Posted by: Marie | January 29, 2010

(237) A non-productive cycle

Post #237
[Private journal entry written on Thursday, October 8, 2009]

Several days ago (October 4th to be exact), Chris Edgar from the blog Purpose Power Coaching published a post titled, “Your Inner Productivity Questions Answered”.

In his post, he invited us, the readers of his blog, to bring to him the productivity issues we’ve been facing – for example, a pattern of procrastination, lack of inspiration, anxiety about competence, etc.

I took him up on his invitation and submitted a comment about a productivity challenge I often experience. Here is some of what I wrote:

One of the biggest challenges for me has been my habit of flipping between two states:

1) Feeling overwhelmed and disorganized — being fearful that I’m not doing something I should be doing (keeping a promise, buffering against a risk, etc.) This is often accompanied by piles of paper and clothes and trash piling up in my very small living/work area. I work on my “to do list” as fast and furiously as I can, hoping I’m doing the most important stuff first, but never sure I’m being effective.

Then, after about a week of the tension building, I get to a place where I become paralyzed by the anxiety and the chaos and mess. Then, everything comes to a screeching halt and I go into the “get organized” mode (usually on Saturday mornings) . . .

2) I put everything back in its place, catch up on laundry and email and bill-paying and scheduling my time. I feel calm, organized, on top of everything. I know what needs to be done first, I know how to effectively spend my time and money . . . I have a solid plan . . . I feel good. Then, I sit down to do the top item on my “to do list” and find myself paralyzed from the weight of being compliant and perfect and organized and effective.

Subsequently, I find relief from that weight by allowing the mess and chaos to start building up again. There is a comfortable place in the middle that lasts until the clutter builds up too much again. I don’t yet know how to maintain that middle ground.

Any ideas?

I know I’m dealing with PTSD, and I’m working through that, but I’m looking to better understand what is happening specifically in this scenario so I can know what part of my past I’m reliving in this scenario. With that info, I could find a path through it to healing.

Chris responded with the following:

Hi Marie — what I’m getting is that, when you’re working, you start to feel afraid that you’re failing to do something or not getting it right, and that sensation of fear becomes so strong that you want to stop working completely. And then the fear subsides for a while, but eventually comes back, and you repeat the same cycle again.

Photo by Martin Chen

I’m curious about a few things. First, I wonder what that sensation of fear feels like for you — where does it come up in your body? For me, for example, fear means a sinking feeling in my solar plexus or stomach. Focusing on the sensation I’m feeling actually has the fear occur as less threatening, because I’m seeing it for what it really is rather than the whole complicated mental story I may be creating around it.

Second, when you say there’s something you should be doing, what I get is that you’re worried that some specific bad thing will happen if you don’t do what you “should” do. Do you have a sense of what that is? Also, do you have a sense of who is making the rules for what you “should” be doing and what’s most important? Who do you have to be “compliant and perfect” for? It sounds to me like you’ve already done some exploration and had some intuitions about these things.

I hope these questions are helpful to you.

While I didn’t answer his questions in the forum of his blog, I did answer them in my private journal – I wrote my response as if I were writing to Chris directly even though I never sent him what I wrote:

In answering your questions, it might be helpful if I first identify the four phases of the cycle you mentioned:

First phase: I spend time getting organized and being organized – but not producing (getting organized feels good)

Second phase: I sit and stare at my well-organized “to do list” and feel overwhelmed – but not producing (feels bad)

Third phase: I spend time producing and becoming more disorganized (feels good for as long as it lasts)

Fourth phase: I spend time being stuck in the disorganization and not producing (feels bad)

Your question: “. . . what [does] that sensation of fear feel like for you — where does it come up in your body?”

My answer:

First phase: The “getting organized” part of the experience feels good to me . . . it feels like I am clearing away yucky air and can finally breath fresh air . . . I can finally get my lungs full of fresh air. I have a sensation of sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor of my living space with all my piles of time, money, plans, hopes, relationships, etc. all neatly stacked in uniform rows around me. My arms are stretched out over the piles in an airborne virtual embrace – all is calm and hopeful.

Second phase: Then, when I pick up my “to do list” and look at the first item I should be doing, it feels like the air is knocked out of my lungs. I can’t draw a breath. The weight of this unattainable standard of perfection pushes down on my shoulders and causes my head to bow forward.

The message that whispers in my head is the fear of never measuring up to what I am supposed to be . . . that I am supposed to keep every promise, never spend my money and time unwisely, anticipate and prepare for everything that could go wrong – I am not supposed to do anything fun or frivolous until I have all my “ducks in a row”. If I don’t handle my affairs that way, I am an irresponsible person – a shameful person – not worthy of my father’s name or being his daughter.

Third phase: Somehow, I’m able to shake free of that weight of perfectionism and am able to grab hold of something and get it done. Then, I grab the next thing I see and get it done. I eat at my desk and leave the dirty dishes. At night, I fall out of my clothes and into bed, leaving my clothes where they landed. My focus is simply on “get the really important stuff done”.

I don’t feel I have time for brushing my teeth or calling my friends or reading a fun book. I have to work as hard as I can and hope and pray I am doing the most important stuff first – my “to do list” disintegrates within a couple of days of this; so, even if I did look at that list, it wouldn’t be accurate anymore.

Despite the panicked mental state, I feel [relatively] good during this time because I am producing and creating and moving forward. I feel like I am living in my body (especially in my solar plexus) rather than in just my head. I feel like a warrior (which is one of my natural energy types).

Fourth phase: When the disorganization gets too deep (usually within a week or so), I feel like I am swimming in chaos. It literally feels like the “mess” is chest deep and I can barely ambulate through the debris. My breathing becomes shallow and fast . . I am panicked because I know that every phone call from a client and every e-mail from a friend and every face-to-face encounter with my boss will contain a screaming blast of anger – I will be caught off-balance – the person will chastise me about how unreliable and forgetful and untrustworthy I am because I forgot to do something I was supposed to do. I wander around my living space, try to remember all the promises I made and then have forgotten. The half-remembered gnats buzz around my head – I’m unable to sleep at night or focus enough to be productive during the day.

And, then, when I can no longer breath, I start over again with Phase
One . . .

I can see how this exchange with Chris could be helpful. It allows me to see the insanity of my thinking and could allow me to step back and see what is going on when I’m in the middle of this cycle. It’s definitely something worth examining!


  1. Interesting process. I think it could be helpful to run every ‘adverse’ emotion, or behavior thru this process, ie, where does it come from, who does it come from.

    • I agree, Ivory –

      It kind of acts like a reality check . . . helps to identify what is real and what is drama or old programming.

      Good stuff!

      – Marie

  2. I really like Chris’s stuff, I find him both insightful and gentle.

    Getting a sense of my cycles/patterns has been really helpful to me.

    • Hey, Evan –

      I like Chris’ stuff, also . . . he has a knack for passing along some solid wisdom!

      It seems that getting a sense of what is behind destructive cycles and patterns is a good way to end the constant “beating of my head against the wall” — and that is a good thing, LOL!

      – Marie

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