Do You Mind Tackling THE THING

I mean, really. Do you spend your days spinning and your nights sleepless, realizing all of the things you could have done with your days? THE THING you could have been doing with your days? It could be you’re struggling with an executive function deficit. That means that because of injury or illness or exhaustion, the part of your brain that is supposed to help you make decisions isn’t doing its job properly. Tackling the thing feels extremely difficult or impossible. 

THE THING is also commonly known as “the impossible task,” which is the task that your brain is telling you that you simply can’t do because of your depression, or anxiety, or trauma reaction, or pain, or whatever. First, be gentle with yourself. Then, think it through with the following steps:

Taking Stock

When your brain isn’t braining, especially when you need to get tackling the thing, you can find it hard to:

  • organize your time and your surroundings
  • wake and sleep when you want to
  • manage impulses, even when you know you should and you want to.
  • get motivated to do things, especially when no one is telling you that you have to. 

Which of these are you having the *most* trouble with?

Executive Function Part 1: What Is It? 

And Now, the Work

As someone who both deals with executive function issues and teaches coping methods, I’d *love* to give you another bullet list that will fix your problem lickety-split and change your life without any real effort on your part. 

I’d love to, but I can’t. 

what skills Core mindfulness from DBT: observe, describe, participate

Instead, what I’m going to do is give you some broad guidelines, and encourage you to find your own very individual path down the mountainside, guided by the light I’m handing you.

First, you need to develop a habit to deal with that sleep. More importantly, you need to be patient with yourself when your plan for sleep doesn’t work the first or fifth, or fifteenth time. Creating a new habit takes time. Gather lists of “sleep hygiene” tricks and figure out a couple that work for you.  Try one or two for a week or so, and keep track of the results. If they don’t work, try a couple of different ideas for a week or two, until you find some that work better than others, even if none of them work *well*.

Executive Function Part 2: Hacks and Workarounds

Next, you need to tackle that lack (or inconsistency in) internal motivation. Spend a morning or an evening on your day off coming up with five different ways you might be able to trick your brain into tackling THE THING it doesn’t want to do. Write them down. Write them down somewhere you can’t lose the list. Like the refrigerator door or the bathroom mirror, if you must.

Pick one or two ways to trick your brain into believing it wants to or has to get THE THING done. Try them for a bit, and if they don’t work, try a couple of different ones. Ask for help from someone close to you. Fail and try again. And again.

Finally, you need to manage all those impulses. If you pick up a video game, are you going to forget THE THING until it’s done (and we all know video games are never done). Hide your controller from yourself. Are you wandering on Facebook and Twitter instead of doing THE THING? Step away from the phone, friend. Actually, put on some beats of your favorite variety, and use the music energy to keep you moving toward finishing tackling THE THING.

Executive Function Part 3: Forming Habits


Suddenly, almost before you realize it, you’ve finished THE THING. It wasn’t nearly as hard or as awful as that great big buildup in your brain, either, was it? Did it take longer or less time than you thought? Did the people you were responsible to think you did a good job? Do *you* think you did a good job? Are you more proud of yourself? or exhausted? Do you want to take a break, or tackle another project? Do whatever feels right in this moment, including rewarding yourself for a job well done. But then remember to manage those impulses the next time THE THING stands between you and what you want.

What went wrong when you tried to break down the steps for tackling THE THING? What went right? Next time, switch it up a little to build on what you did here today.

You’ve got this. See you soon.

The Four “F”s of Fear: Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn

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