Doing the Hard Stuff

Posted By Tina Dubin, Ph.D. on June 23, 2013 at 5:42pm | Tina's Musings
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You know how you’ve been meaning to do this thing for a while. It’s not even that big a deal. Anyone else would have done it easily. Actually it may be something you really need to do, know you should, want to – in a way. But don’t. Just can’t, it seems.

Below is a list of strategies I have accumulated over the years. Please feel free to add to the list, make comments and to give feedback on what works.

Dayenu/Successive Approximation. “Dayenu” in Hebrew means “that will suffice” (translated to the future tense) “that will suffice.” In psychological terminology, this approach is called “successive approximation”. It means that if you have something hard to do, take the tiniest step in that direction and give yourself a slap on the back for doing it – doing something physical like that is actually important – even if that’s only as far as you get.

Dr. Tina’s Aside: When I first moved to Austin, I was by myself. I didn’t really know anyone. So, I felt invisible and vulnerable. That made it hard for me to push myself to attend any kind of social function where I might meet people. So, I’d instruct myself to choose what I would wear if I were to go. A big cheer for myself later – really! – I acknowledge “Dayenu” this is good enough for now; I can stop here.” If I felt I could get dressed, I would, but if that was only as far as I got, Dayneu, pat on the back…….It will at least get you moving. At some point, it will get you there.

Reward – Simply enough, if I actually work on this for an hour I’ll go buy that thing I wanted. Or, on a larger scale, “if I work on this for 3 months, I’ll whisk myself off to Tahiti”. Don’t turn the rewarding over for anyone else to judge. You know if you deserve the reward. Be fair – in both directions.With someone else – Having an exercise partner, makes it much easier to get going. If someone else is waiting for you, expecting you, counting on you, you are more likely to do it. (I wonder if this is more of a female thing.) With a partner,you have someone to talk to and to share the experience with.

Dr. Tina’s Aside: My walking regime began a number of years ago when Bill’s college friend came to town with his new wife who was older than we were – a grandmother, actually – and the 3 of them went bike riding. I didn’t feel fit enough to keep up. So, I went to my friend Joanne’s house and told her we were going to start walking on a regular basis. And we did. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. So, having someone to do it with along with the shame and humiliation I felt got me going. Obviously, shame and humiliation along with desperation can also get us to do hard stuff – and sometimes it has to come down to that – but don’t start there if you don’t have to.

Minimizing its importance – For some reason, you’ve made doing this thing pretty intense. You may be using it as proof of something – how smart or dumb you are, whether or not you are as clever as you thought. So, finding a way to minimize the whole thing can be helpful. Yes – you can fool yourself!

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Posted by Tina Dubin, Ph.D.

I received my doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Kansas in 1977. I completed my post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin Counseling Center. Since then, I have been a research associate at the Institute of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Texas, a founding associate of Family Eldercare, and have been in private practice with my husband, Dr. William Dubin, at Psychological ARTS since 1980.

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