The first times are always the hardest


A story about combatting mind block.

I consider myself a dreamer. Nothing special, though. I think I’m not more of a dreamer than anyone else who deems themselves the same. But one thing I know about myself is that I wander off in thought more often than not. I daydream very often and I easily get detached from any given moment.

My problem, though, is that I am only that - a dreamer. I am not a doer.


In 2018, I got an opportunity for a full-time job abroad. This checked many points for my career, but there was one of them that stood out for me more than anything else; which is the fact that I would get the chance to stay at a house, all by myself, without distractions, and with ample time to finally do all of the things I’ve been daydreaming about.

To my surprise, that wasn’t the case.

Well, it kind of was. But not quite.

I would divide the matter into 2 different sides; things that were not in my control, and things that were. I will not dwell much on the former, but they had an effect nonetheless.

One major problem was that I thought my life would exactly be the same when I traveled, minus the distractions. This wasn’t 100% true, especially time-wise. There were things which I didn’t take into account at all; for example, the time I would spend making food (breakfast - lunch - dinner) almost everyday, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, fixing random stuff around the house, doing paperwork, etc. These things took up a large portion of my day. While I thought that I would have the evening to myself and to fulfilling my dreams, I usually had like only 1-2 hours each day, with around 30% of my energy left.

However, that was still kind of okay for me, since during these hours I would have little to no distractions. It was just me, myself & I.

Me, myself & I

One should be careful what they wish for indeed. While having time to myself is a luxury not everyone is enjoying, it still has some dark side to it. It’s just me and my thoughts. The resistance and the walls between me and everything I wanted to do were no longer external, but rather from inside my head. I was fighting with myself pretty much all of that free time.

Without much thinking, I immediately labelled this situation as one that had to do with procrastination, and I set sail to solve it in whatever ways possible. Those who know me know how much time I spend tinkering and playing around with productivity tools and strategies (or however you wish to call them) for time, effort and focus management. I’ve been doing this for so long, and it was actually working.

But not for long. Something always happened that broke my system. The belief was consequently internalized in me that it was inevitable that any system I make up mind to create, will eventually fail.

Many hours of watching videos, reading articles and books, and experimenting with tools and designs were kind of in vain. Every system I made for myself was somehow broken, which naturally made me start thinking that maybe the idea of creating a system was what’s broken. But I mean, why was I creating a system anyway?

Let’s break it down

The root problem that I was trying to solve was getting myself to work on the things I’ve always wanted to work on (my fintess, side projects, things I wanted to study, hobbies, etc.). I initially thought that having time would solve the problem, until I ended up wasting my time on fighting my thoughts.

I then started to think that it was the overwhelming list of things that I wanted to do that was blocking me. I had to make sure I got these things out of my head, so that I could free up some headspace for actually taking action. And this is when I started creating those so-called systems.

I liked them because during the first couple of weeks after the inception of any new system I made, I was actually moving and gaining momentum. But I was so tied to them that as soon as they broke, I broke with them. I would waste many hours redesigning the whole thing, until I reach the realisation that I have been spending more time on maintaining the system, than on actually getting things done off of it.

I was really frustrated. I hated that things were not working. I had the time, but that wasn’t enough. It really bugged me that the only thing that was able to get me moving would eventually break, and that no matter what I do I will have to face my fate that I will break with it.

Even though I would organise things perfectly, for some reason I wasn’t able to take action. The frustrtaion was killing me because I didn’t know why that was happening. Whenever it was time for me to do something on my list, I would simply panic, my head would be flooded with limiting thoughts, and I would end up not doing anything at all.

I stayed like that for almost 2 years.

Intermittent retrospection

The situation was frustrating, but wasn’t that bad. I mean, this was the case with the things that I wanted to do. Every time I looked back, I found that I did the things that I needed to do with little to no resistance. The importance of the things in the latter case always seemed to outweigh my tendency to procrastinate. Which made me wonder of course. There was probably more to this tendency than just organising and dumping things down somewhere (be it a system or anything else). I think at that moment I was primed to look for an answer, but only that. I wasn’t able to find one.

Fast forward »

A couple of weeks ago, I came back to Egypt to spend Ramadan at home with the family. After exaclty one week since my arrival, we all went down with Corona virus.

Undoubtedly, it was an unpleasant experience. Luckily, though, my case wasn’t that severe, and so I was able to help around the house while still taking care of myself. But my biggest pain, which I think affected me more than the illness itself, was the state of panic that I was in.

That was my first natural impulse. I was panicking, and the stress was really affecting me. It was mainly because I had to take care of different things at the same time, and it was extremely overwhelming for me. Then, after a couple of days, when things started to be more or less under control, the state of panic naturally started to fade away, and I started to feel better.

But then I started thinking about how I would behave if for any reason we fell ill with this virus again. Or, if someone happens to catch it and asks me for advice, what would I be like? I didn’t have to think much, and the answer was that I certainly wouldn’t panic the same way. I already now know what it’s like, and how to deal with it to an extent. I know what to do.

Side by side

I had this weird epiphanic moment, that this experience was in a way similar to what happens to me when I’m about to do something that’s on my list: I always panicked, and felt overwhelmed by the limiting thoughts I would get in my head.

When I thought about what happened, it just boiled down to the fact that it was the first time for me to encounter such a situation. What fortified this even more is the fact that I knew that if it happened a second time, I would panic less (or perhaps not at all) since I’d faced it before and I would know what to do.

When I thought afterwards about every single experience I had trying to do something off my list, it was exactly that. It would be the first time for me trying to do that thing. I would panic because my brain, in a matter of milliseconds, would fail to have any recollection of me doing that thing before. I would not know how to do it, and immediately I would get into a state of mind block. I was never able to do anything I have never done, unless there was some external force that was stronger and more pressing than this feeling (like the virus and having to deal with it).

The first times are always the hardest

Not knowing how to do something is not in itself a problem, but rather the way it’s dealt with is. I just sat to myself and realised that I always panicked because I set unrealistic expectations for myself every time. Maybe it had to do with me being an impatient person of some sorts. But I always expected that anything that I would set out to do would just take me little time and effort. And since that was way too far from reality, the mismatch was enough to stop me in my tracks.

I knew then that all it would take for me is to set the right expectations. I would start by acknowledging that it’s the first time for me doing a particular thing, and that would release the tension - at least my breathing would become more stable and much slower. And then I would set the expectations for myself that this thing would have to take me some time and effort, and that my knowledge or prior experience with anything else wouldn’t necessarily be transferred or be beneficial in that case. I would remove the mismatch between my expectations and the reality, and I would start to flow naturally.

This is how I actually ended up finally publishing this blog. I had this on my list since 2018, but every single time I approached it or tried to start I just failed. I was missing the know-how, but I was always under the impression that I had enough knowledge to get myself started and to finish it in no time. But I just decided to face the facts and be in peace with the idea that this should take the time it needs if I really want to finish it, and to not resist taking the steps that would require some effort believing that I simply don’t need them or that I’m better off saving that time for something else. And I’m glad I did just that.

I don’t know about you, but

If this sounds like something you also struggle with, I would encourage you to try out the same. I’m always baffeld by how some simple tricks can solve such frustrating problems. I don’t at all regret the time and effort it cost me. I always believe that going through frustrating times is the right path to solving problems, because it means that at least you’re trying.

At the same time, I don’t mean to make this sound like the solution to all the problems moving forward. But it had such a significant effect on me that I thought I had to share it as someone might be going through the same struggle as me. In the end, we all deserve to be doing what we love with as little stress as possible.

Until next time.