There’s Never a Right Time

images-1If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that one of my favorite podcasts comes from Tim Ferriss, curator of all things high performance. He interviews “high performing” people from a huge range of disciplines: sports, the arts, business, the sciences, health and wellness, athletics. His interviews are in depth—sometimes running 2 hours, and sometimes suffering because of his insatiable desire to apply his guests’ knowledge to his own life. But he is charming, curious, and very intelligent.

There is a gap in his interests, though; he seems to have virtually no interest in literature or metaphysics (two of my favorite topics), and he very rarely ventures into areas of psychology, and then very cautiously. Still. . . I’m a huge fan.

This week Ferriss posted a really wonderful Q&A with graphic designer and artist Debbie Millman, who he interviewed several months ago. That interview turns out to be one of his most popular podcasts ever, so he brought her back to answer listeners’ questions. If you are at all interested in the creative process, this 45 minute Q&A is worth your time.

Here is one of the highlights for me:

“No amount of money, no amount of security is ever going to give you the sense that this is the right time.”

I so want to encourage myself and my clients to hold on to this idea.  If we keep waiting for “the right time” to do something, we might be waiting our whole lives. Is it ever the perfect time to have a baby? go back to school? buy that house you love? take that risk you’re considering? ask that fascinating person you met last week to dinner?

We can come up with a million GOOD reasons to postpone action, can’t we?

But here’s what I’ve learned.  It’s important to know that feeling nervous or uncomfortable about a bold move we’re about to make is entirely natural.  Our job as creatives is to learn to allow our prefrontal cortex to over-ride this message that comes from the fear center of our brain (the amygdala), whose only task is to keep us right where we are, for our own safety.

But there comes a time when we must move out of what is familiar and into bold, new territory. And feeling a little uneasy about doing this is ENTIRELY NATURAL. (first italics, and now all CAPS—must be important) In fact, such discomfort might better be taken as good evidence that you’re moving forward in your life.

This applies to having that uncomfortable talk you need to have with someone, to speaking your truth, to starting a new business, to quitting a debilitating job, to moving to a new house or town.  All change will engender some degree of unease.  Sometimes, we can use this unease as a guide to a new place of flourishing.

How long are you willing to keep waiting to have the life you keep pretending you want to have?




Breaking the Grip of Self-Sabotage

images-1In last week’s post, I was ruminating on JB Spears’ advice to scare ourselves in order to really live. (See his interview with Dave Aspry.) I want to continue this week by sharing his thoughts on self-sabotage. This is a topic I think about a lot, largely because I’m pretty much a master of self-sabotage.

Let’s just take today, a day supposedly devoted to putting a post on my blog. I got up early to begin the task. It is now 1:00 p.m. and I’m just now sitting down to write. In the last 5 hours, I’ve cooked a delicious, large breakfast; run two errands (neither of which was critical); organized stuff for a garage sale this Saturday (it’s 5 days away!); washed two loads of laundry; emptied the dishwasher (the glasses were still warm); paid some bills and even decorated the envelope of a check I am sending to my assistant. I’ve planned smoothie flavors for the week; reorganized my linen closet; and called Caladium World and placed an ordered 40 Miss Muffitt caladium bulbs.

Ya think I’m avoiding something??

In the work I’ve been doing with accountability groups over the past year, I’ve seen a lot of creatives using masterful avoidance tactics that come dangerously close to being a form of self-sabotage. So what is this all about?? Why do we do this??

According to Sears, “self-sabotage is typically a symptom of unresolved emotional pain and/or disempowering beliefs of ourselves.” Just what I was afraid of. In some cases, though, I think he’s right: when we find reasoning, excuses, or drama that take us away from the deep work we want to do, or the creative project we want to bring into the world, we may actually be avoiding  patterns of depression, sadness, anger, disconnection, or behaviors of unworthiness.   Spears suggests that self-sabotage is an “expression that validates a disempowering belief of self or a pain of self.”

And in fact, this is consistent with a lot of situations I’ve seen with clients who suffer from two conflicting beliefs. On the one hand, they desire to express themselves in some creative form; on the other hand, they hold a belief that they are not capable of doing it. And there they remain until clarity arrives about the nature of the hidden and self-sabotaging belief.

Are we doomed to stay locked in the grip of these two opposing beliefs? No, says Spears. And he offers a helpful line of questioning that can disarm self-sabotaging beliefs.

The first is simply, “Okay, what do you do?” In other words, recognize and then catch yourself in the very acts that allow you to avoid doing the thing you seemingly want to do but don’t do. When I start re-arranging the paint cans out in the garage, I’m pretty sure I’m avoiding doing something that scares the heck out of me. I am actually making fun of myself here, calling myself out, and labeling the exact actions (avoidance tactics) that I was pretending were so important to do.

Question two, Spears says, is “Why do you do what you do?” This can be tricky to figure out—and for some of us takes decades of therapy— but most of the time, if we get really still and really open, we can find the honesty to see our behavior as actually serving us in some way, and that’s why we do it! The behavior actually serves us by keeping at bay a fear we will have to face if we are successful in our intention.   In Field Training, this is called counter-intending. We say we want to write a book, but in actually we are afraid of all of the attention we’ll get if the book is a raging success, and so we self-sabotage the completing of the manuscript. Philosopher Philip Golabuck, founder and former director of the Field Project, offers a helpful question at this point in the process: “What bad thing happens if I actually achieve the goal I’m after?” There’s almost always an answer to this paradoxical question. And the answer to that question is the reason we are self-sabotaging.

So then, question three is “How does part of me benefit by doing this?” Spears says it is very important to get to the “story under the story of our self-sabotage, get beyond the symptoms to the root of why we do what we do.”   Early on in our lives, we might have constructed a story about who we are and we continue to carry it around, even after we’ve outgrown the story. These stories can keep us locked in unconscious reactions that are ultimately destructive to us, and that keep us in patterns of self-sabotage.

Hmmm. This might be too much psychology for you. I get it. But still, whether you analyze it or not, we’re left with the need to drop self-sabotaging behavior. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series on fear & sabotage to learn some helpful ways to release the grip of a counter-intention.

In the meantime, I hope you find Spears’ three questions helpful as you address any version of self-sabotage you may be experiencing.

Until next week. . . I’ll be out in the garage, organizing the paint cans by color and size.

JB Sears on Fear

51Ra6evxOPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_-1In a recent interview with Dave Aspry (the Bulletproof executive), comedian JP Spears said this:

In my opinion, an ingredient for a great life is being willing to scare ourselves to death in order to actually live, not survive, but live. I think when we’re not willing to scare ourselves to death. . .it’s the equivalent of saying, ‘I’m going to sit in this coffin of my comfort zone, stay with what’s familiar. I’ll repeat the same patterns of my relationships, same repetitive patterns of my health, same repetitive patterns of my thinking about who I am and what the world around me is.’ But if we can break out of that coffin and actually embrace the mystery, embrace the unknown, embrace what we fear the most, that’s when we really begin to develop more fully.

I’ve been thinking about that interview for days now, and looking at my own life and how unwilling I am to scare myself to death. I talk all the time about wanting to live fully, happily, productively, beneficially; but in truth, I have rarely considered scaring myself in order to do that. I like things tidy, comfy, and under control.

But as I ponder Spears’ words, I’m wondering if there might be some truth to the idea of consciously placing ourselves in circumstances of fear.

Like most sentient beings, I want to maintain as much comfort as possible, both physically and psychologically. But I also know that I’ve become stronger physically from doing some things that really did scare the hell out of me. Like rappelling into a cave. Like jumping off a ten-meter high diving board. Like doing almost anything my trainer, Anthony Espaillot, asks me to do. And the same goes for my emotional life: speaking my truth in certain conflict-ridden situations has been of hard for me. But every time I do it, I become more grounded, more confident, more liberated.

I’m running three accountability groups at LifeArt Studio this spring. And I’m asking my clients to think about this idea, too. I’ve asked them to do some writing around the project their pursuing to see if there are parts of this project that scare them. Sometimes we self-sabotage our creative efforts when we become fearful about our ability to handle an idea or a project. And as coach, I’ve thought the best thing I can do is to help the client disarm the fear she holds so she can move forward with her work.

But what if we re-framed the issue of fear about a creative endeavor and started looking at it as a nudge to our creative growth? The fear, if faced with some degree of equanimity, can be the catalyst that takes us to the next stage of creative development. When we recognize our fear, label it, and take action anyway, we actually become stronger, more confident, and more successful in our endeavors. It’s not the enemy to be dismissed. It’s the prod that takes us to our next level of achievement.

What do you think? Have you scared yourself lately?