Figuring out what NOT to do

My Not-To-Do List
My Not-To-Do List

So, I’ve had a couple of really good ideas over the past week. One of them is a redux of past ideas I’ve had, that got mired in exhaustion and confusion, and seemed to die on the vine… another is an idea that never got much traction after it occurred to me before… and the last is a brand new idea that I can’t believe I didn’t have before.

All three are very different ideas, and all three have great potential. And any of the three has the power to derail me completely… and send me back to my quagmire of confused exhaustion.

Because I could blow each (or all) of them up to vast proportions and make them into a large-scale enterprise that could easily consume vast amounts of time and energy.

I could launch a company that would provide jobs to people who need them, providing a product that fills a need that no one has managed to properly fill. I could build an app that would improve the lives of millions. And/or I could create educational materials that would provide needed information to people who struggle with chronic health concerns. And I want to change jobs to do something that suits me better – way better.

Any one of these could work – and it would be amazing to do. The thing is, I want to do all of the above — and more, but I only have so much time and energy. There’s a part of me that wants to launch into all of them, never mind fatigue and fogginess, never mind the havoc that wreaks on my system. I just want to get going – start doing it – not waste any time, just get down to it.


Last week I learned that TBI-related catastrophic response can also take the form of jumping into action before getting all your facts straight. It’s not just getting bent out of shape and melting down… it’s not just running away from what’s confusing you… it’s not just overreacting to a perceived “threat” — it’s also jumping into action before you understand what’s actually going on.

Now, pretty much everybody does that to some extent — how many times have you leaped before you looked? The thing with my reactions like this, is that I jump in head-first, all-in, before considering all the information. So, I’ll decide I’m going to start a new company or launch a new web app without really thinking through all the ramifications of doing it.

So, I dive right in, start flailing around in all directions, and before you know it, I’m — once again — mired in the fatigue and confusion and frustration of trying to get so much done with fewer resources. And then all around me, people feel the burn. My spouse, my co-workers… pretty much anybody I encounter in the course of the day-to-day.

Not good.

At all.

And once again I end up with a plate full of projects, massive amounts of “stuff” I feel I have to get done, while I’m sinking in the massive volume of details — which I am less and less able to screen out and organize.

This is how it’s been with me for years — especially in the several years after my last TBI. At one point in time, I had 27 projects going on, all of which were so vitally important to me, that anyone who tried to stop me had to deal with a crazy person. I was Type-A x 1000% and nobody could stop me from being that way. I thought I was happy. I thought I was productive. What I really was, was confused and panicked and engaged in a daily catastrophic response to difficult conditions I was creating for and by myself.

Yeah, madness.

So, here I am today, with that same kind of mindset creeping up on me. I’m not happy in my job — that gives me stress, cuts into my sleep, and keeps me on edge. I’m short on money, which is never fun — more stress, more sleeplessness, more edginess. I’m consistently tired and in pain, which adds to the stress, fatigue, and edgy stuff. And on top of it, I have these ideas that I think would be great – just great.

What to do?

Actually, the question is, what NOT to do?

Literally, I cannot do all of this. And some of the things I dream of doing — like starting my own company — are actually not things that I excel at or really want to do. I like the idea of it, it seems very appealing to me, but when I look honestly at who I am and how I am, I realize that it makes no sense for me to take all of that on. As crappy as I feel these days, imagine how much worse I would feel, if I overloaded myself with all that extra activity.

So, I’m scaling back those ambitions. Not because I don’t think I can do them, but because I realize that I am only one person, and I not only cannot possibly do everything I want to do with these, but I also realize that I don’t want to do everything that needs to be done. There is so much more to these projects, than just deciding I’m going to do it. I have to manage my energy, manage my fatigue, manage my whole life in addition to these ambitions, and I have seen how things can go south when I cast my net too wide. Metaphorically speaking, casting my proverbial “net” too wide in the rich sea of details around me, ends up in catching so many fish that I get pulled into the water — and I end up drowning in details.

And then I feel like crap and feel like a failure, and I cannot dig myself out of the hole, so I have yet another catastrophic reaction and I bolt — leaving behind me the projects I loved so much… as well as a big chunk of my self-esteem.

And I become even more difficult to live and deal with.

Yeah, not good.

So, here I am… cutting my catastrophic reactions off at the pass.

Harriet Katz Zeiner says that people typically display about two different types of catastrophic reaction. The six possible variants are:

  1. Silly laughing
  2. Flight
  3. Tears
  4. Anger
  5. Freezing/thought blocking
  6. Being confused, but not seeking clarification

I think the last one also involves jumping into action — I believe I have heard her talk about that. In any case, I have to say that all of them tend to be a problem for me, and they generally come in this order:

In the face of an overwhelming situation, I tend to experience:

  1. Freezing/thought blocking – I instinctively block out the threat (but I don’t always freeze)
  2. Being confused, but not seeking clarification – I don’t realize I need to get clarification about the situation
  3. Flight – I spring into action to do something about the situation… and when that doesn’t work (because it often doesn’t), I go through
  4. Anger – lashing out at people around me, throwing/breaking things, and yelling (often at bosses or authority figures, like cops)… or
  5. Tears – which is really embarrassing, especially at work… or
  6. Silly laughing – which makes me look like a jerk-off and a clown in tough circumstances

All of the above have been major problems with me over the years, on and off — usually at the worst possible time, and generally when I’m tired and overwhelmed to begin with.

They can happen under even good circumstances, when I’m overwhelmed with good things that are on my plate… which then progress to bad things being on my plate. Really good can turn to really bad in a hurry, when I’m going through a catastrophic response.

So what to do? Well, first off, get real about my time and energy and how much effort and attention to detail each of my projects is going to take. Let go of the idea of launching everything at once in three months, and step back to do some planning, as well as some research to make sure I’m not smoking bananas.

I need to be systematic about these things, not fly into them with all these grand plans that are just pipe dreams that will dissipate (or explode) when I’m under the gun. I need to pick and choose the things that are most important to me — and the most doable — as well as the things that will benefit me most in the short-run to get me where I’m going.

I need to be strategic about these things, as well as tactical and logistical. And I need to be smart, not wildly impulsive. And most importantly, I need to know not only what I will do, but what I won’t do.

After I figure that out, I can get started.

Speaking of getting started, the day is waiting. Onward…


Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

2 thoughts on “Figuring out what NOT to do”

  1. Oh gosh, can I ever relate to this post, as a former Type-A myself. I’ve also seen this in others when I attended in-person support group. We all really do have fantastic ideas, but executing them, not so much.

    The ideas are still valuable, it just may be that we are the seed planter and not the seed sower.

    But then again, everything with TBI is subject to change without notice. I know, I know, living with TBI is a process. I continue to admire your inner work, courage and strength.


  2. Thanks – that’s interesting… seed planter… nice analogy I hadn’t thought of it that way.

    If nothing else, just having the ideas is something. I just really have to pace myself.


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