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We Can Do Hard Things

Got an item on your to-do list that feels too daunting to make even a little dent in? An executive coach offers a surprisingly joyful path to crossing it off.

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Loris Lora
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I am a proud goal digger. I am obsessed with setting and going after both personal and professional goals. And I’m not just obsessed with my own goals, I’m always eager to help everyone around me chase their dreams too.

But even a goal digger like me sometimes faces task paralysis.

You know those moments when your to-do list is so overwhelming that you freeze up and do nothing at all? That’s task paralysis.

In a New York Times article on task paralysis, Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical assistant professor at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says the freeze response happens because we see the task or tasks before us as a threat.

“Our bodies react to threat the same way, whether the threat is external, like the proverbial saber-toothed tiger, or the threat is internal,” Hendriksen says in the article.

Logically, we all know how to tackle a daunting task. You know how the saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You don’t have to be a self-proclaimed goal digger to know that huge tasks need to be broken down into smaller, more manageable — and less intimidating — steps. But what should we do when we’re so unnerved by a task that we can’t even bring ourselves to do this?

Rewrite the story you’re telling yourself

Executive coach Magalie René ( says the first step to overcoming task paralysis is to figure out why you find this particular task so intimidating.

“What’s the story they’re telling themselves about getting it wrong?” That’s the question you need to answer, René says. She is CEO and Founder at Workplace Catalyst.

And she believes unpacking this can be especially complex for Black women.

“I know what those conversations are that come up,” she says. “That ‘not enough’ conversation, that ‘I need to be perfect because it’s got to be 50 times better than this other person who no one’s going to doubt.’”

Whether it’s a project for work or an event for church or a community organization you volunteer for, you may be putting a lot of pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly, which is causing you not to do anything at all.

A lot of this is based on how we believe others perceive us, René says. She’s speaking from experience.

“I’m 96 pounds. I’m 5-foot-2½ and I look very young, but I’m 46,” René says. “People see me come in and they think they’re talking to somebody who’s 22 and right out of school, and I’m a woman of color on top of that. So the conversations in my mind about how I’m being perceived affect the way that I take action on things.”

How others perceive you, however, does not dictate what you’re actually capable of doing.

“We really have to be honest with ourselves so we can break through those stories and recognize they are nothing but lies from the devil,” René says.

Rebrand discipline

There’s also a chance you could be avoiding the task because you’re subconsciously trying to rebel. René says many of the perfectionists she’s coached during her career grew up with domineering parental figures and a lot of pressure to be “good girls.”

“They tend to need some way to rebel and to find their own sense of freedom and control,” she explains. “And as you grow older, that rebellion turns in on itself, so it can turn into self-sabotage. Unconsciously, you’re rebelling against anything that feels like discipline or authority, even if it’s your own goals.”

Once you realize this is your problem, René says you need to “rebrand discipline” into devotion.

“What am I devoted to? In what ways am I devoted to myself?” Those are questions that can help you with this mindset makeover.

By focusing on devotion, you no longer look at your task as something you have to do but as something that’s sacred.

“And what is sacred is honored,” René says. “It’s also a much more feminine approach to completing tasks and to getting things done. The energy that I complete my tasks with is softer, it’s more graceful, it’s self-compassionate and it keeps me motivated, because I am devoted to something and I’m honoring the sacredness of my path and my purpose.”

After you face the behemoth goal and you break it down into smaller tasks, be sure to pat yourself on the back for each step that you complete along the way. If you don’t celebrate the small wins, René says, doing the work won’t feel good.   

Rethink procrastination

Beware of what René calls energy leaks — something that she says often happens when we procrastinate. Her solution for this, however, is not to avoid procrastinating. Instead, René says you need to let yourself procrastinate and enjoy it!

When we beat ourselves up for procrastinating, we’re expending even more energy that we now cannot devote to the tasks we need to complete.

“The whole time you’re sitting on the couch binge-watching, you’re actually beating yourself up for the fact that you’re not doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing,” René explains. “So it’s almost like double the energy.”

Instead, just give yourself an allotted time to procrastinate, and savor each relaxing moment. Think of it as planned and purposeful procrastination.

“It was actually self-compassion that allowed me to move out of procrastination more quickly,” René says, “Letting myself be okay with sitting and procrastinating for a certain amount of time, and then when I’m ready to go do the thing, I go do the thing!”

Follow Article Topics: Work-&-Money