When It Feels Like It’s too Hard

I sit down, look at my to-do list.

Suddenly I’m off to clean the bathroom. Or make a sandwich. Or go for a walk. I’m off to do anything except what’s on my to-do list because the refrain in my head is ‘it’s too hard.’

When that chant starts (it’s too hard, it’s so hard), I seem to go on auto-pilot and procrastinate like it’s my only job.

Not all of my to-do items prompt this response. The items that simply require me to take a simple action such as mail a letter or pick up an item at the grocery store are fine. There’s no brain buzz activated.

When It Feels Like It's too HardThe brain buzz gets activated when an item carries emotional valence: call a prospective client, submit an article, create a video series. Or write an article like this one in which I’m exposing my vulnerability. The brain buzz creates a distraction because it fears rejection, humiliation and embarrassment.

So my ‘it’s too hard’ gets applied to any and all situations where I might wind up feeling exposed. If it’s too hard, then surely it makes sense to not do it, right? Using the phrase is like getting a Get Out of Jail Free card. I don’t have to sit with uncomfortable emotions, I can distract myself (for example, since I started this essay, I’ve checked Facebook 4 times, cleaned the kitchen, and sought out my partner for a conversation about the rather trivial matter of how much the dog sleeps.)

The worst was when writing my doctoral dissertation: I’d sit down to write and hours later look up from playing solitaire. Hours! I’d given so much time and energy into my research that the thought of writing something that would be adversely judged felt excruciating and unbearable. So I played Solitaire compulsively.

At one point, I enlisted my kids’ help, asking them to tell me to work if they saw Solitaire on my computer screen. They took this task very seriously, sneaking around the corner with wooden spoons and pots to bang on.

“Work!” they’d yell as they caught sight of my screen, banging on their pots.

While I don’t recommend this approach for everyone, it did help me. I began to associate Solitaire with cacophonous sounds. I started writing more, learning to tolerate the low rumble of fear in my head.

Our brains, in this case, specifically the amygdala, want to protect us. The problem with our amygdala is that it doesn’t differentiate between real and perceived dangers. The danger of rejection lights up the amygdala the same way a bear charging at you would. Run! Don’t do it! Get out of there! Accordingly, we have to re-train our brains to accept forays into situations that tap into our vulnerability.

For me, that means I recognised my avoidant behaviours and chose to self-correct. I acknowledged my anxiety and then committed to keeping my butt in the chair until I got a rough draft done.

I noticed the tug of a distracting task and stayed put. And when I caught myself whining, ‘it’s too hard,’ I changed the thought to ‘this is completely doable.’ Notice I didn’t jump to ‘this is amazingly easy,’ which would’ve set off my lie detector.

I still catch myself occasionally whining, this is too hard. Usually that tells me I’m making it harder than it needs to be so my job then becomes to get curious about that. I can usually track it down to some fear popping up. I soothe the fear and then get back to it. I need progress, not perfection.

It may become easy but right now I’m settling for doable.

If you’re struggling with something that feels hard or undoable, book a free call and let’s get you unstuck:



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