Petrified Would

Catatonia. If you’re not familiar with that word, you should  know it’s not a place in New Jersey.  Still, I’ll bet you’ve been there.

Catatonia is actually a very serious mental affliction, but sometimes we laypeople use it loosely to describe ourselves or an employee who is “frozen” with fear, unable to move or think. Deadlines, quotas, self-perception or any of a host of other catalysts can bring it on. A catatonic businessperson feels unable to make meaningful progress. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Catanonia. I knew you’d been there at least once.

English psychiatrist Phillip Barrough wrote an interesting description of the term in 1593, then calling it “congelation:”  “The newe wryters in phisick do call it Congelatio, in English it maie be called Congelation or Taking. It is a sodaine [sudden] detention & taking both of mind and body, both sense and moving being lost, the sicke remaining in the same figure of bodie [position] wherin he was taken, whither he sit or lye, or stand, or whither his eyes be open or shut.” When one experiences figurative catatonia at work, the physical movement of one’s body belies the petrified person inside.

If these symptoms go on for too long, one can be crushed financially, mentally or physically.  A solution I’ve found is to take one very small step toward a substantive goal. The idea is simply to get things rolling again.

When catatonia strikes you, grab a tablet and consider this prescription:

  1. Make a list of every idea, goal, missed deadline or worry that’s been floating around in your brain. Take your time. Write down anything at all that comes to mind. Leave some room on the right-hand side of the page.
  2. To the right of your list, make two narrow columns.
  3. At the top of the first column write the word, “Easy.” On the other, “Valuable.”
  4. Draw a line through any items over which you have little or no control.
  5. Draw a line through any items that cause you to freeze up in fear.
  6. For every other item, put a number from 1 to 5 in the “Easy” column where 1 is easiest and 5 is least easy.
  7. Do the same in the “Valuable” column where 1 is most profitable and 5 is least.
  8. Review your list by considering the two columns of numbers. Highlight those items with the combination of lowest numbers, say 2 and 1. Or 1 and 3. These items are easy to perform and yet have at least some real value.
  9. Now pick one. Just one. Choose the item that is easiest for you to do and yet holds the greatest value.
  10. Do it. Do it right now. Then celebrate your accomplishment

Your new maxim is, “I could… if only I would.” So start very small, then take the next step. Continue this process, and in no time you’ll find you no longer have “petrified would.”



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