Monday, April 11, 2011

Tough Defense

Know thyself. The two words sound like they should be a part of an after school special at this point, but I didn't realize until my thirties just how important it was to understand myself so that I could reach my goals.

Setting a goal is easy. It's a vision that feels within reach. We daydream about it. The Secret would tell us that's all we need to do, and though there is power in positive thinking and affirmation of possibility becoming reality, we must take action if we are to ever reach that goal.
For some, action is the hardest part. I know it was for me. How many goals had I logged into my virtual calendar on Someday in the month of When I Have the Time? It took some inspiration from a dear friend and a swift kick in the pants from her for me to realize that someday was always going to be a future date until I took ownership of my time and made it now. So I did.

However, the action is just the beginning. As with any goal, there is a journey involved and it is amazing how often something will rise up to try and thwart that journey. If the momentum of the journey can be slowed or stalled, it is much easier to never finish. All too often, these antagonists are ourselves.

I have three: the Critic, the iDeserve It, and the Demotivator.

There is a critic within us that Seth Godin likes to call the lizard brain. It is the part of us that constantly focuses on how to survive with our ego in tact, and unfortunately that often means quitting and not taking risks. This critic can show up when we are looking at work that we felt was genius yesterday and found to be crap wearing a genius suit today. It shows up when we compare ourselves to other successes in the area of creation and suddenly feel less capable-- like we are reaching too high.

Then there is the iDeserve It demon. I worked hard today and I'm tired so I won't work on that chapter today because I deserve a break. I didn't get to bed until late last night because the husband and I got into a fight, so I deserve to sleep in. Rewards that justify taking time off from our goal can be momentarily helpful but in the long run, a step was not taken towards that goal and they can start to add up.

Finally, I am an expert demotivator. This is the hardest one to always identify for me, but I've discovered that if I handle other areas of my life poorly, it is easy for the feeling of failure to bleed into my journey with writing. Or if I am feeling delicate and fragile ego-wise about something and I seek affirmation from someone on it-- and it does not necessarily have to be my writing -- I can be easily disheartened or even crushed. Sometimes I even seek the crushing, because then I have an excuse to give up.

I believe that many artists face these sorts of internal demons in different ways. I've found that taking an objective look at myself, my patterns of behavior, and where I've stumbled on that journey help me arm myself better against me. It's a strange sentence, but remember, we are fighting ourselves. External circumstances have some bearing but ultimately we decide how much we are going to let them impact our day, our mood, our drive.

For me, I've found that I need to write first thing in the morning. If I don't, I get too weary at the end of the day and tend to give into social pressures and iDeserves at night. I have to plan my sleep around getting up sooner, but it's the only real private time I get in the morning.

To counter the critic, I often focus on the good things-- how far I have come, what I love about my story, and, most importantly, why I feel I need to tell my story. I try to remain aware that things are on cycle, and just like feeling bloated and cranky are part of my monthly dues of being a woman, there are days where the critic will rear her head and show me all of the wrong I'm doing as a writer. I have to remember this is temporary, and that tomorrow I may feel differently.

Finally, I have found that demotivators are some of my biggest, stealthiest adversaries and I have to build a wall around myself to prevent from compromising momentum. I write every day now-- it keeps my head in the story. So many authors will share that piece of advice as one of their top three pearls of wisdom for budding authors.

I also focus on the pay-off, and not just the good money or perhaps the freedom of writing fiction full-time some day. I also focus on the bad stuff around me that makes me want to change my circumstances-- whether it's the haughty guy at work who discounts my efforts because my position is less technical than his or the long weekends and late evenings I end up working because of someone else's last minute decision. All of the things I don't like about my current state become fuel for changing things.

Ultimately, with the right self-awareness and right walls in place, I can sustain the momentum needed to reach my goals.

What about you? What do you do to counter weaknesses so that your momentum is not compromised? I'd love to read how others are battling their internal demons.
Photo courtesy of 365daysofdelayedsunrays.


  1. I can especially relate to the Critic, which I like to call the Gremlin.

  2. The Gremlin sounds like a critic who takes much pleasure in thwarting. How do you combat him? Do you have any rituals or mantras you use to keep him quiet or to survive his tirades?