Understanding that many of the challenges you may be facing in your life may just be a common problem among others, can help to normalize the discussion of unrealistic high expectations and to work towards adjusting them. And given that perfectionism is just one of the demons that some of you may face, you have to learn to keep moving forward. This week, I want to describe a problem that is also very common but rarely discussed – disempowerment.
Many of us hold an incredibly limiting set of beliefs about our capabilities. This includes the relationship between our thoughts & our physical acts, and what it takes to sit down and get stuff done. When people are asked to describe their productivity process, what often comes to mind is the idea that work is what happens AFTER they have read everything there is to read, checked their email, and have large blocks of time. In other words, “working” or “doing” is simply the physical act a person engages in after they’ve figured out everything internally. People frequently feel _________ (inspired, excited, energized, confident, clear, etc.) before they can get to work. As you can imagine, people who need to feel perfectly inspired rarely finish everything that it is that they are trying to get done.
I’m describing this as problematic for three reasons. First and foremost, it’s a highly inefficient way to get things done and can provoke anxiety. That’s because you don’t know when inspiration is going to strike and you can’t control it. So, if you’re waiting around to feel inspired, it’s may never happen, or at the very least when you don’t quite expect it. Secondly, if you’re really serious about completing your tasks then you just won’t have time to wait until you’ve figured everything out AND feel inspired. Finally, and most importantly, when we set conditions that are beyond our control for what must occur before we can get started, it may reveal a deep sense of disempowerment, distrust, and confusion. In other words, it suggests that your activities controls you when in reality, you control your activities.
“Doing IS Thinking!”
I can be a little slow when it comes to running with new ideas, but I have since come to believe that understanding the fundamental truth of why I am slow to kick things off is the key to overcoming disempowerment. If doing is thinking, then you don’t have to wait until you’re done reading, analyzing data, or figuring everything out to do it. In fact, it’s the best justification for daily activity because staying busy every day enables you to think about your project and move forward every single day! It also eliminates the need to feel any particular way as a prerequisite to getting started because you can think about your project if you’re happy, sad, inspired, or flat-out cranky. Finally, it lowers the bar and puts you in the driver’s seat. If doing is thinking, then it feels a lot less scary to be active for at least 30 minutes every day. I don’t have to get everything done on at once — I only have to get started & create a plan to finish what I start.
Now that I’ve described the big picture, let me suggest some specific strategies that may allow you to release yourself from any flawed beliefs you have. They will help you to sneak around your resistance and slowly but surely ease into daily productivity.
Commit To Daily Doing
I know I say this every week, but it bears repeating — if you’re not getting busy, block out at least 30 minutes every day, Monday through Friday, to do so. Don’t just say you’ll do it. Really try it for two weeks! And don’t forget to build in some accountability because trying to start a new habit alone is a recipe for misery and isolation. When you are consistently productive every day, they are astounded to learn that: 1) they can work no matter how they feel; 2) a lot can be accomplished in a short amount of time; and 3) it’s deeply and intellectually satisfying to be productive on a daily basis.
Expand Your Understanding Of What Counts As “Doing”
I get lots of questions about what types of actions are acceptable during your daily “doing” time. If you’re doing something as simple as washing dishes, then you’re “doing”. Writing out a grocery list counts, but so does generating a to-do list, checking on people to whom you’ve delegated your work to, or even planning things to do for another day. In other words, anything that helps tick something off your list counts as “doing”. Expanding your notion of what “doing” is will help you to reduce your resistance by making this feel like a regular part of your daily routine.
I think freelancing has a bad rap sometimes. People often think that freelancing as just “all work for little-to-no pay”, but, the reason it can work is because working freelance can “clear the dust” and brings our attention to different things. When we shift to focused freelancing, we inevitably experience all manner of surprises. So, get to moving! Once the work begins, that’s when the thinking (and the creative magic!) happens.
Switch It Up
I’m not sure how to explain it, but there’s something that shifts in your brain when you move from writing on the computer to good old-fashioned pencil and paper. So for example, many people find it helpful to change the mode of writing when they get stuck. It’s really quite simple — just push your keyboard off to the side, grab a pencil and paper, and start writing longhand through the problem. The changed format and tactile stimulation will help you to think differently. Or when you’re stuck, you can lay on the floor with some markers (kindergarten style) and start mind-mapping. This technique never fails to produce remarkable surprises, and can often generate a breakthrough in your thinking.
Don’t Stare At A Blank Wall
If getting ready to be productive feels scary because you get locked up when you look around & see all that needs to get done, then don’t look at it. Throw something over the “mess” (a sweater, a towel, a pillowcase, or whatever is handy). Remember, you control it — not the other way around. Then just start working. Sometimes, just blocking the debilitating images around you can help you get started, and once you get started with one little area, it becomes easier to clean the others. can’t see the finished product, so you’ll be more tempted to keep going until you make a significant dent in your work.
Ultimately, the goal of each of these strategies is to disrupt and undermine the flawed beliefs that “doing” happens after thinking and that you must be inspired to “do”. Instead, I’m urging you to understand your thinking and doing as inextricably intertwined so that you can quickly begin moving on what it is you wanted to accomplish this summer.
I hope that this week brings you a renewed commitment to your daily writing, a sense of clarity about the connection between writing and thinking, and the confidence to know that you have the power to write every single day this week (Monday through Friday). No matter how you feel or where you are in your project, you can choose to sit down and get started today!