Archive for the ‘Standing in Your Own Way’ Category

I have to start this post by acknowledging that it has been a really long time since I last wrote.  Really long.  The only real excuse I have is that I have been doing other work, in addition to coaching, and that has kept me really busy.  But, I never stopped working with clients or loving coaching or feeling a desire to write about things that interest me.  I have thought of posting many times because I continue to read a lot and be excited by ideas and insights, but I have let myself be derailed (I know exactly how it happens…I am tempted now to get up and start going through my closet to get rid of things.  That needs to be done too, but for now it will have to wait.)

But today will be different.  I am mostly caught up with my work, so I am going to sit here until I hit the Publish button.  And since I have done this a few times before (I have a few drafts from years past where I never did hit that Publish button), I am going to keep it simple.

This article by Carl Richards in yesterday’s New York Times, “Time to Be Honest About the Fear That’s Getting in Your Way,” feels like a good place to dive back in.  That’s because I completely relate to the first few sentences:

There is something you have been working on, isn’t there?  Something big. Something exciting. Something you have always dreamed of. It’s that perpetual “work in progress” that you tell only your close friends and loved ones about. The novel that is in “final edits.” That website that you are going to start … tomorrow.

Ah yes, tomorrow.  I know it well.  Some avoidance is about laziness or lack of time or something else, but for the big things, the bold things, the things we keep wanting to do despite the “roadblocks” we imagine…they are stopped by fear.

Our own work, when we are judging it ourselves, is never finished or good enough. I have a secret for you: It’s not because we are perfectionists. It’s because we are scared. Scared nobody will like it, scared it won’t work out, scared to be embarrassed.

I think I stopped writing blogposts because I got really busy with other things, but then once I was out of the habit, I started to have doubts about the worth of my posts and were they good enough, and who cares what I think.  Fast forward several years and here I am, with blogposts to write and other creative projects I want to do.  Carl Richards asks the questions I need to answer.

Once we understand why we are perpetually stuck at 90 percent, we can make major strides toward 100 percent. It’s no longer about this or that specific roadblock. Now it’s about, “How do I work with fear?”

That is a much better question than, “What font should I use?” and it’s one that is much more interesting.

So how do you work with fear? Do you have specific things you do when you have something you really want to do but are hiding because you’re scared? Mantras you repeat, stories you tell yourself, music?


There is a right time and a wrong time to negotiate with yourself.  It seems pretty obvious, but I am amazed at how often people pick the wrong time.  When you pick the wrong time, you always lose (or win, depending on if you’re answering to the proverbial angel or devil on your shoulder).  Here is the rule I use:

Only negotiate when your best self is present:  the one that sees the future, has faith in you, wants you to succeed and is a step removed from the thing you are negotiating.  For example, you can negotiate an exercise plan when you are warm and relaxed, feeling good and can see your fitness goal/s clearly.  You can’t do that when it’s still dark outside, windy and cold and you are trying to force yourself out the door.  Those negotiations almost always break down.  If you open the door to negotiation, how can you possibly make a good case for leaving the comfort of home and head into the cold, cruel world of exercise?   This is the wrong time to negotiate.  It’s exhausting for one.  And based on my own experience, you usually end up feeling worse because  you give in to your less-than-optimal self.

If you negotiate with your best self and make clear decisions, it is very freeing.  You don’t even open the door to the possibility of staying home on that cold, dark and windy morning.  You use your energy to get dressed and out the door and when that voice says, “just stay in bed” or “you’ll go tomorrow” you shut it down and go on automatic pilot, knowing that this is what your best self wants.

I exercise on certain days at certain times.  It is non-negotiable unless I’m sick.  I know I feel better when I do it…both physically and mentally.  The thought of negotiating that on a day to day basis exhausts me.  I am a good negotiator and can run circles around myself if I want, so when I start to hear the “oh, you don’t really  have to go out today, give yourself a break” I shut it down and stay focused.

Negotiation check list:

  • ask yourself who you are negotiating with.  If it’s not your best self, wait until that self can show up.
  • remember you can always renegotiate.
  • for on-going things, like exercise, diet, job-search, create your plan and agree to stick with it for a certain period of time…a week, a month…so you can see what it feels like.
  • remember what your longer term vision is.  remembering why you are dieting, exercising, looking for a better job helps make the hard work feel worth it.

When do you negotiate with yourself?  Who wins?

I am taking a woodworking class called Zen and the Art of Joinery.  To be clear there is nothing Zen or Artful about what I have done so far.  And, in case you don’t know, joinery is what it sounds like:  getting different pieces of wood to stay together without nails or screws.)  I am finding it truly challenging on a number of levels that fascinate me.  And honestly, it’s watching all this play out that is keeping me going back each Tuesday evening despite the gravitational pull to stay home and the dread of feeling lame again.

Last week we were going to learn how to use a chisel.  The teacher was looking to use someone’s piece of wood with the  proper cuts and lines already in place.  He took mine.  Looked at it.  Raised his eyebrows.  And looked for  a different one.  My cuts were crooked and of various depths and I was missing a crucial line that should have been drawn.  I felt a bit like an idiot.  Not because I can’t take a little ribbing, but more because I realized that this type of work doesn’t come naturally to me.  A lot of things come naturally to me and I’m used to picking things up easily.  Not woodworking.

So the teacher demonstrated how to use a chisel (on someone else’s piece of wood!) to create the space to make a joint.  (I should know what the joint we were making is called, but I don’t.)  I watched his demo carefully and was ready to try my hand on my piece of wood.  I picked up the chisel and immediately felt confused.  How was I supposed to hold it?  Where was I supposed to start?  I asked the teacher for help and he immediately got the “No Stop!” look on his face when I put the chisel on the wood.  He asked, “Does that feel comfortable?  Does it feel good?”  No, it didn’t.  He said it was like I was fighting my own body.  He showed me again what to do, but again, when I picked up the chisel I got in an awkward position.  I was making it much harder and more painful than it had to be.  Not because I wanted to do that…I didn’t.  But my body wanted to contort.

Using my fullest concentration and awareness, I was able to get in the right, most “natural” position and I did a passable job on the joint.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard I had made it for myself.  And that made me think about how hard we can make other things for ourselves.  How maybe some things don’t need to be so painful if only we could shift our position.  For example, exercising regularly could be really hard and painful, but is there a position/way of thinking/strategy that would make it flow?  Or, looking for a job.  Is there literally a way to adjust how you do it so you’re not battling yourself.

The challenge, as I found out in my woodworking adventure is that often the new posture/position feels weird and unnatural.  As painful as the way we’re doing something feels, it’s what we know.  And it can be difficult to distinguish between one form of pain and another.  The thing to remember is that with practice, the better position/approach will become easier.  But the one in which you’re working against yourself will just continue to be hard.  If I keep practicing using the chisel in the correct way, I might someday be good at it.  If I keep doing it my instinctive way, I’m sure to quit woodworking as soon as this class is over.

Where do you fight yourself and possibly make things harder than they need to be?

Why is it so easy to find reasons we can’t do things or know that certain things won’t happen in our lives?  Often when I’m working with someone, the thing they want to achieve is barely out of their mouth before the reasons why this desire is unreasonable, impossible, unrealistic, unachievable is in the room with us.  How can the dream survive if it’s surrounded and drowned by all the doubt?

It’s a normal protective thing to do.  We all do it to some degree.  We want to temper our desires so the (what feels like inevitable) fall won’t hurt so much.  But this protection can take over and literally snuff the life out of possibility.  I’m not saying to be unrealistic.  It is good to be honest about what stands in your way and admit where things might get challenging.  That is healthy.  But when there is no room to dream and believe not much can or will happen.

I have several clients who have have seen their circumstances change significantly over the past year.  Not things that fell out of the sky suddenly.  Not purely lucky events.  Things happened because they believed enough and moved forward.  When I ask each of them now:  “Would you have believed me if I had told you when we first met that this is where you would be today? That this would be your new reality?, they each admit that no, they would not have believed me.  Never.  No way.

And that shows that believing the unbelievable is not a crazy thing to do.  That’s the little bit of oxygen that is necessary to make things happen and get your fire burning.  People are always so certain they know why things won’t work out.  That’s what I ask my clients to let go of: that undermining certainty.  I can’t predict the future, but I do know when people get out of their own way amazing and unexpected things happen.

I wrote this post nearly three months ago, when I had recently come back from a month-long trip to the East Coast.  I never managed to push the Publish button…I’m not sure why.  Too busy?

This article in the NY Times really resonated with me.  The author, Tim Kreider, starts out:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.”

I was already cringing by that point, hearing myself say those words.  And then he goes into something I’ve written about in this blog, and also thought a lot about.  Choice.  Busyness is not a choice for everyone, but for many people it is.

It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

We create the circumstances that make us busy.  I sometimes think I’m a slacker because I actively try not to be too busy.  I hate being too busy!  I’m not at my best when I’m running in ten directions at once.  There is no time to think.

Writing this blog gives me time to think.  If I see it that way it doesn’t feel like something that makes me busier, but instead something that makes my life richer.  So, if you’re still hanging in there with me, please expect more.  Soon.

How busy are you?

P.S.  A friend wrote me this morning and reminded me of the great ending to the article…for those of you who don’t read it, here it is.

I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.