How to get out of your own way

I used to write and blog regularly – for many years. But then last summer I went through a major house move that totally disrupted my life and brought my writing to a halt.

But that’s mostly just an excuse. I’ll admit it’s inertia and my inner critic that’s getting in my way now. Despite my wanting to do it, I’ve always found it hard to write. And when I fell off my routine, and weeks and months passed, it just got harder and harder to get restarted.

I’m wondering if this sounds familiar to any of you out there. When it feels like YOU are the main thing getting in your way?

I wish I could say there’s a surefire way out of this, but of course there isn’t. As I slowly nudge myself back, I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’m pursuing.

My main approach is to think in terms of planting small seeds of change. The forces of inertia and that critic are too overwhelmingly powerful to confront directly. They’re way bigger than me. It’s futile to struggle against them.

But I can mindfully step back, take a breath – and in each moment of awareness, choose to do one very small thing differently than I have before.

So, when my critic tells me that last sentence is awful, I don’t have to delete or rewrite it immediately. A friend of mine says she responds to her critic by saying, “Thank you for sharing!” At the very least, I don’t have to fall hook, line, and sinker for the babble my mind is coming up with. Even if I still think that sentence isn’t very good, I can leave it there and at least allow for the possibility that it’s useful in some way. That’s one step in a new direction.

Another strategy is to respect and work with the natural processes of the brain – specifically, its capacity for productivity and willpower. A recent New York Times article cited research that the brain is productive for about 90 minutes at a time. And to sustain productivity, it’s best to rest – take a nap, take a break, or go meditate. So I’ve stopped making myself sit for hours trying to produce something. I now get up, and at least stretch and walk around every hour and a half.

I think this is the same basic idea that Daniel Goleman writes about in an article about building willpower. He says we each have a fixed budget of willpower. If we keep pushing hard on one thing, we’ll have nothing left to face whatever comes next. And that leaves a perfect opening for my inertia and inner critic to step in and mess me up again.

On the flip side, Goleman says that being disciplined in small doses on a regular basis does help to strengthen the willpower muscle. It gets easier to do that thing as time goes on. So I take heart in the knowledge that writing in small doses regularly will help me get back into a routine.

I know it will take some time before things feel like I’m back on track. And I suspect there will be a few stumbles and backward steps along the way. Above all else, I’m being careful always to stay kind to myself. No beating myself up, no unrealistic expectations.

I’m just going to point myself forward and know that I’m doing the best I can. And I’ll keep the faith that over time, many small seeds of change can grow into a forest.

What about you? What are your strategies for getting out of your own way? I’d like to hear from you.

6 Comments on “How to get out of your own way”

  1. I have a credo that I remind myself – “I can’t be any better than my very best right now.” When I find myself getting stuck, I often realize I am shooting for super powers-type abilities. Also, I find that daily journaling helps me to keep winning those little battles you describe. The Goleman reference was very helpful too in giving me some encouragement that I can overcome those inner power struggles between expression and inner critic. Thanks!

  2. sunada

    Hi Scott, Thanks for that. I am also someone who tends to shoot for super powers-type accomplishments, and then being disappointed when I don’t reach them. It’s so stupid, but I do it so often. It’s all a slow work in progress…

  3. Hi Sunada. You’re an honest woman and I wish you well in your efforts. I try to outwit my inner procrastinator by spending a half hour a day giving five minutes (on a timer) to each of half a dozen tasks chosen randomly (in the order in which they were written down, regardless of importance or by using You’d be amazed at what you can get done over time with this peculiar method. What it does is bypass the unconscious blocks I put on activities and it releases lots of energy as well. Also I agree with Scott about journalling or “morning pages” – it’s terrific and has changed my life especially if I write them when I’m feeling rotten. Padraig

  4. Carolyn Copp

    Great article…and I’m glad that you are getting back on track.

    I get in my own way all the time. It is really annoying. What I’m trying to do is to focus just on the task at hand. I used to be good at multi-tasking (so I thought). And I prided myself as a great multi-tasker. I often described myself as the person at the circus twirling all the plates. Now, if I have to twirl a lot of plates, I make sure that they are made of Corelle not Royal Doulton china.

    But the big change is that I am trying very hard to not take on so many things. And to quiet the voice that is telling me that I should be doing something else. Yesterday I cleaned out the garden…and then I cleaned those vegetables, one type at a time, until they were done. And I didn’t even let the fact that I had company coming over for dinner stop me. And the friends are the type who I always spiff up for. I am slowing trying to focus. By just focusing on focusing I am able to notice when I get distracted, and then I can stop myself in time to focus again.

    It ain’t easy…

    (ok…I need to focus now on my work…)

  5. sunada

    Hey thanks, Carolyn!
    I know what you mean about making sure your plates are Corelle! I feel the same way. I think you’re right about focusing on focusing. Just paying attention to what I’m doing, and keeping at it – it all sounds so painfully obvious, but it works.

  6. sunada

    You know, Padraig, this comment of yours came in while I was away on retreat. And then in the messiness of readjusting to life back at home, it seems I forgot to reply to you. So here I am, two months later, saying thank you! Your five-minutes-at-a-time strategy is an interesting one. I can imagine it works well for the long list of twiddly little things that populate my to do list often.

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