Gnawing sense of anxiety about un-captured work…

From David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, Productive Living, March 2012:

“If you want to have the feeling of freedom regularly, you’ve got to get used to it. Literally.

What’s the greatest obstacle to living in the relaxed state of mind that is possible with the methods I coach? People simply aren’t used to it. Anything your nervous system experiences as unique or unusual will likely be “rejected” unconsciously in short order, because it is not in the comfort zone.

People are more comfortable being uncomfortable than being comfortable, if they have been uncomfortable for an extended period of time. It’s simply an ingrained pattern, and familiarity is more comfortable than novelty. Most people have for so long experienced the gnawing sense of anxiety about all the un-captured and un-clarified “work” of their life, that’s what they’re used to. Then, no matter how clean and in control they get at some point, they will soon let themselves slide, let things mount up again, unprocessed sufficiently to get them back to the level of stress they are accustomed to.

Over the years I’ve watched this happen for thousands of people, myself included.

Getting clear, current, organized, in control, and conscious about our commitments and focus is not hard to do. It’s easy to clear the mind, make intelligent decisions about our stuff, organize and review the results, and feel much better about work and life. Especially with the GTD model that I teach. What’s much more difficult is to get yourself to experience that so regularly, so consistently, that it becomes how you are, emotionally, as a standard experience rather than an exception. Anything different would then be out of your comfort zone.

Visualizing and affirming the desired experience of freedom, relaxation, and control is an excellent way to change the comfort zone, because it literally re-grooves the neural programs. And here are a couple of ways to supercharge the process of identifying with the new pattern: Building in the Weekly Review habit and committing to someone as a coach or colleague to hold the focus and the standard on an ongoing basis. I’ve found those the best ways to beat this one.


Image: Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sea See.  Thank You Windpass


  1. Great article. This is something that I try to help my clients with everyday. Doing something different, even if it is better for us, creates anxiety. People will often stay in the most miserable situations, to avoid the anxiety that comes with change. Most people report that the anxiety that comes with contemplating change is actually worse than the change itself.
    What is comfortable feels safe, regardless of the reality.


    • “Doing something different…creates anxiety.” I so agree. There are benefits from a change of scenery in the small things – like changing your route to work – – yet the pull of staying on I-95 day after day “is easier”. 🙂 Thanks for sharing Kristin. Great thoughts. Dave


  2. I like the point of the article. One of the benefits of my morning journaling was to come to the same conclusion about myself. I expect the anxiety, even though I say I hate it. So, unconsciously, I don’t avoid anxiety, I look for it. Glad to see someone call it out.

    For me, using the Julia Cameron technique of writing three pages first thing in the day really works. Just dump the whole mess right out there on the page for no one but you. Gets it out of my head and into the daylight, where the bully looks so weak.


  3. Reblogged this on Todd's Point of View and commented:
    Want to experience peace of mind? Blogger David Kanigan and I both advocate learning Getting Things Done [GTD] principles and tools. Follow the rebolog link…


  4. lkanigan says:

    What a great line…”People are more comfortable being uncomfortable than being comfortable.”


  5. Great thoughts and inspiration to keep things clear, current, organized.


  6. This is a wonderful inspiring post, I have been practicing what I call “letting it go” for the past several years. Anxiety is a killer of passion, purpose and productivity. Thanks for your insightful blog


  7. “Visualizing and affirming the desired experience of freedom, relaxation, and control is an excellent way to change the comfort zone, because it literally re-grooves the neural programs.” I want to carry this sentence deep within me for a long time to come! I have certainly been finding that it works very well for me, as long as I keep my focus. I am blessed with some local friends and some online who do a go job as coaches in this positivity pracitce!


  8. Doris Cornago says:


    Would you know if this is the exact quote from David Allen: “Much of the tension that people feel is not because they have lots to do, but that they do not finish things started.”? Google can’t give me the exact source.

    Thanks for the help.



  1. […] that are gnawing at your conscious mind, but your unconscious mind can grab your attention as well. There are plenty of techniques out there for getting your conscious mind to focus, such as David All… But there aren’t that many techniques that help you focus the attention of your unconscious mind, […]


  2. […] post “Gnawing Sense of Anxiety about Un-Captured Work” (3/10/2012) reiterates some of the themes I have been reading about in Baumeister’s excellent […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: