It’s now the Year of the Sheep (Yáng) in the Chinese Zodiac. Since my mother is Taiwanese, and a sheep, I consider it a good idea to make this my first ever Chinese New Year’s Resolution. I’m also doing this because it’s near-perfect timing for where I am in life right now.
Resolution: Embracing my inner “sheep,” a.k.a. fears/vulnerability/shyness, and self-empathy.
The empathy is closely related.
Actually, I spent a lot of the past year focusing on this, but primarily in a social sense. I want to continue focusing on it in a social sense, and seeing myself blossom in this way, but I want to also focus on my fears that are blocking me from general task-centered activities, such as those related to career, finance, and personal organization. Many of these fears (most?) are also social. But instead of being about intimate relationships/friendships, they might be like the fear of asking for a raise or the fear of applying for a job or writing an important email.
This is going to be a project, including elements that I’ve used in a previous project on self-coaching. I’m definitely going to use self-coaching. Unfortunately, that project didn’t seem to stick with me, in that I didn’t continue self-coaching at all afterward. However, I’m glad I did that project, and I’m going to consider this one as building upon that one (as well as a lot of other things). I want this one to stick. A major goal of this project is to figure out how to develop a system for facing my fears that will last me far beyond this project.
Unlike some of my previous projects, I am not just going to have a goal like, “Do such-and-such (i.e. self-coaching, meditation) for at least 15 minutes per day and blog about it.” I want this project to be a work-in-progress in the sense that there’s no, “okay, I put in this amount of time, now I can clock out.” It’s not that simple. I am going to be spending possibly the entire duration of this project developing a system that works for me in the long-term. I want this to be more organic, more like the original project I started this blog with: something I’m thinking about all the time.
Since I have had a lot of success with month-long projects, this is going to start off as a one-month project. Probably some elements will be for one month, others one year. I want the system I develop during this project to last me for a minimum of about 6 months, probably for much longer. However long it takes me to make it a deeply ingrained habit of facing my most urgent fears. And if I don’t like what I initially start with for my concrete goals, I might change them throughout the project.
While I do want to start off with some easily measurable goals that I check off a list, I want to focus more on the bigger/general goals, and make those other goals secondary. So, here’s what the first month is going to look like in general:
1. Dual Focus: This project is going to have a dual focus. It was inspired by the notion of overcoming (avoiding?) my avoidant tendencies. However, this is a sort of negative approach, a negation of something. I can’t simply avoid avoidance, because that creates a void. Something needs to fill in the void. I think it’s fine to have the goal of overcoming avoidance, as long as I also have an equally strong and clear affirmation. The affirmation is going to be embracing vulnerability, facing my fears, and self-empathy. So I can ask myself questions like, “What am I avoiding right now?” as well as, “What can I give myself right now to get through this fear?”
I really dig this idea of having a dual focus, too. I get both the yin and the yang. Both sides of the same coin. I’m also over the “affirmations only” and “positive energy only” perspectives. I think these are limiting, and dualistic in the Buddhist sense. Dualism is the idea of exclusionary opposites that aren’t dependent upon each other. In reality, light doesn’t exist without darkness, happiness doesn’t exist without sadness, positivity doesn’t exist without negativity, protons don’t exist without electrons. Or as my philosophy professor put it, “Both/and; not either/or.” So I can target avoidance as a thing, and I can also target empathy and acceptance, and I think these targets complement each other. I think they go hand-in-hand.
2. Self-empathy and Nonviolent Communication (NVC): My last 30-day project was a focus on NVC, and it was probably the most important 30-day self-improvement project that I’ve ever done. NVC is based on empathy. And the focus on it has really stuck with me. This will be a good “excuse” to focus more on NVC, and I also have a solid foundation in it upon which to build other things. Self-empathy, not just empathy through communication with others, is a major part of NVC. For it is important to have empathy in order to be able to give it.
I have found focusing on NVC to be very profoundly healing for me. It has improved my social life enormously, and it’s really a framework about emotional problem-solving. Therefore, it seems natural to turn this framework onto my fear of completing tasks.
3. Process / processing vs. “just do it.”
I don’t want to get stuck on just focusing on single tasks that I’ve been avoiding, because that’s easy to do (and I did that in my original self-coaching project). Once I actually focus on something I’ve been avoiding, it’s often extremely easy to follow through on. So it’s easy to be like, well, the easiest thing here is to stop all this thinking around the problem and just go do the task. The problem with that is that it takes me forever to actually get to that point when I’m seriously avoiding something. And just because I got to that point with one task doesn’t make it significantly easier with the next thing I’m avoiding. Furthermore, if I just go do it, I may end up never coming back to think about the bigger picture and bring myself back to the self-coaching once the short-term project is over. Therefore, I am stuck without a system and without anything long-term.
Yes, there are times when we benefit from telling ourselves, “Just do it. Now. Go!” But I think I have a lot of working up to the point where I will benefit much from that approach, because I have strong avoidant tendencies. I also think that in general, when we avoid things hard, it’s often because we have other things we need to work through that are creating a resistance. If I had an external force to make me do things without thinking further about them, to get me into the habit, that would be helpful, but since it’s only my own mind, I think I need to start by working through these things.
I plan to start off with a lot of thinking “around” the problem/tasks, which leaves the fear that I’m just doing that as another way to avoid things. However, I expect that throughout the duration of this project, I will move away from the heavy thinking “around” things, and get more and more into the implementation of the system and engagement in the tasks I’ve been avoiding. Even if I turn out to be wrong about this, I will consider it a worthwhile experiment. But my previous experience with self-coaching et al. leads me to the expectations that I have. For example, I had coaching sessions that started off with asking myself why I was afraid of doing something and ended in confidently doing what I needed to do. This seems like the same phenomenon, but on a larger scale.
4. All the time. When I am not actually focusing directly upon completing the tasks I’ve been avoiding, I want to be spending a majority of my personal time (at least for the first 2-3 weeks) focusing on the goal of overcoming the avoidance. So I’ll hopefully have what feels like all the time in the world to work through my fears AND complete the tasks. And when I get really into things, I tend to get really freaking into things. I’m feeling up to this right now. I spent the latter half of 2014 hyper-focusing on languages in this way (constantly), and I think I’m ready to shift that hyper-focus to something else for a little while. The language focus was good preparation.
5. The Getting Things Done System. I like this system, but I haven’t been able to focus on it enough to implement it. Really, I think I want to develop my very own system, that works best for me… because I don’t have the same sort of type A brain as the CEOs who David Allen coaches. But I want to implement at least one thing from Allen’s system: the basket concept. Instead of using our own minds as a (waste) basket, we can get all our ideas and tasks out of our heads and into appropriate baskets. Once it’s out there, it’s easier to sort through it.
So this means that I’m going to do a lot of writing. I’m going to write all my ideas about this out in my private blog/journal. It will be like writing and studying my own book, in a way. Since I don’t have a highly organized mind, I’m going to write using a lot of lists. I’ve already been doing this. My lists/journals are going to be like my external thought baskets.
I also like Allen’s idea of the “urgent” task as opposed to the “important” task. A list of important tasks could be endless, but urgency is what defines priority. So I will ask myself, “What are the most urgent tasks I have been avoiding?”
6. Self-coaching. May include: going through the NVC steps; make lists of steps I can take; making lists of what I’m avoiding; making lists of fears / mental barriers I have; going through worst/best case scenarios, most likely/realistic scenarios, etc. etc. Preparing myself for the worst and best. I will do it in writing and maybe also out loud. I’m not feeling very talkative lately, so I’m leaning more toward writing. Actually, this entire project could fall under self-coaching, but I also want to think of it in a more targeted way. I will call it self-coaching when I am working through a specific task directly.
7. Daily routine. I am going to try starting off with a general routine of spending a majority of time focusing on this project, plus a specific routine of focusing specifically on getting certain tasks done that I’ve been avoiding.
8. Therapy. This is going to be a bit like therapy—the intensive kind of therapy I’ve always wanted, but always been denied by my professional therapist. I will be going through my fears one by one and facing them. I will try to face them at times the way that I know people with phobias are brought to face their fears. First the arachnophobe talks about the spiders, then they look at pictures, then they look at plastic spiders, then they face an actual spider… first from afar and then up close. My fear is less concentrated on a tangible thing, but I think it’s been on the level of phobia. It’s paralyzing. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s terrifying. But dealing with it is probably pretty similar, in a way, to dealing with arachnophobia. However, it is more complex.
Okay, let’s move on to the more measurable goals that I’m starting with:
1. It’s very late, so I’ll leave this task till tomorrow: As soon as I get up tomorrow, the first thing I’m going to do is spend (at least) 5 minutes thinking externally about my most urgent tasks. Then I will eat to make sure my brain is working. Then I will coach myself through my top 2-3 most urgent tasks, beginning within 15 minutes after breakfast.
2. ^If this works well, I’m going to try making it my daily routine for at least the first week.
3. I intend to blog report about the progress made within the first month, as usual. This for extra accountability and to maintain the 30-day motivation period.
4. Meditate at least once a week for the first month so I don’t get self-empathy fatigue—so I don’t get too stressed out from the intense emotions involved with facing my fears.
5. At least once every 2-3 days, run through the entire process of NVC with myself.
Outcomes / Visualization
I’ve already done some visualization, and I don’t feel the need to share that here at the moment, but it was helpful. As for outcomes:
At the end of the sheep year, I want to be in a very, very different place. At least as different of a place from now as I am from where I was a year ago. It only just occurred to me now, but I am in a very different place than I was then, at least for certain major areas of my life. If this project is successful overall, I will definitely be in such a different place.
At the end of the sheep year, I hope I will love my inner sheep so much that she will obey me the way that flock of sheep obeyed the pig in Babe: willingly, consensually. (My dad was a pig, and he liked tying people up, so maybe this is why I’m channeling Babe here.)
At the end of the first month, I want to have developed at least a basic system to tweak / build up for the rest of the year. And to have faced some of my most urgent fears.
I’m feeling pretty anxious about getting started with this, but also confident about the long-term results. I’m anxious about having to actually face my fears, but looking forward to releasing them.
Please, wish me luck, or send me sheep, or join me on this journey. Thanks!
Baa ram ewe.