First came the desire. After the desire came the giddy excitement. After the excitement came the clear goals. After the goals, the false starts. After the false starts, the shame. After the shame came the mean voices. After the mean voices, terror descends like a visit from the dysfunctional family you moved across the country to avoid. Their voices reverberate through the house, explaining in detail why every idea you’ve ever had cannot work. Your excitement evaporates, the desire begins to seem like a weakness or a character flaw. The garage that’s been a mess for 17 years becomes the most important task on earth: You must clean it, now. The exciting project can wait. The oscillation has set in: excitement, fear, distraction, shame, self-criticism; Repeat. It’s exhausting to stay in one place. We are built for movement, no matter what your Uncle Harry whispers to your Aunt Agnes as they roll their eyes and smirk.
This is the cycle I see in my clients. The project they start, humbly, in the small corner of the organization that is theirs somehow becomes the center of the universe, and a threat to its orderly existence. So, they stop cold, disappointing those who had been relying on their leadership.
This is the cycle I experience myself, never more than this year when I declared that I would publish.
It does seem that the bolder and more clear the goal, the more fierce is the resistance to it. Thing is, resistance is merely a sign of anxiety, and anxiety is like sweat: A by-product. It’s not feedback. It’s not a warning of dire consequences to come. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong or you should stop. It means you’re doing it. That’s all. Anxiety is the by-product of change like sweat is the by-product of exercise. And, just like sweat, you brush anxiety out of your eyes and keep going.
If you pause for too long, you’ll start to believe the voices you hear. If you linger longer, what the voices whisper will become the truth of your experience. Uncle Harry and Aunt Agnes will nod in that knowing, irritating way they have.
Instead, find a way to keep moving toward your desire, like one of these:
1. Pick a smaller goal, a tiny, insignificant first step. I want to write, right? I know that when I set that intention, the ideas start popping up at the most inconvenient times. So my first tiny step was to make sure I had post-it notes and a pen everywhere I might need them: in the car, in the bathroom, next to the bed, in my gym bag. A tiny step, so easy to do, it engenders no resistance.
2. Resolve to do it badly. Really badly. Epically, catastrophically badly. Like the grammar of those last 2 sentences. Annie Lamott encourages her students to write a “shitty first draft.” Years ago I read about a group of friends who got together weekly for “bad art night.” Their goal was to have fun creating. Their one rule was that anyone who got into turning their art piece into a thing of quality had to immediately “wreck” it.
3. Get help. When your mind is like a rat wheel, going over and over the same info but getting nowhere, it’s time to get help. Talk to someone. Think out loud. Find a forum online and post an inquiry. Hire someone to help you. I was struggling with a vexing pellet stove problem that had gone on for 2 years. No one I talked to could help me. I read, posted to forums, brooded and froze all last winter without heat. The other day, I was talking to a neighbor and he suggested the approach I’ll be trying next week. Now, instead of avoiding the topic because it seemed so insurmountable, I’m excited and energized.
4. Pick much larger goal, one that shocks all mean voices to silence. No, bigger than that. Really, it should crack you up with it’s audacity. If it’s crazy enough, it will make you smile inside. It’s important that you have no idea how to accomplish it.
5. Take a walk. If I don’t sweat profusely at least 4 times a week, I’m overrun with stress. In order to move forward toward my goals, I’ve got to be spending myself physically. It gives me energy and it shows me how inexhaustible my source is. It orders my thoughts too.
6. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, but were afraid to. Maybe it seems frivolous, or you could never be a person who does that, or you can’t possibly learn it. Then do it. Sometimes, the nasty voices become so involved with saving you from that crazy endeavor, it’s easier to evade them on other topics.
I still remember buying my first tambourine. I’d fallen in love with the middle eastern style of playing and gone to a workshop to try it out. I became so besotted I bought a professional quality, beginner’s tambourine for $75.00. All through the long drive home, I heard my mother’s voice saying “75 dollars for a TAMBOURINE?” For some reason, this cracked me up and I talked and joked with that voice all the way home. Years later when I bought a tambourine costing 10 times that much, mom’s voice in my head had nothing more to add.