Getting started. How intimidating. How daunting. How scary. What is it about getting started that is so difficult? It doesn’t matter if it’s starting your own business, starting the night’s homework, or starting a DIY at-home project. There is a feeling that can suffocate us, overwhelm us, and immobilize us. I can recall countless times throughout my life that I have not been able to get started. Externally, this is expressed as, “I’m a procrastinator,” or “I am going to get started in 2 hours. I swear,” or “As soon as this episode of Seinfeld ends, I’ll get going.” It may even look like “fake productivity”– “instead of writing my 5 page paper due tomorrow, I’m going to do my Social Studies that’s due in 2 weeks, at least I’m getting work done.” It may be a conscious avoidance or it may be an unconscious avoidance. We have all been there. We have all fought that struggle against ourselves, against our work, against a project, against a trip to the grocery store, the dry cleaners, the gym. The list goes on and on.
So what is it that makes initiation so difficult? Well, neurologically speaking, it is an issue with the prefrontal cortex. Specifically, the skill that allows us to engage, start, and maintain a task while at the same time disallowing us to get caught in distractions, impulsive acts, or inhibitions. A lot of people, especially gifted people, struggle at the neurological level with the skill of initiation. But it doesn’t end there. The more relevant emotions are, the more haywire our initiating becomes in the frontal lobe. As emotions heighten(think: anger, fear, anxiety, elation, excitement) the more erratic our ability to initiate becomes.
Now imagine you’re the parent or teacher who wants an initiation-challenged student to get homework done. Attempt #1: Ask them what they’re going to start working on and then walk away and leave them to it. Doesn’t work. Attempt #2: Run through each subject’s homework for the night and then pick something for them to work on. Still not working….At this point the student’s frustration level, not to mention the adult’s, is rising, making initiation more difficult to achieve. Attempt #3: Sit next to the student and guide them through math problems. Moving at a snail’s pace. Student looking out the window. The frustration in the room is suffocating. Both student and parent are filled with emotions: struggle, failure, shame, embarrassment, anger. At this point, initiation is a far off dream. As you can tell, this experience is not all about the student, but all parties involved.
So where does developing initiation start? It starts with awareness: knowing your own thoughts, feelings, trepidations, fears, and strengths in that moment of struggle. That is the foundational awareness that is necessary to get to the root of the issue. In fact, it’s so important, I’m going to repeat it: knowing your own thoughts, feelings, trepidations, fears, and strengths in that moment of struggle. That is incredibly challenging to confront alone. In fact, it’s incredibly challenging to confront with the help of a counselor. Generally, there are years’ (if not a lifetime’s!) worth of barriers, identity contradictions, and defense mechanisms to fight through. This can be accomplished working with a professional and through the creation of a relationship that exists on trust, non-judgement, and true collaboration. Together, counselor and client can work together to find the awareness around the difficulty of initiation.
Once we have the awareness that initiating is difficult, we can begin to move towards the next step, understanding. As we understand our issues, we can continually mix in contextual information and truths, and begin to implement strategies and interventions to create skill development and change, so we can reframe our context of the issue and kickstart personal growth.
These “getting started” feelings of stuckness and stalemate are a shared experience between adults and students. The answers and awareness are out there, we just often need help to uncover them, and if we seek that help, we will find them.