habits

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.

Ass+u+me: How Assumptions Hurt Your Business

Donkey

Definition of assumption (n)

  • as·sump·tion
  • [ ə súmpshən ]
  1. something taken for granted: something that is believed to be true without proof
  2. belief without proof: the belief that something is true without having any proof

We all make assumptions. It’s human nature. We take whatever bits of information we have available to us, filter them through the limited view of our window on the world, and start piecing together a story about what it all means.

There’s actually no harm in doing this. It can even be a useful exercise. But things get dangerous when you forget that what you’re doing is forming a hypothesis, and start making decisions under the delusion that you’ve already discovered the truth without bothering to test the hypothesis.

Attempting to build and run a small business on a series of assumptions is a recipe for disaster. An assumption that is built on a reasonable knowledge base can be a great jumping off place, but it’s just the beginning.

When it comes to business, the only thing you should ever assume is responsibility.

You assume that if you follow up with past clients you’ll be bugging them, when maybe the truth is that they’ve been meaning to contact you, but keep forgetting, because life is busy.

You assume that it’s a crazy pipe dream to quit your day job to pursue your dreams, because when you were thirteen your dad told you that painting is a hobby, not a career, and you needed to be realistic. Sadly, your dad didn’t know anyone who made a living painting, but if you do a little research, you’ll discover that people do that.

You assume that you don’t have what it takes to advertise successfully. In fact, you’ve convinced yourself that this is why your business is failing. How do you know? Have you read books on the subject? Attended courses? Hired someone to teach you? And if you did do those things, did you actually attempt to implement what you learned? How many hours a week do you spend on advertising?

A lot of the assumptions we make are based on fear and low self-esteem, and the only way to move out of these inhibiting thought patterns is by pattern interruption. This doesn’t mean that you won’t think the thoughts. It just means that you won’t let the thoughts dictate your actions. These paralyzing assumptions don’t just hurt your business, they can actually stop it before you start. A lot of fantastic ideas have never seen the light of day because of this type of thinking.

The other side of this ever-spinning coin would be assumptions made out of arrogance or full-on delusional thinking. These are the things that lead to impulsive, and oftentimes disastrous, decision making. If you’ve come up with a fantastic business idea and have decided to tell your boss to shove off tomorrow, even though you only have twenty bucks to your name and haven’t even taken the first step towards turning that great idea into a reality, please reconsider.

There are different types of programs, tools, and professionals that help business owners make decisions that test assumptions and provide data and feedback for informed decision making. A lot of them are fantastic, so I’d never suggest that business owners should bypass these services. However, if you’re on a tight budget, they can be cost prohibitive. Luckily, when you’re just starting out, you can take a much simpler approach that won’t cost you a cent.

Instead of assuming that you know what people are thinking, ask them. Instead of assuming that an idea will work or fail, test it on a small scale. And most importantly, do not ever, ever, ever assume that you’re not good at something unless you’ve invested a significant amount of time and effort trying to get good at that thing.

Letting assumptions rule your life keeps you in a perpetual state of ignorance. You’re too smart to hang out there.

What assumptions have you been making about your business that may not be true? What steps can you take to test the validity of your beliefs?

 

 

Monkeys, Squirrels, Artists, and Shiny Things

SquirrelDo you misplace your keys, lose track of time and show up late for appointments, or only remember to pay your bills once the disconnect notice arrives? What about projects and deadlines? Do you start everything you do with a bang, only to fizzle out before you finish? Or maybe you just have trouble sticking to a routine that keeps your life running smoothly. In any case, I feel you.

I’ve been there. Until a few years ago, my life was a hot mess of distraction. It’s a trait that seems to go hand in hand with creative brilliance, and since so many of my clients and readers fall into the brilliant artist or entrepreneur category, organization and project planning is a frequent focus of my work. I’ve been outlining my systems during one-on-one consults for months, and I’ve seen them work for all sorts of people.

The benefit to focusing on this type of work via private consultations is that we can ask each other questions, dialogue, and then use the shared information to  customize a plan that works for your unique situation. The drawback, of course, is that not everyone has the money to pay for one-on-one creativity consultations to help them organize their lives and creative endeavors. I’ve compiled and condensed the basics into an ebook, “Monkeys, Squirrels, Artists, and Shiny Things,” so you can access the information anytime you want. You can buy it here for just $5.99. If you don’t have a Kindle, or you’d be just as happy with a simple PDF, click here to buy it for $3.99. Just send me a note with your payment, and I’ll email you the file.

If you’re looking for a miracle fix, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a simple strategy to get yourself organized that doesn’t require anything fancy or expensive, give it a shot. I did the legwork of several years of trial and error (lots and lots of error) to figure out how to simplify in a way that isn’t complicated. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found that approach to work for more than a few days. All you’ll need to get started is a notebook with three sections, a pen, and the commitment to try something new.

Note: The reviews are positive so far, but there aren’t many! You can read them here. After you read the book, if you’d do me the favor of writing a review, I’d really appreciate it!

13 Ways to Find Creative Inspiration in Your Surroundings

MagnifyTree

Creative inspiration is lurking around every corner. It’s hiding in plain sight. It’s begging to be discovered. No matter where you go, it’s right in front of your face. If you’ve been blaming your surroundings for your rut, it’s time to knock it off and fine tune your observational super powers. Trust me, you’ve still got ’em!

  1. Rearrange a Room – Move the couch, take down the picture you’ve had hanging up for ten years, even though you haven’t been crazy about it in at least seven, and change things up on your bookshelves. It can totally shift the energy of your space.
  2. Document an Average Day in Pictures – When I say an average day, I mean it. Take pictures of your coffee cup, the dishes in your sink, your folded clothing on the bathroom counter when you’re getting out of the shower. You might be stunned by how many beautiful moments you have in an average day when you view the collection as a whole.
  3. Conduct a Yard/Porch/Stoop Observation – Pull up a chair, pop a squat on the stairs, or throw down a picnic blanket and get comfy. Set a timer for half an hour and write about whatever you observe during this time.
  4. Write a Love Letter to Everyone Living in Your Home – Your partner, your child, your parent, a roommate, it doesn’t matter… There are things to love about nearly everyone. Dig deep if you have to, but find at least a couple of things, and hopefully tons more, to love about the people you live with, and write it down. You can give them these letters or keep them to yourself. I’m sure they’d be delighted to receive them, because who doesn’t love being appreciated? But this is really for you.
  5. Something Made by Nature, Something Made by Man – Bring two new (to you) things into your home today. First, choose something made by nature. Buy a new houseplant for your kitchen. Gather up twigs from your yard and fill a small bowl with them. When choosing something man-made, think outside the box. There’s nothing wrong with spending money on a new painting or curtains, but if you don’t have money to spend (or even if you do), you can do this without spending a cent. I’m not going to offer more instructions on this one, because I think it’s better for you to really have to think about it.
  6. Coffee Shop People Watch – Settle in with a latte and a notebook. Notice the people sitting around you, working behind the counter, standing in line. People are endlessly fascinating. Notice the road map of wrinkles on this one’s face. Lose yourself in the smears of jelly across the adorable toddler’s t-shirt. Feel their humanity. And then offer them each a genuine smile. Take notes about the people you observe. Make up stories about them if you’re so inclined. Jot down how they reacted when you smiled at them.
  7. 25 Beautiful Things – You can do this absolutely anywhere. It works in a forest, in a hospital, downtown in a big city, and inside your house. Start looking for beautiful things, and as you discover them, write them down. Don’t stop until you’ve hit 25 beautiful things. This won’t take as long as you think. I’m sitting on my bed as I write this, and I counted fifteen things without trying or moving my butt a single inch. It took me less than one minute.
  8. Talk to a Stranger – Some people love talking to strangers and do it as a matter of course. Other people rarely, if ever, attempt to start conversations with people they don’t know. The more uncomfortable this suggestion makes you, the more you’ll benefit from doing it.
  9. Walk a Different Route – It’s such a simple change, but it’s a common suggestion for good reason. Venturing down a side street you never take or reversing the direction of your nightly stroll is just enough outside the norm to cause you to tap in, rather than tune out.
  10. Be an Active Listener – Try a temporary switch up in your conversational style. Instead of offering your opinions, input, and stories, don’t open your mouth except to ask  clarifying questions and to serve as a mirror. Repeat back exactly what you thought you heard and ask if you got it right.
  11. Try Something Entirely New – I’m not talking skydiving or deep sea fishing. I’m talking about signing up for a neighborhood garden, eating at a restaurant you wouldn’t normally choose, going to a poetry slam if you’ve never been, or buying an outfit that’s not your typical style. Minor shakeups in the routine can lead to major shakeups in your imagination and sense of possibility.
  12. Three Things You Never Noticed Before – Starting at your front door, take a nice, slow walk. Pretend you’re new to the area, taking it all in for the first time. Don’t stop walking until you notice three things you’ve never noticed before. Bonus points for photo documenting, journaling, or drawing them.
  13. Someone Younger, Someone Older – Take the time to have a real conversation with someone much younger than you, and another one with someone much older than you. By a real conversation, I mean asking questions, and hearing the answers with the intention of hearing, not responding. Be the listener, speaking only when necessary to keep the flow of conversation rolling. You’ll get fresh perspectives that may surprise you.

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that if your creativity is M.I.A. you need to go somewhere new and exotic to be inspired. And yes, it’s true that venturing into unfamiliar territory is a great way to awaken new ways of seeing and thinking. But most of us can only do that every so often. The good news is that you don’t have to wander very far to see things in an entirely new way.

Through mindful exploration of familiar territory, your power of observation will increase, and everything will look brand new.  Your environment will take on new definition and detail. It’s like putting on a pair of glasses after you’ve had the prescription adjusted. Beauty isn’t somewhere else. It’s anywhere you happen to be.

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=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/brandoncwarren/4236278556/”>Brandon Christopher Warren</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;