Ratha (papertygre) wrote,

About psychological hesitation, its sources and my desire to remove it

I tend to obsess over something I create for public view -- for example, I repetitively proofread and edit text -- because I'm afraid there is something wrong with it. Goes like this: if I decide I'm done and turn my attention to something else, I might pay no more attention to it for a long time, perhaps ever (because I naturally have a pretty narrow focus); but if the work has a really bad error in it, perhaps something embarrassing or offensive in it, this could be extremely dangerous; hence the only solution my subconscious sees is to keep staring at it until I am quite sure that it is perfectly safe. This means that the smallest task can take many multiples of time longer than it should, and I spend much of that time just staring, semi-paralyzed. I've mentioned this before here and here.

My subconscious picked up the fear of something "bad" lurking in what I do when I was elementary-school age, because it was a routine experience for me to be happily minding my own business, when suddenly ZAM!, I would find people acting angry or disgusted with me for saying something wrong, or like drooling accidentally out of total concentration, or not having done homework -- mostly things I vaguely knew were my responsibility, but could never seem to prevent myself from doing wrong anyway. I developed the feeling that at any time I could be making any number of unacceptable mistakes, and it was only a matter of time before they were discovered. Since that part was unavoidable, I began to feel it was crucial to learn to catch the mistakes myself, before anyone else found them and decided they made me a bad person. To facilitate this, I generally started to do fewer things whenever I was not in private -- speak less, make more conservative choices in things like clothes, etc. -- and carefully scrutinize everything I did, in order to anticipate and censor whatever might displease others.

Obviously, however well this strategy served me in the past, it is not helping now. In fact, it has been consciously repudiated, but the unconscious tendencies remain. I know that I have learned enough scheduling and planning not to be hit with the "you didn't do your homework" nightmare, and I know that those whose opinions I care about will not find a weakness or character flaw that will make them suddenly reject me or think of me with contempt, but there are still shadows that feel like that. When I shine a flashlight on them, the shadows disappear; when I turn it away, they come back.

But I know that the most effective way to produce, learn, and gain experience is through frequent, uninhibited trials, whereas making fewer trials (even when of better quality) is an inferior strategy. I wrote about this before, but I couldn't find the post to link to. I'll quote the source here, though, since I have my copy of Art and Fear now:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced; all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pounds of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot -- albeit a perfect one -- to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work -- and learning from their mistakes -- the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay. [p. 29]
So, I realize that the way to become good is to go out there and make lots of mistakes. The problem is, some part of me is afraid that the mistakes could make it so that I can't do anything else, ever again.

So I've formed a goal, and it's to learn to do things quickly, deliberately, and surgically -- without lingering and second-guessing and blanking out. I want to live up to my OkCupid profile which has decided I'm "more energetic" than other females my age (I take this to be close enough to the opposite of "inhibited"). So I was trying to think of ways to convince myself to let go of the problems I described above. One idea that I thought of was to meditate on the fact that you can't easily tell where the mistakes are if you stare at something continuously, without relief. You need contrast to be able to see clearly, because you will habituate to what you've seen before. Therefore, the best strategy to minimize mistakes *might be* to maximize the ratio of action to attention (since that ratio tends toward zero currently). If I can convince myself of this, I can use my own motivation/fear as leverage to accomplish my goal.

But what I'm afraid of is that I'm up against a task that's too hard for me to just stumble through. Perhaps I need a more powerful tool, like hypnosis or coaching (which, if so, would mean that it will essentially not happen).
Tags: goals, introspection, personality, psychology
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