you want reassurance from someone else, so you focus on what’s wrong to get help
you get to justify to yourself why you aren’t doing what you say you want
you think you have to be 100% prepared, no danger in sight, to jump off the cliff
The win-win perspective lowers the stakes and allows you to feel excited about your future. You’re not jumping off a cliff! It’s a diving board.
When you allow yourself to see what will go right, you give yourself the opportunity to imagine your ideal future fully and react to it. The excited energy that comes as you think about your possibilities will let you know what you really want.