Managing Your Attention, pt. 6

1409312_78929851[At some point, I’m probably going to lose track of what number I’m on. Numbers and I don’t generally get along so great. Suffice it to say, this is a lengthy series comprising stuff I’ve learned over the years that helps me avoid drama and produce creative work despite being a touchy-feely ball of feels. YMMV. If you want to start at the beginning, go here.]

Okay, so today we’re going to press pause before moving on, and discuss the HOW of “doing what needs to be done, despite your rampant and/or nonexistent emotions.”

Caveat: What Works for Me Might Not Work For You

Hello. I’m an enneagram type Four and a Myers-Briggs INFP. That’s personality and temperament jargon for “a messy, introverted ball of feelings and imagination only barely aware that a whole world exists outside her own head.”

Nice to meet you.

I wanted to take this moment to point out that all the stuff I have been talking about was really helpful to me, because it wasn’t my natural way of navigating life. I wasn’t kidding when I said in an earlier post that the realization that reality and my feelings weren’t the same thing was a revelation.

A lot of our dysfunctions are not so much bad things we do. It’s more that we lean into our natural bent so far, we go through life running in circles.

So if you’re a hyper-organized, “activist do gooder” enneagram type One, you probably haven’t found this stuff helpful. Because for you, doing what needs to be done without regard to your feelings is natural. It’s like telling a duck how to swim.

A workaholic, “achiever” type Three probably won’t benefit from being told “constructive work is the answer.” For them, that’s probably just telling them to do more of what they already do too much. It’s the answer to the wrong question for them.

Why This Stuff Works So Well For Type Fours/INFPs (and some other types*)

For your typical feelings-centered, introspective creative type, the idea that you can do creative work, or even mundane chores, in the midst of emotional turmoil is seriously disruptive information. The idea that doing chores or pressing on in creative work can actually help manage the emotional turmoil? BURN THE BLASPHEMER!

Seriously, it can be tempting to believe you can’t do it. Your first reaction might be to just reject it as a lie. Just the mean old world, trying to make you feel bad for being a sensitive soul, and declaring you defective once again. Telling you to just suck it up, Buttercup, and carry on, my wayward son.

  • “I can’t work on my novel! My boyfriend just dumped me.”
  • “I’m having a crisis here! I can’t be expected to deal with laundry/bills/my admin job!”
  • “I’m not feeling inspired. I can’t work on that painting.”

Um. WRONG. You can. It’s just HARD.

That’s the truth that’s been separating you from all your productive friends who don’t struggle with doing things in spite of their feelings.

They’re wrong in that they assume it’s as easy for you as it is for someone whose entire personality is bent towards achievement. I have several good friends who are Threes and Ones, and while I love them, they fundamentally don’t get me.

American mainstream culture has a very strong Three flavor (values achievement and looking good), with lingering shades of One from our Puritan founders and from our Great Depression/Greatest Generation elders (values doing things right and doing the right thing).

The same folks who laud my passion, imagination and creativity often don’t make the connection that those same things can be INCREDIBLY DISTRACTING.

So your gut feeling that people haven’t understood your perspective or been judgmental towards you? There’s probably something to it.

But the flip side is that you’re wrong in your belief that because it’s harder for you, that it’s impossible or a waste of time. Usually, the hardest part is just starting. If you pick the right things, once you get started, you’ll probably quickly sink into the beautiful oblivion of doing what needs done, and forget you’re supposed to be in Deep Emotional Turmoil.

How to Just Get Started

When it comes to Picking the Right Things, I have three strategies to get my butt in gear.

  1. Do the easiest, simplest most do-able thing. Sweep the floor. Answer an email. Fold some clothes. Something. Anything. Ask yourself “What would I be willing to do?” and whatever the answer is, JUST FREAKING DO IT.
  2. Do the thing I least want to do. This is the “eat the frog” strategy. It’s surprising how often your emotional turmoil is you secretly disabling yourself so you don’t have to eat that frog because you’re TOTALLY DEPRESSED AND CAN’T FUNCTION.
  3. Do the thing I most want to do. Being a Drama Queen, I always manage to find reasons why I can’t do the thing I ostensibly love (which is writing, natch). So I don’t do it, but that makes me resentful, which makes it hard to do other Things That Need Doing. Sometimes just giving yourself permission to do the thing you love, even for just fifteen minutes or a half hour, frees you up.

If you’ve ever read much Steven Pressfield (The War of Art, Going Pro), and you were torn over whether he was a genius or a heartless bastard, you’re probably a Four. Because Pressfield gives your recalcitrant feels a name (Resistance) and just demands that you ignore them, apply butt to chair, and put words on page.

Okay, that seems like a lot. So next we’ll move onto something simpler. Like the meaning of life, why you’re a sucking drain on the Universe, and why that’s actually totally okay.

Easy peasy, right? 😉

(* My husband is not an emotional/creative Four. He’s a peaceful type Nine. His issues are around finding adequate motivation, moreso than battling intense feelings, but he still has found some of this stuff helpful. Also, supportive/caring type Twos tend to act like unhealthy Fours when stressed, so they can often benefit, too. But then we have to get into the intricacies of personality, and Wings and Stress/Security points, and that’s like, a whole other post. But I didn’t want you to think this is only for Fours or INFPs.)


  1. ·

    I am also an INFP (weaker on the I and the P, but definitely NF).

    The “How To Just Get Started” was the key for me to start defeating depression, a revelation that helped me loads in my 20s especially. To overcome that heavy, dragging inertia, I told myself I just needed to accomplish one simple thing. Anything. Even if I didn’t feel like it. That little boost of accomplishment would help me step up to something bigger. And yeah, I’ve done the thing I’ve least wanted to do to just get it over with, making other things seem less horrible by comparison afterwards.

    I do a lot of self-defeating stuff, but I’ve been working on fixing that. One big thing is “should statements”. If I say “I should work on my novel”, what I’m really saying is, “I’d work on my novel, but I’m putting that off because I don’t feel up to it”. Or something else negative. To paraphrase Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no should.” It’s better to state what I’m really going to do, and if I must put something off, be honest about it and say when I’ll do it instead. That’s one I’ve worked into everyday thought.

    Thanks again for posting these. Since I’m of a very similar personality type, I am your target audience for sure. 🙂

    1. Kat

      I am mostly repeating it and condensing it for my own benefit, because it’s good to refresh myself on it periodically. 🙂 And hoping some other folks appreciate the information (or reminder, as the case may be.)

      I found this Harry Potter MBTI chart on Pinterest today:

      Which, naturally, says I’m Luna Lovegood. Can’t really argue that’s my default, most of the time.

      Like you, I’m closer to the border on P/J, so I have my Remus Lupin moments. I’m profoundly Introverted, but I waffle a bit more on T/F, so I can be annoyingly Hermione-ish at times as well.


      1. ·

        I did see the Harry Potter chart yesterday, it’s fantastic! I’m perfectly fine as Luna Lovegood, though I think I feel some affinity with Hermione (despite scoring strong on the F rather than T) and Remus more than I do with Ron and Dumbledore, at least as described here.

        I score borderline I/E but I think I’ll always be an introvert at heart.

        N vs T has always bothered me. I *am* a thinker, but I suppose I see the world through the lens of my emotions primarily. I’ve always liked the character of Spock for his emotional vs logical internal battle, because that’s totally me. Except unlike Spock, emotions win out for me, even if I know I’m being illogical. This is not always a bad thing.


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