I hate that feeling of dread I get when I have a big paper to write or a test to study for.
I hate that feeling of dread I get when I have a big paper to write or a test to study for. I want it to be easier!
Of course you do! We all want our bad feelings to be gone and life to be easier. Once again, we find you are perfectly normal! The truth is, though, that sometimes we have uncomfortable feelings. The more we fight and struggle against them, the worse things get for us. It’s OK to feel dread about getting started writing. It’s OK to not like feeling dread. It may help to understand that the task is not to make the dread go away; the task is to recognize that the bad feeling is impermanent and you can get on with things in spite of it. This is where acceptance and present-moment awareness come in and can be really useful.
When you start to pay attention to your present-moment experience, you’ll see that the feeling of dread will go away and it will come back sometimes and it will go away again. That’s what feelings do. They come and they go. This is true of wonderful, joyous feelings as well as uncomfortable feelings. Because we are wonderfully human and our lives are complex, our feelings are coming and going and shifting all the time. We have difficulty when we believe our behaviors must always be determined by our feelings. In reality, we feel what we feel. These feelings certainly influence our behavior but they don’t have to determine it completely.
In this example, the feelings of dread have nothing to do with whether you actually complete the task at hand. You can get started writing your paper in spite of the bad feeling. If you notice you feel dread, just feel dread. I’m not saying it’s easy, but then you’ve done lots of things in your life that weren’t easy. We don’t just wait around for things to get easy, do we? Notice the uncomfortable emotion, then turn your attention to physical sensations as you sit in front of your computer or open your book and begin working. Notice the feeling of your fingers on the keyboard or the feel of the pages of your book in your hand. Keep your awareness in just that moment. When you notice thoughts such as “I hate this…I’ll never get done…I don’t want to do this” just observe them and bring your attention back to the work. They are just thoughts. You can even label them, “dreading,” which may help you let them go. Labeling is a skill will learn in our third class. Labeling helps us shift our perspective from being in the river to being back on the bank again. Fully focus on the words you are reading or the concepts you are working with, letting go of the distracting thoughts about how the work is going or how you feel about the work. Although you don’t need the bad feeling to go away before you start working, it is likely it will go away when you are focused on the moment-to-moment experience of writing a paper or solving math problems. The paradox of mindfulness is at work again; when you no longer fight against your dread and get on with your business, the feeling of dread goes away on its own.