Dismantling the Atomic Fears

atomic bomb


I have a love/hate relationship with self-help books. I love the concept. Self-help = help yourself. Right on. I’m all in favor of that. That would be the love. The hate part is a little bit harder to nail down, at least in words. Books like The Secret make me cringe. While I believe that our beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes influence our lives in some major ways, fostering a belief that all you have to do is believe strongly enough in something, and practice feeling it as though it has already happened, is enough to make it occur is beyond ridiculous.

If the concepts in The Secret work, explain to me why I was never able to get my Big Wheel to fly? I believed it would happen with all of my heart. I felt the power, triumph, and exhilaration fully. Yet still, my little five-year-old body never cleared the ground on that thing.

I’ve spent countless hours reading, implementing, and assessing dozens upon dozens of self-help books. Some of them are invaluable. Some of them are worse than worthless; they’re toxic. Books that lead to product deals, making the authors extremely wealthy, while unable to show any evidence that the theories actually work, piss me off.

The Secret is that anything worth having is going to require more than belief. In fact, it will require quite a lot from you. You’re going to need a healthy dose of the following:

  • Optimism
  • Desire
  • Action
  • Willingness to Fail
  • Persistence
  • Help from Other People
  • Flexibility
  • Discipline
  • Bravery
  • A Plan
  • Coping Skills

If you’re looking at this list and feeling like you don’t stand a chance, give yourself some credit. You’ve probably exhibited most or all of these traits at different times in your life. What about right now? Assess yourself honestly.

Don’t be shy about patting yourself on the back for the things you’re doing well. It’s not only okay to feel good about the things you’re doing well, it’s critical for you to acknowledge those things if you’re going to succeed.

What about the areas in which you could use some reinforcements? When you look at the things that are holding you back, remember that there’s no need to feel ashamed. Having weaknesses doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. Being human is a good thing. What’s the other option? And the only way to improve anything is to get very clear and brutally honest.

When you think about your art or your business in terms of what isn’t going so well, what is your primary emotion?

I’m lucky enough to work with artists and creative entrepreneurs on a regular basis, and while the issues we discuss are personal and differ greatly, almost always, when we get to this question, the answer is the same.

The Primary Emotion That Holds Us Back is FEAR.

What are you afraid of? Are your fears realistic? Are they likely to come to fruition? If they did, would your world fall apart? Would you die? Or would you feel the pain and ramifications, recover, and keep living? If you’re ever going to put fear in its place, meaning that it will no longer rule your life, you have to look the beast in the eye.

Remove emotion from your assessment of the fear. It might sound impossible, but it isn’t. It’s actually not that hard at all. Pretend that you’re not looking at your issues at all. Take them in as if they belong to someone else, someone you care about, and imagine that they’re asking you for advice.

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to be reasonable and pragmatic when offering advice to other people than it is when you’re trying to figure out how to tackle your own problems? It’s because no matter how much you love and care about the other person, you’re slightly removed from the situation. Learning to distance yourself from your own life issues enough to give them this same sort of objective once-over isn’t easy, but it’s a skill worth learning. I can’t promise you that you’ll never feel afraid again (you will), but I can promise you that bouts of hysteria and paralysis will take up residence in your brain less often.

Teeny Tiny Baby Steps


It’s time to put down the self-help book and actually do something. I’m not against reading about overcoming fear. I think it can be very useful. I’m sitting here right now writing about it, and I wouldn’t be wasting my time if I didn’t believe it could be of value to the people who will read it. But it can get a little sticky when you start to confuse reading about something (or talking about it) with doing something about it. If you’ve read eleven self-help books in the past year, but you haven’t started to implement changes in your daily life, you’re no further along than you were before you read them. If you’re like me, it’s all too easy to get stuck in the research phase without taking action.

So I’m asking you to do something for yourself today. When you’re done reading this article, sit down with a pen and paper. Ask yourself what steps you can take, right now, to move through your fears, and write down as many as you can. It might mean that you RSVP for a networking event, even though you’re terrified to talk to strangers. It might mean calling your local library and reserving a room for a free class, even though you’re afraid no one will show up. Or maybe you’ll send out an email to your twenty closest friends and ask them to promote your upcoming gallery show, even though you’re fretting that they might feel like you’re imposing on their time.

Aside from being situations that all evoke fear for some people, do you see the common thread between all of those things? No, I’m not talking about the fact that they are all forms of marketing. I’m talking about the fact that they are all first steps towards doing something bigger.  They’re teeny, tiny baby steps. Not one of them will take more than fifteen minutes. If you’ve listed something that will take longer than this, it might be too big for a beginning step. Break it down into smaller, shorter steps. This makes them totally doable. You can do anything for fifteen minutes. You’ll be afraid for just a quarter of an hour, and then that step will be done.

Take one fifteen minute step each day for a week. Next week, aim for two fifteen minute steps a day. Week by week, your distress tolerance will increase, and your fear will decrease. You might still be afraid, but it won’t take you long to discover that even if you’re afraid, that fear can’t really hurt you, because it’s not actually real.

And just like that, you’re doing it. You’re helping yourself.


Is Your Schedule Screwing Up Your Life?


You’re not getting the things done that matter the most to you.

You’re busy all the time, but you never seem to accomplish much of anything. You’ve tried three different types of day planners, Google calendar, and a slew of the most popular apps that promise to whip your days into shape.

Time management. Productivity. Creating work/life balance.

When you glance at your calendar or day planner, it doesn’t bring satisfaction or relief. You can’t remember the last time you were truly present in the moment.

No matter what you’re doing, your thoughts are always racing, trying to put out the next fire before it begins, creating internal chaos and panic about all of the things falling by the wayside. Adrenaline courses through your veins, wreaking havoc on your nervous system.

You’re stressed out.

You’re not just stressed out, you’re terrified.

In fact, sometimes you’re so stressed out and terrified that you worry that it’s going to kill you. Or cause a nervous breakdown.

I’m the queen of time management, but I’ll let you in on a little secret…

I used to be busy all the time without accomplishing shit. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, spinning faster and faster, racing towards an imaginary finish line that never materialized. It was depressing and demoralizing. I felt like I was defective.

Worst of all, I just didn’t get it. Other people seemed to have ten times as much to show for the same number of hours spent working. I wasn’t lazy. I was working my ass off!

But nothing was happening. No change. No progress. Nothing. Just a dark, lonely well of not enough.

It wasn’t until I tore up my day planner with its stupid little time slots that the tide began to turn.

I know that this type of scheduling works for some people. It doesn’t work for me.

This is Why I Preach Anti-Schedule Time Management

If you know where I’m coming from, if you’ve felt the overwhelm and dread of feeling like you’re not enough, can’t possibly do enough, and therefore, will never have enough, I’m talking to you.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re not failing at life. You’re using a method that’s failing you.

Ditching the Schedule and Finding Your Rhythm

After I tore up my day planner, I was adrift for a month or so. Probably because I didn’t have the good sense to do it before I had reached the point of true crisis (as a quick aside, I don’t recommend this method). When I finally started to get my act together.

Trial and Error

I found out that I needed to keep it simple. Otherwise, the tendency to do fifty semi-important things while ignoring the three or four that really matter is too overpowering.

A Somewhat Mortifying Real Life Example of Why Schedules Didn’t Work for Me

Sometimes I do crazy things like saving embarrassing reminders of things I’ve done wrong. I tore up the day planner, but not before setting aside a particularly fantastic example of a day that went straight to hell on the Teflon paved road of good intentions.

This is what the schedule said:

6 a.m. Wake up. Coffee. Email.

7 a.m. Yoga. Meditate. Shower. Dress.

8 a.m. Work project not worth mentioning now (needs to be finished by end of the day).

11 a.m. Kid’s doctor appointment.

Noon Lunch.

1 p.m. Another work project not worth mentioning now (due tomorrow).

4 p.m. Grocery store.

5 p.m. Make dinner and sit around the table doing happy togetherness family-time things.

7 p.m. Dishes, laundry, house tidying with the assistance of bluebirds and singing fairies.

8 p.m. Read a book! For pleasure! In a hot bath!

9 p.m. Get ready for tomorrow. Lay out clothes. Pack a lunch. Make a schedule.

10 p.m. Go to bed.

This is what actually happened:

6 a.m. The alarm went off. Because I was chronically exhausted, I tried to hit snooze. Only I was half asleep and didn’t realize that I actually turned it off entirely.

7:15 a.m. Woke up and freaked out, because that is the reasonable thing to do when you oversleep by an hour and fifteen minutes. Rushed to the coffeepot and frantically got it going. Rushed to shower. Cut ankle shaving. Got out of shower. Dripped blood everywhere. The stupid cut was pouring, even though it was approximately the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

7:40 a.m. Dressed. Bloody wad of toilet paper stuck to ankle. Spilled coffee. Left the mess. Supposed to be at work in twenty minutes. Knew it was going to take 25 minutes to get to the office.

8 a.m. Sat in standstill traffic on the highway (Note: there will always, always, always be an accident during rush hour on days like this).

8:39 a.m. Greeted warmly at office by death glares and the silent treatment. Started the project of extreme unimportance. Got interrupted at least ten times to deal with busy-work of no consequence.

10:30 a.m. Project 1/5 complete. Turned off computer. Drove to school to check daughter out for doctor’s appointment. Arrived on time.

11 a.m. Doctor was running behind. Way behind. Enjoyed great selection of three-year-old magazines.

Noon Moved from waiting room to exam room. Waited half hour.

12:30 p.m. Doctor graced us with her presence for exactly four minutes and thirty seconds.

12:40 p.m. Daughter announced hunger. And that lunch period ended ten minutes ago. Detoured through McDonald’s drive-thru.

1 p.m. Daughter with stomach full of questionable hamburger safely back in school.

1:15 p.m. Greeted warmly at office by death glares and the silent treatment. Bit lip to keep from crying. Thought hateful things. Pretended to work while focusing on not crying.

2 p.m. Calmed down. Actual work ensued.

4:00 p.m. Project 3/4 finished. Kept going while everyone else packed up and left.

6 p.m. Project done. Phone exploded from too many texts asking about dinner.

6:15 p.m. Drove by grocery store. Kept going. Called pizza delivery at stop light.

6:45 p.m. Pulled into driveway. Yelled at pizza delivery boy that I was here! With cash! Don’t leave!

6:48 p.m. Set pizza on table. Kids descended on pizza like feral animals. Kids disappeared into rooms with pizza. Too exhausted to insist that asses get back to table for happy family time. Ate slice standing at counter.

7 p.m. Started work on second project not worth mentioning.

10 p.m. Tossed load of clothes in washer. Helped crying kid with math homework I didn’t understand. Nodded in agreement when told I suck at math. Wrote note on homework explaining same.

11 p.m. Forgot clothes in washer. Collapsed into bed.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

And Then I Found My Rhythm…

Scheduling screws up my days. Mostly because I chronically underestimate the amount of time something is going to take. I never allotted enough hours to do things to completion and do them well.

With a rhythm, nothing goes into a time slot unless it can’t be avoided. Coffee dates, yes. Doctor’s appointments, yes. Deadlines for clients, yes. Projects, no. Household chores and errands, no.

Goodbye, time slots. Hello, prioritization. Once I found my rhythm, it was impossible to fall behind, because I was always exactly where I needed to be.

4 Things You Need to Succeed When Ditching Your Schedule

  1. Know Thy Rhythm – Everyone has their own distinct rhythm. The key is figuring out your own. When do you feel the most creative? At what time of day are you the most mentally alert? Do you have a midday slump or another time of day when your energy wanes? Utilize the times of day when you’re at your best. During the most productive periods of your day, you should be 100% focused on your highest priorities. Save the mindless tedium for your midday slump.
  2. For the Love of God and Cute Baby Animals, Make a List – Not lists. List. One. Singular. Write down absolutely everything you can think of that you need or want to get done from now until forever.
  3. Priorities, Yo! – Assess that list and be brutally honest about the importance of each thing. No one gives a shit if your grout is spotless. You might lose clients if you miss a deadline. Therefore, you are not going to clean the grout before you meet the deadline. Period. Circle the three most important things in red. Do those things. Don’t check your email. Stay away from Facebook. Don’t even think of taking a detour through other items on the list. Do one thing. Cross it off. Do the next. Cross it off. If you get the three most important things done, circle three more. Repeat the process until it’s time to go to bed.
  4. A Timer (What the What? But You Said No Schedule!) –
    It’s not for scheduling anything but breaks. The human brain requires them. If you’re not taking regular breaks, your brain can’t work efficiently. You are not a machine. There are different methods for this, but the one that works the best for me is making use of ultradian rhythms.  I work for 90 minutes without interruption, then take a 30 minute break. I use the half hour breaks to eat, go to the bathroom, exercise, meditate, and do the mindless, tedious tasks on my list.

It’s a Potent and Painless Method That Removes Failure as an Option

If you consistently do your most critical tasks first, you will consistently go to bed knowing that you accomplished all that you possibly could that day. As a side note, when I say that I prioritize the most important things on the list, I’m talking about the big picture, not just work.

Work is important, but it’s not everything. Time with your partner and kids should be high priority. So should exercise, meditation, or whatever forms of self-care you prefer.

Just do one thing and do it well. Then let it go and move on to the next thing. That’s all you have to do.

There’s time enough. You are enough. What you do will be enough.

photo credit: <a href=””>Brandon Christopher Warren</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;





Free! Dominate: A Habit-Forming Journal


For better or worse, we are all creatures of habit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own habits and how they impact my life. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how my habits have the power to either support or sabotage my creative endeavors. Maybe I’m a total weirdo, but I really love this sort of self-assessment.

What about you?

What bad habits are wreaking havoc on your mood or productivity? Are you subtly (or not so subtly) engaging in subconscious acts of warfare against your art or business? Are you ready to make some changes?

If so, I made this Habit-Forming Journal just for you. It’s a free PDF, yours for the taking. It’s silly, it’s irreverent, and it contains a few four letter words, but I hope that it’s also helpful.

I’m also working on more cool stuff regarding habits and making changes. It will be coming your way soon. What’s working for you? In what areas do you feel like you could use a hand? If you feel like sharing your struggles or successes, tell me about them in the comments.



Sinking the Battleship: How to Fail Without Being a Failure

battleshipWhen you think about failure, what does it evoke for you? Do you have a fear of failing? Do you feel ashamed when you recall the things you’ve failed at in the past? Do you worry about being judged if you try something new and your efforts are a bust? If so, you’re not alone. We live in a failure-averse culture.

Going against the grain of a culture that indoctrinates its young with a neurotic fear of losing is no easy feat. It’s so extreme that some parents refuse to let their children play board games in which there are winners and losers; or they insist that any team or organization to which their children belong give everyone an award because, “Everyone’s a winner.”

I partially agree with the sentiment. I do believe everyone’s a winner. However, I also believe that everyone’s a loser. You win some, you lose some. It’s the nature of life. One of the problems with this sort of parental orchestration is that it can create an emotional fragility when the child gets old enough to catch on to what’s happening. How jarring is it for those kids the first time someone calls them out on the fact that they totally half-assed a project? It would be kinder to teach kids how to deal with loss and failure without believing that it means that they’re a failure.

Learning to view peers who possess skills that you wish you had as role models and mentors, rather than enemies, helps us grow. We can learn a lot from the people who do what we do, only better. Plus, nothing dissolves an inferiority complex and seething jealousy like genuine respect and admiration.

What I find even more disturbing is the message that is sent by removing situations where failure is a potential outcome: that failure is bad. Instead of being taught to embrace failure as a wonderful learning opportunity, a gift we can be thankful for, and an inevitable part of life, we’re taught that it’s something to avoid at all costs.

This breaks my heart, because we all deserve the opportunity to fail

You deserve the opportunity to fail without believing that it means you’re a failure. I’d go so far as to say it’s a right. You deserve to be able to screw things up; to try again, and again, and again, so that eventually you’ll get it right. You deserve to experience the elation and accomplishment that accompanies the big breakthrough after you’ve hit walls and made detours.

The illusion of safety inherent to playing it safe

Have you ever really considered what the risk-averse mean when they talk about playing it safe? Safe from what? What’s the danger they’re avoiding? If you ask me, playing it safe can be incredibly dangerous. It can mean settling for a life you don’t really want to be living; a life that is dull and devoid of passion. It can mean foregoing love, or spending thirty years in a job you hate, or putting all of your hopes and dreams into deep storage, never to see the light of day, because you might fail at them, and that would be painful. More painful than living without them and wondering what might have been? I kind of doubt it. You only get this one life, and if you’re not going to have an immersive experience, what’s the point?

I invite you to investigate the lives of people you consider successful. If you know some people like this, ask them if they’re willing to talk about this topic. I don’t really care if you define success as wealth, how many people they’ve helped, the number of books they’ve written, or the beautiful works of art they’ve created, I’ll bet you they all have one thing in common. Failure.

Ask them if they’ve ever failed at something. You’re going to learn a lot. Maybe not always, but most of the time, the people with the most success have the longest list of failures. Not only that, the bigger their achievements, the more epic the failures.

Recognize these Screw-Ups?

  1. Bill Gates
  2. Walt Disney
  3. Albert Einstein
  4. Thomas Edison
  5. Fred Astaire
  6. Lucille Ball
  7. Oliver Stone
  8. Dr. Seuss
  9. Stephen King
  10. Monet
  11. Jack London
  12. Elvis
  13. The Beatles
  14. Beethoven
  15. Michael Jordan
  16. Babe Ruth
  17. Winston Churchill
  18. Oprah Winfrey
  19. Steven Spielberg
  20. Soichiro Honda
  21. Vera Wang
  22. Sir James Dyson
  23. J.K. Rowling
  24. Richard Branson
  25. John Grisham
  26. Tim Ferris
  27. Ben Huh
  28. Steve Jobs
  29. Peter Thiel
  30. Jack Dorsey
  31. Jeff Bezos
  32. Dave Ramsey
  33. Jay-Z
  34. Simon Cowell

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” – Winston Churchill

All of these people have an impressive amount of failed attempts under their belts. Whether you’re talking about Fred Astaire being told that he couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, and could only dance a little, or Einstein’s teacher expressing that he was too stupid to learn, the only thing separating these people from a life of accomplishing next to nothing was their perseverance. If everyone gave up the first, or fiftieth, or even the five hundredth time they received a rejection slip, were ostracized and mocked by their professional peers, or got the experiment all wrong, the world would be pretty bleak.

Sinking the Battleship

Did you ever play Battleship when you were a kid? Using failure as a tool is a lot like that. In the game, you can’t see your opponent’s board. There’s a barrier between it and you, obstructing your view. Let’s say that the board you can’t see is your future.

On the board you can’t see, are several small plastic ships. On your board, you have a graph of letter and number coordinates matching the ones on the board where your opponent’s ships are positioned. You call out the coordinates, placing a tiny peg in the corresponding hole. Your opponent tells you whether you hit or missed their ships, and you use a different color of peg for hits and misses. When you get a hit, you know the general area in which to aim your next strikes. If you miss, there’s more left to chance. Either way, with every peg you place, the number of empty coordinates diminishes, and you start zeroing in on your targets.

Let’s say that your opponents ships represent your dreams and goals. The pegs represent your mistakes and successes in obtaining those dreams and goals, depending upon whether they land on a ship or an empty coordinate. With every small success, you are one step closer to getting what you want. But what about the failures? Each one is still providing you with valuable information for your next move.

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

In Battleship, a miss isn’t a guarantee that you’ve lost the game. Even if you have several misses in a row, you aren’t done for. Assuming, of course, that you don’t forfeit to go pout in a corner. It’s the same with failures and goals.

Strategize and Optimize: Make the Most of Each Failed Attempt

If you’re already making up excuses about how it’s impossible to avoid making the same mistake twice, think about what you do with the pegs in Battleship. When you call out a set of coordinates that result in a miss, you place the peg in that location, and you don’t go back to that place. You don’t start pulling out the pegs and calling out those coordinates over and over again, just in case.

Love ’em and leave ’em

Don’t be afraid to get intimate with your failures. Examine them closely. Figure out whether they were close to being right and just need some subtle tweaking, or if they were entirely off base. Love them long enough to learn from them, but not a moment longer. Then move on, and don’t go back to that place. You already know what it holds.

Look, if you still have a pulse, you’ve still got some failures ahead of you. Since this is the case regardless of how boring, bland, and unsatisfying you’ve been keeping things in the name of safety, maybe you should give up on playing it safe. Do you really want to win at mediocrity?

Fail bigger than that. Fail using all of your skills and talents, and hone them like mad in the process. Fail in the direction of your dreams, and put your heart into it. Fail until you succeed, and you will.