Fear-buster #1: Play make-believe

Remove the pressure of perfection and imagine that:

  • No one except you is ever going to see your space.

  • You can create any look you want, free of charge.

  • If you don't like something, you can change it instantly.
Hold this suspension of disbelief as you flip through magazines, catalogs, and design books, noticing the decor you adore when fear is absent. Then set about creating the look you love. If fear rises up, ignore it. If you can't, read on.
Fear-buster #2: Make mammoth mini-moves

Question: How did cavemen eat entire mammoths? Answer: One bite at a time. The most common source of anxiety is thinking of big jobs as monolithic events. This overwhelms most people before they move a muscle. The solution is to move a muscle. Or maybe two. Not more.

Here's how this might work if, say, the previous owners painted your home study a lovely shade of dung brown. Instead of thinking, "I've got to take a weekend and paint this room," which is a big and therefore threatening task, slice off a tiny bit of mammoth each day. Today, collect a few objects whose colors you love—flowers, fabric, a magazine photo. Tomorrow, drop by the paint store and grab some chips in the general right color range. On Day 3, prop the paint chips against the wall of the living room. Day 4, walk in and squint at the paint chips at different times of the day, observing how they look in changing light. And so on.

I'm delineating these excruciatingly small steps because that's how big projects get done. Ironically, it's the worst procrastinators who insist this is no way to proceed. "If I worked at that rate," they say in disgust, "I'd never finish!" Two years, five years, 10 years later, they're still talking people past their turd-colored walls.

The problem is, there's never time in this moment—right this moment—for a huge job. There's only time to take one small step. Tiny steps allow action to slip through the cracks in your anxiety. Take them, and things start getting done. Big things. Mammoth, you'll find, is quite tasty in small servings. Keep it around, and before you know it, you'll have eaten the whole thing.


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