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The Big Freeze: Overcoming Inertia What to Do when You Can’t Do a Thing

Rachel Alexander May 14, 2014

Everyone’s heard of fight or flight, but what about freeze? One of our responses to fear is freezing which is an inability to take any action whatsoever. Part of divorce and marital separation is overcoming a sense of overwhelm in order to face multiple daunting tasks.

As a primitive coping response, freezing may have served us at a time when non-movement and a slowing of all our bodily functions meant evading a stalking saber tooth tiger. In our current environs, freezing is somewhat less useful. Nonetheless, old habits, particularly biologically based ones, die hard. With important matters requiring deliberate and informed action, such as divorce and separation, it’s important we manage our “freeze” response.

The Myth: When faced with an overwhelming task like:

  • Reentering the job market after years of staying home

  • Leaving the safety of a relationship that is unhealthy and has gone on years beyond its natural life

it may feel as if the task ahead is as daunting as pushing a boulder up a mountain. As a matter of physics (or some such incomprehensible science), all you have to do is begin. Once you begin, even for a collection of moments, momentum kicks in and you are no longer alone. Your force meets the force of inertia, and what was a boulder is transformed into a manageable and even cooperative, bouncing soccer ball.

Here’s how:

Be kind to yourself

Create an environment that fosters relaxation and effectiveness. For example – make yourself a cup of your favorite tea, put on clothes that you like to wear, turn on music that lifts your confidence, etc., prior to beginning.

Schedule a time

Block off a finite period of time in which you will do some work on the given task. Hold the time for this purpose alone. Even if you are unable to write a word, review your resume, read a page, do one internet search, it’s okay. The task is to make space and begin the discipline of accomplishing the goal. Accomplishing this “small” piece of the task, and, importantly, not faulting yourself if that’s the only portion accomplished, is creating a new pattern and ultimately creating movement. Also, demanding less of yourself actually (paradoxically) fosters a less threatening environment for accomplishing more. Set a timer and do 10 seconds – once you begin, the momentum will take over.

Do less

Ask less of yourself. The goal is to get yourself to begin. The second five minutes are much easier than the first. It’s unkind and ineffective to abuse yourself into beginning by telling yourself you need to do 12 hours at a stretch or it’s no use beginning at all. Nonsense! Self-criticisms and judgements create an impossible atmosphere to begin anything.

When facing a challenge, it may seem like you need to do the whole thing on your own. Not so! All you need is to begin.

What helps you to “thaw?” Please feel free to share your strategies in the “Leave a Reply” box below.