A lot of people are uncomfortable with – or even scared of – anything involving computers. Which, like it or not, communication stuff does.
So communication – building a website, blogging, social media, creating downloads and ebooks – can look like a bigger obstacle because it has this layer of stuff-I-don’t-want-to-deal-with on top.
In this post I’m going to look at what that does to you, where it might be coming from, some practical suggestions, and some tips for when you work with more tech-oriented people.
You don’t have to like computers or be good at using them. Everybody’s different. But understanding your reactions and approaching it consciously may free you to find ways to do more with less stress.
What Tech Fear does to you
The problem with approaching something in a state of fear is that your brain wants to do something – anything! – to defuse that fear, while at the same time not having access to good judgement. You jump off in some direction, your brain ticks the box that you did something, and later on it turns out that what you did doesn’t actually make much sense and may even have messed things up.
Or maybe you just freeze, put that stuff away in a mental drawer and pretend it doesn’t exist. But it still needs to get done, and it will be a weight in the back of your brain until it is.
Or perhaps you get stressed out and even angry – angry with the computer (a poor inanimate object!), the people who made the website or program you’re trying to use, yourself, or all of the above. Apart from being unhealthy, this makes it even harder for you to see a solution or to hear one from anyone else.
Fear gets in the way of your doing things that will benefit you, and makes the whole process harder. So let’s try to unravel it a bit.
Where does Tech Fear come from?
Actually, there are lots of possible reasons why you might feel that way. Do any of these strike a chord?
Some of it can be cultural. If you’re over 40, you may not have been exposed to computers at all while you were growing up, which may make them more intimidating. If you’re a woman, you may have picked up messages that you can’t or shouldn’t get involved with “that kind of thing”. Perhaps your mind tries to fend off computer stuff rather than challenging that deeper image of yourself.
Do you often tell people how you can’t get to grips with techy things? That may be you shoring up a personal identity that stops you making progress.
Is it actually the voices of other people in your head, telling you you’re not good enough? Often we absorb what other people say to us and repeat it to ourselves: parents, teachers, bosses, colleagues… If you have some of this, watch out for when it comes up and don’t invest in it.
Another possibility is that you’re trying to avoid feeling silly or stupid. Most of us are wired to avoid that. So if you find techy things difficult, you may feel that trying them will make you look bad to others or feel frustrated inside, so it’s better not to bother. Maybe you have a perception that you “should” be able to do them, and that collides with difficulties you experience when you try, building internal pressure. Maybe you feel that asking for help would make you look inadequate somehow.
Maybe your brain simply doesn’t work the way software expects it to. Computer stuff usually expects you to think in a structured, stepwise way, partly because that’s the way it works and partly because the people who make it tend to think in that style. But maybe that’s not the natural mode for you. Some people have difficulties with certain sorts of patterns, and others have trained their brains in other directions like working with people or doing creative work. If “techy stuff” requires you to push your brain into a non-standard mode, you’re likely to associate it with stress and want to avoid it.
If you associate any of these negative things with computer work, avoiding them can become a habit at an unconscious level. If that happens, when someone asks you about it you may find yourself giving some justification which isn’t necessarily the true reason, and may not even make sense when considered properly. Be cautious about buying into your own stories!
Get practical for confident computing
First, relax. Let go of any emotions attached to this. Decide to see it clearly, and find solutions that will work with who you are to let you do what you want to do.
Check your self-esteem. When something is Your Thing, I bet you’re a smart, capable person who can learn new stuff. Right? Who you are is still there. It’s just that when you get flustered by fear you can lose sight of it.
Decide that moving forward is more important than feeding energy to limiting beliefs about yourself. But it’s not more important than being kind to yourself.
Then it becomes a matter of managing yourself and taking charge. You can filter out the voices that say you can’t do anything – and the ones that say you have to do everything! You can choose where to put your efforts, and where to learn a little bit at a time.
If you understand yourself more, you can look for tech tools that suit your approach. There’s loads of stuff out there now. You might say, “I want to do what this does, but it’s confusing. Is there something similar with a simpler interface, and more help to do X?” Programs and apps available now are being made with more awareness of how people want to work, as they become an everyday commodity rather than the province of hobbyists.
You can also think about which jobs to do yourself and where to get other people to help. Maybe you can pick things up from them and eventually learn to do those tasks yourself, if you want to.
Knowing what things you like or are interested in is part of the process. You might say, “I have to use computers for my work, and that’s OK, but I don’t enjoy it so I try to minimise it.” You might decide that you like some parts but not others: maybe you enjoy writing blogs but dislike doing document layout, or vice versa.
The shift there is that you’re managing yourself and your work, consciously. A fear reaction stops you seeing clearly. If you get past that, you can plan and prioritise.
Dealing with techy people
This feels a bit weird to write, because it’s almost like a user’s guide to me! (Or part of me anyway.) But if you’re someone who wrestles with Tech Fear, there may be reasons why it’s harder for you to work with people who can help you.
If a tech support-type person is any good, they want to help you get what you’re aiming for. But perhaps they don’t understand – or have forgotten – what it’s like to be where you are. And you have to help them help you as well. Here’s a couple of tips for steering things for the best results.
Be up-front about where you are on computer-type stuff. But keep it factual. Don’t keep going on about how you can’t understand this stuff, because that just reinforces blocks in your own mind, and eventually the other person will wonder why you’re even having the conversation. But if you can say clearly that you’re OK with X but have trouble understanding Y, they can see that you’re a sensible human being and they know what to focus on.
Don’t suffer in silence: do ask questions when you don’t understand things. But keep the questions connected to the topic. Bear in mind that someone doing technical support probably thinks in a way that goes from one step to the next until the problem is solved. If your mind operates in a more creative or chaotic way, be aware that this could break your connection with them and create confusion. Perhaps you could write down other ideas that pop up and come back to them later.
Manage your capacity. If you’re not used to learning about this stuff, your mental processing box will probably fill up faster than they expect. Then if you try to cram more in, you start feeling stressed. It’s better to chunk it up and cover a bit at a time. But for the techier person, who’s probably focused on getting to the end of solving the problem, it can feel like pulling the rug from under them if you suddenly say you need to stop part-way through. It may be helpful to plan at the start what you’re going to cover in a session, and explain why. But if you do hit overload, say so: it’s better to finish the current point and break than to plough on against mounting resistance.
Overall, remember that Tech Fear is just a thing that your mind does, and what it tells you isn’t necessarily true. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you get caught up in it, it will make you unable to deal with computer stuff. It’s one more step in getting to know yourself and making the best of your resources.
Find software that works for you. Find learning paths that work for you, a step at a time. Find helpful people who will work with you. And don’t feed the Tech Fear!