Podcast 147: Still not starting

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Hi, everyone. I’m posting one of my early podcasts about dealing with not being able to get started. I’m doing that partly because I feel stressed out and uncreative and have zero ideas for what to write about today. And I’m posting this particular one because I think it’s helpful information for our current situation.

The coronavirus pandemic is causing stress for everyone. Stress induces your prefrontal cortex to shut down. That part of your brain is responsible for impulse regulation, and also for focus and motivation. Not getting much done these days? That’s why.

I chose this podcast to replay because I know many people feel that they should be super productive now when they have all this extra time on their hands. But maybe you should just give yourself a break and realize that your brain doesn’t always know best. I hope this helps.

This is podcast 71 and my topic is starting. I talked about that a few podcasts back, where I gave some ideas on how to get into action when you find yourself continuing NOT to. This time I’ll talk less about technique and more about mindset, or the emotional background to starting. Or not starting.

Sometimes not starting means you’re procrastinating. But whenever you bring up that word, you start talking about what you’re procrastinating about and why you’re procrastinating and then go looking for one of those lists of ways to quit procrastinating. More technique, in other words.

Other times, not starting feels like a deeper issue. It’s not just slacking off, or doing something you’d rather do. It’s about who you are as a person, or it feels that way. I’m having problems with not starting with my artwork so this is on my mind right now.

When I notice I’m not starting to work on art, I’m not inclined to look around for ideas on getting myself to start. No, I’m reflecting inward and observing the void of me not working and making negative judgments about it. I’m grimly remembering how often I have not started in the past. I’m defining myself as a person who doesn’t start.

Needless to say, this does not motivate me to change because I’ve already decided that I can’t start, or at least, I’m pretty terrible at starting. I don’t want to add another black mark to my eternal personal record by not starting again.

This taint spreads to other parts of my life where I eagerly ferret out examples of myself not doing something I should, or need to. By this time, there’s no going back from the downward spiral.

At this point, it’s very hard for me to resist jumping into fix-it mode, for myself and for you. I have a ton of ideas for what might help, what might get things moving and feelings improving. I feel responsible for having the answers and imparting them so I can help people.

I want to stick with this, though, and try to get a better picture of what’s happening. Maybe this happens to you too. How do you feel when you’ve failed once again to declutter your bedside table, which really is not rocket science?

For some reason, we dwell much more on our failures than our successes. Every day, we do a bunch of things pretty well. But if they’re things that “anybody” could do, we don’t value them a lot. We value the hard things, the ones that superior people magically can do. We start painting ourselves into a corner of “can’t do” and the things we actually can do feel very distant and irrelevant.

Although I notice this regularly, I am still always surprised at how black and white my thinking gets. I totally lose sight of the bigger picture. I can only see this awful little corner I’m stuck in, probably forever.

I do find it helpful to observe all this. identifying and expressing how I feel moment by moment somehow allows me a bit of objectivity. Not enough to extricate myself from the corner just yet, but enough to at least entertain the notion that I may in fact not feel this way tomorrow. In this moment, I don’t believe that’s true, but I’m willing to accept that it’s possible.

A further observation is that even if I feel better tomorrow, more motivated, more positive, more energetic, I will feel crappy again in the future. The feelings I have now, feeling bad about not starting, will go away, but then they’ll come back. They’ll go away and then come back. And so on and so on.

This idea is strangely comforting to me. Maybe a part of me stops resisting the negative feelings so much because it seems they’re part of me and I can’t avoid them forever. I don’t have to embrace them or like them. I don’t have to get out my gratitude journal or run out and do a good deed for a stranger. I don’t have to do anything at all. Like ocean tides, these feelings will come and go.

For once, I’m not giving you an action step, except to let yourself, allow yourself, to be aware of what’s happening inside when you don’t start. Whatever you struggle with, whether making art or organizing your life (or both), you’ll be here again. See if you can allow it without judging it.

I want to credit my inspirations for what I’ve presented today. First, a great book called The Creativity Book by Eric Maisel. The author is encouraging and compassionate. Second is the Zen Habits blog written by Leo Babauta. He is great at revealing our human habits and beliefs so we can change them. Third is a book I’ve quoted before, the War of Art by Steven Pressfield, about overcoming resistance.