Sometimes you really, really, really want to make some progress on a project.
But then you don’t.
And sometimes this state of Whoa This Is Really Not Happening is related to the fact that the some part of the project itself is kind of scaring you. Like maybe its existence, for example.
(Tiny little popsicle stick reminder here that avoidance is normal! And it always makes sense even when it doesn’t.)
Anyway, this is where proxying comes in.
Proxying is the sneakiest way of working on a project that I know of.
It is sneakier even than the OOD and sneakier than metaphor mousing.
It is outrageously sneaky.
Because you’re basically pretending to work on something else.
Something else that doesn’t scare you even slightly.
But that something else is a proxy. It’s a Secret Stand-In for the thing you really do want to make progress on.
Let’s say you want to write a novel.
Instant monster freakouts ensue. Total paralysis! Devastating attacks of WDYTYA.*
* Who Do You Think You Are: one of the monsters we negotiate with in the Monster Coloring Book.
So you pretend that you don’t want to write a novel.
And instead you’re just going to ___________________ instead.
Lalala! I’m not writing a novel. Just kidding, monsters! I’m learning how to play chess. See?
And then you problem-solve for learning how to play chess. Assuming that learning how to play chess doesn’t scare you. (If it does, you’re going to need another proxy.)
But either way: you’re actually problem-solving for your secret project.
- Hmmm, what steps might need to happen in order for me to learn how to PLAY CHESS?
- Who are my allies and resources going to be when I am learning to PLAY CHESS?
- I wonder what challenges I might run into once I start PLAYING CHESS.
- How can I move around my schedule to create pockets of time for learning to PLAY CHESS.
- How will I know when I’m ready to PLAY CHESS with other people and let them watch while I’m playing?
- How will I make sure that I feel safe, supported, sovereign and all the other things I want to feel while learning about CHESS?
(You don’t have to shout your proxy, but I like to say mine extra-loud for the benefit of the monsters…)
I did this at the last Rally.
Actually, I proxy almost all of my projects at Rally (Rally!).
But I was taking some notes about the giant project of producing a dvd, which is the latest thing completely terrifying me right now.
I was feeling so intimidated. I couldn’t even say it without having a coughing fit, which is a sure sign that a proxy is in order.
And my monsters were laughing so hard at the idea of me doing this that they were choking a little too.
So I proxied it.
Lalala! I’m not making a dvd! I’m just compiling some business advice to give my friend for her food cart venture…
And then I came up with a list of tips I could give her for setting up her FOOD CART (see? see?).
Things she’d want to keep in mind. Possible first steps. Stuff to look out for.
It was pretty obvious how most of them translated to the real project, but it was all in secret code. Take that!
If you’re not sure when to use a proxy…
When you start to think about a project and:
- you can’t say it out loud
- you break out in hives
- you hit a wall
- you suddenly want to go to sleep
- you urgently have to look up that one Hall and Oates song right this minute
- ohmygod if you don’t get to eat a popsicle and then clean under the fridge, the whole world is going to fall apart….
Well, in that case you probably want a proxy.
Lalala! I’m not launching a website! I’m studying octopi and their mating habits! No worries. Nothing to see here.
Why proxying is so magical. And sneaky. Mostly sneaky.
Your monsters and sad, scared selves and internal programming all want to keep you safe.
It’s a full-time job, and it’s a lot of work. They’re pretty exhausted. They want a break from scaring you almost as much as you want a break from being stressed out, but they can’t stop because you keep considering these projects of Doom.
But when you choose something for your proxy that doesn’t threaten to bring your shining radiance into the world…
Lalala! I’m not creating a product! I’m just documenting stuff about gardening.
Yawn. Snore. Your monsters are all asleep.
They’re so bored. There’s nothing to do!
They could try to bug you with “why are you wasting your time on this?!” but usually they’re just relieved you’ve backed off that Giant Scary Project of Doom you were so rashly and recklessly considering.
They poke their heads out and find you aren’t doing anything hazardous. Phew. Now they can take a break.
Lalala! I’m not planning a vacation! Me? I’m just going to write some notes about the history of California.
Tips for proxying!
Obviously, we are invoking the People Vary rule, so you may have to experiment and find out what works for you.
Often it helps if the proxy project is something you do all the time and is not-stressful for you.
Or you might try having a proxy project that’s completely preposterous so the proxying itself can turn into a goofball creative writing practice
You might always use the same proxy. Or you might have a box of them. Foxy hydroxy proxies.
There is no way to proxy wrong (that’s for your “You’re probably doing it wrong!” monster), but there is a lot of room for experimentation and trying stuff.
The main thing is that this is a form of playing. So we play.
Play with me? And comment zen for today.
This is definitely an advanced practice — it can take some time to get used to.
As always: we all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. We make space for everyone else to have their stuff, and we take responsibility for our experience here.
We do this through agreeing to not give each other unsolicited advice, and by paying attention to what we need.
If you want to play in the comments with this theme of proxying, that would be lovely.
We can brainstorm Silly Proxies, ask clarifying questions, come up with examples or start proxying. Whatever you like.
Love to the commenter mice, the Beloved Lurkers and everyone who reads.
p.s. It’s Plum Duff days! Through Thursday morning.
Plum Duff! A special occasion and the thing sailors looked forward to most at sea.
(This one time? A ship-wide riot because the cook didn’t add molasses.)
Anyway. It’s officially Plum Duff time from now until Thursday morning or as supplies last (password = extraraisins).
This is a fabulous piece of projectizing. Deflecting! It’s not obvious until someone shows you (stoopid epiphanies). I will use it post haste.
What I really want to say though is, Thank You. Thank you for “getting” people. Thank you for promoting sweetness and being an advocate for being kind to yourself. Thank you for having the chutzpah to bring your own worries and fears (NOT an easy thing to do) to the table and using them as a way to help others. People who have so much love in them that they can’t help but run the other way screaming, because all that love for the Tiny Little Thing (possibly a little larger than “Tiny”) is just too much to bear. You HELP. Even when everything is TOTALLY NOT okay, you help make it all just a bit easier to bear.
So thanks. Thanks for making my work easier to bear. I’m still working out the kinks (process) and God knows there are still EPIC moments of Stuck (we’re talking wailing into margaritas here, lady), but you’re in everyone’s corner. And in case you don’t realize it, that means a hell of a lot.
And as always, tell Selma I said, “Hello.”
La la la!
Story of my life.
Going to take another look at your Monster Coloring Book!
Brilliant. I am definitely going to give this a try tomorrow. That means I get to brainstorm tonight: what would be a fun proxy?
“Lalala, here I am, just scribbling away in my journal. Again.”
“Nope, I’m not working on that big scary project. I’m just looking up recipes.”
Hmmmm. If I run into trouble, I may be back with questions, or at least field notes. Thanks!
AWESOME. thank you for giving me permission to watch endless television shows.
“I’m not building websites for other people or spending tons of time making the graphic design just right…. IM WATCHING DEXTER!”
I could do this all day.
I’m going to finish season five tomorrow.
Lalala Ooh nope, I’m not brainstorming a big project for August, not me. Nope, I’m just going to do a bit of playing with crayons in my sketchbook. Oh and I’m just treating myself to the Monster Colouring Book now before it gets too expensive, sensible eh? My monsters love a bargain 🙂
Oh Havi I can’t even say how much I love this.
I am turning it around a little bit… my monsters are upset that I am doing house selling/buying/moving things which are taking up so much time I’m not working on my projects.
So I journaled about how the house selling/buying/moving things are actually how I am incubating my new projects. And this is all helping me be more grounded in my life as a creative being which has to be good for my business so it’s ok to take some time off and do what needs to be done.
That in the end I will see that this is actually making the progress on my projects faster, not slower.
Even though I know I’m one of your “right people” (most of the time), sometimes I worry I’m not (monster alert?) because I’m not working away on big projects. I’m not offering services to people or trying to sell something (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone!). I don’t have a Tiny Sweet Thing per se. I don’t flail via Shiva Nata.
You are the Queen of Metaphor. The challenge is often for me to take your wonderful wisdom — which on the surface sometimes doesn’t feel like it applies to me — and use it in my own life. And I do, often.
Even though your post would appear to be about distracting monsters from a Big Project of some kind, I immediately saw how I could use this distraction principle for my anxiety. I have major anxiety over a seemingly mundane daily-life thing. It’s not a project in the way it seems most of Your People refer to projects. It’s just my anxiety disorder monster rearing its head.
The point I guess I’m trying to make is that I can see using this distraction technique in the daily situation that causes me so much anxiety. I can say to myself, oh I’m not XX [scary stressful thing]; I’m just doing XX [really fun and engaging thing that oddly resembles scary thing]. I hope this makes sense. I’m going to journal on it and try it soon.
What a beautiful, subtle, amazing thing you’ve just offered.
I’ve been wondering why I get that horrible clutch-and-flutter in my chest when I try to do Friday Chickening and VPA with all of you, and while trying to talk to this monster I discovered it can sing but cannot speak (it seems to be a birdmonster, which makes sense given the physical sensation is like wings against the upper lungs). So it has been frustrating! I have had to guess this monster’s intent based on the lyricless song it is singing, and “row your boat” comes up far too often. Now I can try to proxy my work with you – I’m not investigating myself, I’m reading blogs.
Havi, you really are extraordinary. Thank you.
Synchronicity: last night, before bedtime, I was sneaking a couple of looks at Matthew Syed’s Bounce, where among other things he talks with other athletes (he’s a table tennis champion) about how not to “choke” in big matches — the paradox of having to care enough about something to put in the time needed to get good at it, but then (in the case of some elite athletes) having to fool the brain into thinking “it’s just for fun — it doesn’t matter if I win or not” so that it doesn’t seize up and get in the way of the winning.
@DR: you do make sense. Your comments remind me of a friend who recently posted on how “mundane” things are enough of a challenge that she finds herself still wishing/waiting for a Grown-Up to deal with them, even though at this point she is the Grown-Up who has to deal with them. (I’m still processing what she wrote, because lately I’ve been tripping a lot over my baggage from the other end of the spectrum, which is that if you learn early on that Grown-Ups aren’t going to provide comfort and support, then you end up not giving people the benefit of the doubt even when it would be in your better interests to do so. Which ties back to this here post because Uber Responsible Me tends to feel like I’m the engine of Big Projects more often than not, which magnifies the guilt when my brain freezes and I find washing the dishes far more compelling [and immediately gratifying] than sitting my tuchis in front of the next file or in front of my easel. *rueful smile*)
Ah yes… Avoidance is Normal… that helps me a lot because… I am ACTUALLY trying to write a novel (well, two novels…) and I keep deflecting… wanting to go to sleep… finding anything else to do (even checking in on super helpful blogs) to keep from finishing either of them… sigh… thanks for the helpful insight 🙂 I’m hopeful today.
…fairbetty…are we, like, the same person? I’m just checking. We may very well be if you tend to read about the art of writing in order to AVOID actually writing.
I’m about to try this Proxy business out now. It will probably go something like:
“What, this? Nooooo, I’m not working on a novel. Pssh! This is just some random scribblings. It means nothing! Just some asinine ramblings. And to prove to you guys just how meaningless this is, I’m only going to scribble for thirty minutes. See? If this was REAL serious writing (which makes you gnash your teeth all sorts of gnarly), I would vow to make it a three hour session. So this is clearly just me jerking around. Nothing constructive happening here!”
*Whistles In A Nonchalant Manner*
This is great! I actually wrote my way through graduate school using proxies. I use proxies a lot.
My husband watches a lot of television and I don’t. But when I have a thing that makes me choke, I’ll take it into the den and then I’m *lalalala* HANGING OUT WITH MY HUSBAND WATCHING MINDLESS TELEVISION and because mindless television would drive me out of the room screaming (or whimpering, or ranting) and be NO FUN for him, I take something with me to “work” on. (Putting work in quotation marks is important.)
Sometimes the monsters of overwhelm let me work on that scary thing because I say (quotation marks again) that it is “oh so important” that I can’t do *that other thing* that I also don’t want to do. Then I’m organizing the tax information so I don’t have to clean out the attic….
I consciously choose distractions and proxies when there are things that I have to cope with that are really awful and scary-bad. Like when my husband is in the hospital again, I focus on what I can do to make his hospital room homey and comfortable because I can’t do anything about the medical issues.
Thank you for the reminder that avoidance is normal and that it all makes sense.
I wonder, though, if we are undermining the success of the proxies by talking about them? Heh-heh-heh, silly monsters, other people may do stuff like that, but not me, no sir. I’m just talking…
Proxying is so super sneaky helpful that I think I did it yesterday without realizing it? I went to a Shiva Nata MeetUp even though I had plenty of monsters piping up with very excellent and logical doubts, reasons why not to go, all connected to Big Thing Going On. I ended up having to put the BTGO out of my mind anyway, because it’s so big sometimes it makes it hard to even drive my car or be present in reality; but I told myself I was just going to think about play and compassion. Just basic playing, basic compassion. Compartmentalized from all the Big Things. Because I couldn’t handle them at all, so I stuck to the small stuff.
And instead, I came out with a big mental shift around the Big Thing Going On that I hadn’t even begun to think about shifting or changing.
I think that’s a testament not only to the wonderful craziness that is Shiva Nata, but to the idea that proxying happens even when you’re not thinking about it. Magic!
PS to DR — Hello, kindred spirit. When I first came here I was convinced the same was true, I had no big projects or business thing to manage and play with. But it’s so true that ALL of it applies to the little stuff, the life stuff, the home stuff. Sending lots of love because I remember what it felt like to feel separate. Hope you stick around and keep with it 🙂
…@Kaleena… we may be… as in, yes I do read about the art of writing and find it very inspirational and time consuming 🙂 Made a bit of progress so far today… and hoping for more! Nice to know I’m not the only one out there struggling through it!
yeah, proxying – the best way ever 🙂
Havi may make a shiva nata dvd? yeyahhH!
I didn’t totally get how this worked when I first read it. But now I am happy to report that I am diligently researching to WRITE A CAPER STORY set in the world of finance, and not at all studying for a big scary broker licensing test. Who, me? Why would I do that?
I definitely need a proxy for this thing that I have promised to do (and want to do) but am terrified to do.
I’m not translating an entire book from one language into another… I’m uh. I’m CHOREOGRAPHING A DANCE FOR THE FESITVAL OF THE MOVING BODY.
Nothing to see here, monsters.