Understand and unhook from a common source of inertia.
Creators get sucked into perspectives that strip them of motivation.
One threat is the feeling of “being late.”
You might feel it if you’re 34, always loved the piano, but didn’t pursue it for yourself until last fall. You hear a new song, but you’re a series of tight finger stretches and tedious rounds of repetition away from playing it.
After trying and failing to learn the song, you might feel envious of the four year olds who were taught piano before they understood the value of music.
Or maybe you have a major project due in two weeks. A brochure. A book. The user manual for a set of hanging lights. Although you’re being paid decently, the topic is of interest, you still can’t shake the foreboding when you think about starting. But as you wait, the resistance grows. The feeling that you should have started sooner increases the burden of what was an initially an exciting project.
Dissolving the feeling of lateness and enjoying the process linked to whatever you’re doing can make life run smoother.
Feeling “on time” instills a sense of permission that isn’t dependent upon achievement.
You already have the resources to complete projects that make you feel stimulated, proud, and engaged. You were born with the long-sought-after feeling of equilibrium.
We’ll consider the meaning behind the feeling of being late and how it can be re-framed to drive, rather than derail, the creative process.
Get suspicious about the nature of being late.
In the case of an uncompleted project, are your feelings truly about the deadline, or are they related to early imprints around your ability to give people what they ask for?
Determine if your assumptions are calibrated to your current level of knowledge, understanding and expertise, or if you’re auto-piloting with the help of early childhood programming.
“Life is a series of changes in direction.”
For example, if your parents constantly expected more from you even when you were satisfied with your own results, you might be a friend to the assumption that what you do is never do enough. You might mistake the yawns, headaches and other signals of burn out for messages that you need to press on even harder.
However, if you pay careful attention to the raw sense that what you do is not enough, you might see that this is more relevant to your ancient, rather than recent, past.
It’s natural for humans to run with the default mindset developed during a critical period in childhood or adolescence. These are often instances of misunderstanding or cruelty that demanded a strategy or system of rewards to ensure that a particularly rough lesson never needed to be learned twice.
However, it’s the setbacks we’ve overcome within the last weeks, months, or years that we can look to in support of our beliefs in our own competence. Maybe you were an average student and had parents with steep demands, but now you’re reading and putting what you learn into action every single day.
Even the struggles that seem unrelated to your current setbacks are evidence of your flexibility and resilience.
Journaling can be a wonderful way to keep your beliefs about yourself in sync with your present level of ability.
If you’re struggling with a new skill or talent, consider whether feeling inadequate is one vector of your flavor of inertia.
Are you focused on what you should know already, rather than the joy of having the curiosity that inspires you to pick up your instrument in the first place?
Rather than feeling de-motivated by all that may be left to learn, focus on the raw wonder and excitement that inspires you to want to paint, write, play music, or whatever you do. After all, you didn’t create the feeling of inspiration. When it’s around it makes itself known to you. And it doesn’t have to show up. You could have been born with the desire to pursue nothing but spicy chicken sandwiches and local news. You would have never even considered the riches of being drawn into an exciting project. Even if you struggle to create at the rate you’d like, to even feel the urge is a gift.
“Discipline is best used to bring wisdom and insight to times of imperfect clarity.”
Separate entrenched thoughts about who you are from the skill itself.
It’s easy to be seduced by the rewards that developing a talent or skill can bring to us. We feed a conditional love dependent upon our ability to create tapestries that people want to pay for or albums that people play on repeat. However, this same use of attention can be the reason we struggle to create.
It’s possible to get lost in self-limiting beliefs that put a ceiling on what we become. These feelings can be subterranean — when notions that we’re not worthy of being listened to silently erode our attempts to write a weekly newsletter. Or when the sense that we’re inadequate musicians because we use tabs rather than learning by ear causes us to give up those gradual improvements that come with daily practice.
However, if you focus on the micro-routines of what you want to create or learn, with persistence your expectations for yourself will increase. The results will show that it’s not “a certain kind of person” who develops a successful life coaching business, it’s the people who complete a series of (often mundane and time-consuming, but not necessarily difficult) tasks.
What about those times of lethargy? When the motivation that was here yesterday transforms into a desire to lay under covers and watch documentaries on topics you don’t even care about?
This is what often happens to me: I’d like to write a song, poem, story, or article on a Saturday. When the day comes, I feel a pressure both to be outside and to create. I feel so torn between the two that I can only do nothing. Or some variation on this theme.
The entire day, the feeling of obligation and impending failure haunt me. I know I’d feel expansive and alive if I were creating, but I also want to enjoy other people’s music and the feeling of my head on pillows.
Many of our Should statements are the empowered, energized, and self-possessed mindsets of the past beckoning for our attention.
In those states you had the flexibility, resiliency, and initiative to take action, that you, in your current hyper-sensitive or lethargic state, lack. So even though it may feel like “should’s” press upon you and decrease your enjoyment of the present, realize that these voices are urging you to reach for something more holistically satisfying than laying around ever could be.
That voice that makes you feel guilty for not acting as you “should” often has a richer notion of fulfillment than you’re able to access in the present. Sometimes, you might benefit from trusting its wisdom and function.
What if you really are late to something? What if you’re starting a project the night before it’s supposed to be done?
Most of us are familiar with the range of emotions that come along with a hefty project undertaken all at once. In some moments, you think, “This is going to be a nightmare. Why didn’t I start two weeks ago?” And then a moment later, “This is easier than I thought.”
If you really are at a loss for time, focus on and invite more of the instances of inspiration, precise focus, and relief. Reflect on why they feel good and what actions can be taken to increase their frequency.
Write about the best-case scenario given the amount of time you have left for the project. Also reflect on the level of completeness that would disappoint you. This way, you’ll know concretely what you’re aiming for and what you’re meaning to avoid.
Sometimes vague notions of what satisfying results look like can become motivation-drainers. If we don’t know the coordinates of success or failure, what’s the point in taking action if it won’t bail us out of limbo?
Transparency is a major amplifier of progress.
Even if you’re not a writer, your creations can flow from a commitment to documenting all aspects of your process. This means honoring even the parts of a project that feel restrictive or boring.
When you’ve been steadily returning to a book for seven days in a row but on the eighth just can’t bear it, describe the feeling. Don’t resist resistance. Exploring the edges of your stasis can unlock the particular angle moving forward depends on.