There are times in our lives when we are crushed into immobility by pressure. It may be the pressure of too much stimulation, like a soldier caught in crossfire who freezes instead of leaping for cover. It may be pressure of time and work, like the office worker who faces such a towering pile of work and impossible deadlines that they can’t focus on a single task. It may be an artist or writer facing self doubt about their personal validity leading to a mental block.
Military special forces deal with situation number 1 by putting recruits through stress again and again until stress becomes their new norm. Special forces are special because when everybody else is running blindly for cover, or freezing on the spot, they can make rational decisions. They assess the situation, make a decision and act.
Experienced office employees know you can only focus on one task at one time. Don’t believe people who say they can multi-task. Focus on the here and now. Pick the most important thing. This may not be the most “urgent”. Do one thing well. Complete it. Then do the next most important thing.
Many people become stressed by the things they cannot change. It is like a person standing in a room with a burst pipe worrying about global climate change. You can’t solve global climate change today. But maybe you can fix a pipe or call a plumber. Keep it small, keep it simple.
For the writer or artist with the mental block there are a million pieces of advice. For me what works is the discipline of writing something. Anything. This blog. Lay some words on a page. They may be rubbish. They may turn out to be good. They may just clear your mind. The simple action of placing words on a page or paint on a canvas, with no motive, can be enough to move you forward.
Robert M Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance described an A student with a mental block. She had to write an essay about her home town and got stuck. So he told her to walk to the main street, stand outside the library, count bricks from the ground on the corner and stop at e.g brick number 20. Then write about that brick. Once she started to write about the brick she could not stop, and the story of the whole town unfolded.
In Time Management Training they describe their approach to daunting tasks as “Eating an Elephant”. It’s hard to eat an elephant in one meal. Much easier if you chop it up into lots and lots of meals. Then just eat the elephant one meal at a time. Before you know it you will run out of elephant.
A Grain of Sand: by Robert William Service
If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.
Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.
For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.