I resolved years ago to never make another new year’s resolution. While I stand by this, in theory, I still like to have a plan for the new year that outlines what I want to achieve and where I want to be after 12 months. But I was a bit discouraged to find this year’s plan looked the same, almost to the word, as last year’s plan.
So, instead of going down that same path I took a good look at what went wrong. I couldn’t see it at first. I’d planned, I’d prepared, I’d done everything possible to make sure there was no obstacle that could show up and knock me off my path. So what had happened?
That’s when it hit me. There was absolutely no problem with anything I had done, which meant the problem was me.
I was the obstacle.
I had prepared for everything except the setbacks I put in place just by being me. Working towards something without acknowledging what might be holding me back was leading me to failure. I had to look at my weaknesses and learn how I could overcome them.
Weakness 1: It’s said that we keep on doing only what rewards us. My problem is that my rewards need to be immediate. I find it hard to wait for a reward. I need to see some sign of progress right away. But not all paths to glory have immediate rewards. Losing weight, for example, is not something that can be seen immediately. The days of hard work do add up and the reward is clearly visible, but only after a few weeks or months.
So how do I keep going when I can’t see the immediate benefits of what I’m doing? I need to find a measurement, something I can record daily if possible, to spur me on. Daily journals, charts, hard copies of my writing rather than digital copies, measurements, scales – I need to utilise any and every measuring aid I can to remind myself continually that progress is being made. I also need to reference these regularly and keep them updated so I can find encouragement when I am losing motivation.
Weakness 2: I’m a pathological procrastinator. If it can be done tomorrow, it will be done tomorrow. If it can be done later, it will done later. I’ve heard all the tips for procrastinators – make a list, do three things from that list every day; do the thing you’re looking forward to least, first; break down each task into smaller tasks so that it doesn’t seem so daunting; just do it; etc. – but none of these have been a solution for me.
What works for me is to set myself up in the position I need to be in to do whatever dreaded task I’m facing, even if I still have no intention of doing it. If I haven’t met my writing quota for the day I sit myself at the computer. If I haven’t done my daily walk all week I get dressed in my walking gear. While I’m getting ready I still tell myself I’m not going to write/walk, etc, and I’m ok with that. But the funny thing is, once I’m seated at the computer or dressed for a bit of exercise, half my reluctance is gone. Most of the time, when I realise I’ve already halved my battle, it’s so much easier to get started on the actual work. I don’t know why getting dressed or turning on my computer are considered “battles” to my procrastinating brain, and I try not to analyse it too much. I just know that this works for me.
Weakness 3: I lack confidence in almost everything I do. I don’t know why I have so little faith in how well I do things, whether it’s writing, managing, designing, cooking or even socialising. I know that I do some things better than others and some things poorer than others, but a part of me thinks I should be the best all the time. Thinking like this has eroded my confidence because when I fall short of this unrealistic expectation it inevitably leads to a decline in productivity while I beat myself up for “failing”. Confidence, or lack of it, is something I have to work through. Reminding myself that everyone has good and bad days helps me to put my struggle into perspective and move on to just doing something instead of worrying about how perfect or imperfect I might be doing it. Stephen King threw his first draft of Carrie in the bin because he didn’t think it was good enough. Primo Levi, a man whose strength and courage helped him survive Auschwitz, still lacked the confidence to speak in public. These men remind me that even the greatest men can doubt their greatness. Lack of confidence is really about overcoming fear – the fear of not being perfect, or good enough. Reminding myself that no-one is perfect, and that my best will always be enough, will help me overcome that fear.
So, these are my problems. Nothing especially unique about them. Everyone in a creative field struggles to overcome something that could hold them back if they let it. If their fight is successful mine can be too.
I just have to work with, not struggle against, my weaknesses.