Just Do It!
By Sharon Good
It was a Saturday afternoon, many years ago, during the time when I was in the midst of my acting career. My plan that day was to send out some pictures and resumes for possible jobs, but I was feeling anxious about doing that. Instead, I was doing crossword puzzles, my "drug of choice" at the time, trying to fend off the anxiety and muster up the motivation to do what I needed to do. The phone rang, and it was my friend Jim, who asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to motivate myself to send out resumes. He asked, Why don't you stop trying to motivate yourself and just do it?
Lack of motivation is something each of us experiences at some point. Having become an introspective, "self-help" culture, when something isn't going our way, we tend to look inside to discover why. What painful feelings from earlier experiences are we trying to avoid? What negative expectation do we have? What are we afraid will happen if we complete this task? These can be valuable questions to ask ourselves.
But sometimes, we get bogged down in trying to process and change these feelings, when a simple change in behavior is all we need. When we get caught up in our inner world, we can give so much energy to our blockages and resistances that we take what was once a surmountable hurdle and turn it into an insurmountable wall. Then we stand there trying to figure out how to dismantle the wall. Sometimes, just taking action can lift us out of those often paralyzing feelings into a more productive space.
The first step is to know yourself -- how you work best and what gets in your way:
* Which tasks are most confronting for you? When do you become resistant?
* What motivates you?
* How much structure do you need?
* Are you a sprinter (work best for short periods of time) or a long-distance runner (most productive with long blocks of time)?
* Do you need to figure in time for fussing and resisting to help you transition into getting down to work? How much time?
* Do deadlines motivate you or make you feel pressured?
* What time of day are you most alert and focused?
* When are you most distracted? How can you reduce or eliminate those distractions?
* Are you more productive when you have someone to be accountable to?
Once you've explored these questions, create systems, routines and rituals to help you through the resistance. If you're not already in a structured environment, set up daily schedules and goals for yourself to create order and structure. This can alleviate the anxiety around, What do I do next? and, Is there something else I should be doing now? You can do this on a daily basis, planning the night before, or on Sunday for the coming week. I suggest planning ahead, rather than on the same day, so that your subconscious has time to dwell on your plan while you sleep, and you wake up mentally prepared to begin.
For some people, it works best to schedule the most important thing first. For others, it helps to schedule the easy tasks first to encourage them to keep going. Keep a to-do list, with tasks listed in the order you'll tackle them, or actually schedule blocks of time in your planner for specific tasks. Be realistic about how much time you'll need -- better to allow too much time than not enough -- and be sure to schedule anything with a deadline in a timely way.
Once you begin a task, focus on it completely. Let go of all other tasks, knowing that they will be handled in the proper time. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the job in front of you. If you're afraid of missing the next appointment, set an alarm or have someone remind you.
Scheduling in this way helps you to prepare yourself mentally to approach a task that may be confronting or bring up resistance. You can also create a ritual to transition yourself into a focused and ready state of mind. Your ritual might go like this: start the coffee machine, turn on the computer (set up your easel, change into your dance clothes, whatever), get your papers out onto the desk, check e-mail, turn off the phone ringers, get a cup of coffee, say a little prayer and get to work. The ritual will help your mind to get calm and focused on the job ahead.
If you're still resisting, start doing simple, non-confronting tasks to get you into the flow, such as returning phone calls, preparing your tools, reviewing the previous day's work or cleaning off your work space. As you do them, your mind will begin to focus on the work to come, ideas will start to flow and you'll move more easily into your project. An interesting writer's trick I learned is to stop work in the middle of a thought or paragraph. Then, when you begin again, you can pick up where you left off, rather than facing a blank page.
Here are a few other strategies to help you through resistance:
* Break big jobs into smaller chunks to avoid overwhelm, and then schedule the small pieces. Use checklists to give yourself a sense of accomplishment, and reward yourself periodically for completing tasks. You might use the "work first, play later" strategy by planning something fun upon completion of a less desirable task.
* Have someone you report to for accountability, such as a boss, coworker, spouse, friend or coach. Sometimes, it's easier to come through for someone else, either to receive praise and encouragement or to avoid the embarrassment of not producing the result you promised. It also helps to feel you have a partner in your endeavor.
* Rather than trying to avoid or numb out a feeling of anxiety or overwhelm, allow yourself to go into the feeling. Get quiet, close your eyes if you wish, and breathe deeply. Notice where you feel the feeling in your body. Stay present with the sensation. It may get intense for awhile, but eventually, it will subside, and you will be able to go about your business without the nagging feeling of resistance that was stopping you.
* If you're truly resistant, set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes and go to work. This is a great way to deal with such things as alleviating clutter or going through a backlog of e-mail. A small chunk of time is usually manageable, no matter how resistant you are, and the progress you'll see from the cumulative effect of those small chunks will motivate you to do more.
Along with these strategies, it's also important to develop mental discipline and strength of will. I read recently that one of the primary reasons we don't achieve our life goals is sheer laziness. It's easy, in the short-term, to cave in to tiredness, distractions, social pressure and other temptations, rather than doing what we know will be most meaningful in the long run.
Although I'm not an athlete myself, I've come to admire the discipline it takes to become a champion. I clearly remember watching the 1984 Olympics, when American gymnast Julianne McNamara fell off the balance beam. My heart sank for her, but she bounced right back up there and finished her routine. She went on that year to win a gold medal in uneven bars and silver medals in floor exercise and the team competition. Her self-discipline and focus made a lasting impression on me.
It takes that kind of steely focus to be a winner. Falling into the mire of self-pity can rob us of our self-esteem and productivity. We need to have the self-discipline to drag ourselves out of the deep pit of self-pity and talk to ourselves in ways that will empower and motivate us instead of dragging us down. While you may not be an Olympic athlete, you can be a winner in your own life by keeping your eye on what you want and staying out of the trap of self-pity, refusing to allow anxiety, overwhelm or negative self-talk to win.
Will and self-discipline need to be developed. Like a flabby muscle, an out-of-shape, undisciplined will won't respond to your demands. Start with something small, like practicing your craft or exercising for 15 minutes every day. Don't take any excuses from yourself. As you get stronger and more consistent, begin to exercise your will in other, more challenging areas. Then, when the big challenges come, you'll have the strength of will to make powerful choices and follow through, no matter how confronting it is.
Remember, the point of power is Now. Whatever happened in the past, you can always make new choices and take different actions, and thus get different results. Jim's words have stayed with me all these years. Now, when I feel stuck in anxiety or fear, instead of turning to crossword puzzles, I start to take actions toward the result I want to create. Before I know it, I get absorbed in what I'm doing, the anxiety disappears and I'm well on my way to checking one more item off my to-do list of meaningful accomplishments.
About The Author
Sharon Good is a life and creativity coach and author who has worked as an actor, photographer, publisher and is the author of "Managing With A Heart: 222 Ways to Make Your Employees Feel Appreciated". She is a strong supporter of individuals at all levels of creativity and is especially passionate about those participating in artistic endeavors. For more information or to contact the author, visit http://www.goodlifecoaching.com/index.html.
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