Befriend your demons. They’ll tell you everything you need to know.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my hardest days.
- Anxiety arises from not producing
- Fear is debilitating
- Thinking I’m not good enough is a death spiral
- Chocolate doesn’t really help (much)
All of us have had days like this:
Can’t think straight. Can’t sit still to produce.
Sit down, get up. Munch on something. Sit down, get up again. No focus.
Anxiety and producing. That’s the tightrope walk. This one is straight out of Stephen Pressfield’s idea of Resistance.
I found the War of Art a few months ago, just as I was getting started with my writing. It was miraculous timing. I bought multiple copies — one for me plus copies for both of my teenage kids. Yes — it’s that powerful. It’s that important.
In fact the deeper I look into my despair and inertia whenever they crest, the more completely I see Pressfield’s words.
What stops most people from producing? It isn’t a lack of time. It’s fear. The trick is to see that fear can also be useful. Fear can serve you. Let it be your compass.
“So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.” the War of Art, p. 41
Fear of succeeding, fear of failing, fear of being real, vulnerable, or true. These are the fears that sink dreams and lives.
Not good enough
If you are trying to make something, produce something, create — the voices of self-doubt will be there. They will pull you down if you let them. My own worst moments seem to come after I’ve read other people’s work. Unaware, I am taken by the sinking feeling I won’t ever be that good. That I won’t break through. That this is futile.
Befriend your demons
The great news is you don’t need to make these things go away.
You don’t need to fight them.
Know that they are there, absolutely. Acknowledge them. Say hello, if you like.
Then look beyond them to what you want to be producing.
Hard to do? You bet. But the other option — the only one — is to let them win. Today. Maybe tomorrow too. And then the next day. Right up until you die.
Look beyond your demons. They are shielding the very thing you want to see.
What you want to create is blocked by the anxiety of not creating, the fear of making it, and the doubt that you’re not good enough. They are pointing you right at it. So just step tidily around them. Not to worry. They’ll be there when you go look for them again. But today you can set them to the side and get on with producing.
My first glimpse into this idea came courtesy of A Beautiful Mind, the story of John Nash, the brilliant mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia. There’s a fabulous scene near the end of the movie where Nash is asked if he still hallucinates people.
The camera pans away and there they all are. Quiet. Off in the distance. But not gone. Nash’s response is clear: They don’t go away. They stay where you can observe them. But he doesn’t indulge them. Let them in closer, and they will ruin you.
Schizophrenia is extreme, but it offers a potent analogy.
I learned a long time ago to use my darker side as a red flag — as a kind of personal semaphore system to myself of where I was at. Anxiety? Fear? Self-doubt? They all top the list.
And Pressfield has a laundry list of symptoms that Resistance brings, from lethargy and unhappiness to full blown depression and self-destruction.
What’s the antidote?
Find what works for you. Do it every day.
For me that’s yoga and meditation, with some motivational videos & music thrown in along the way.
Here are my current levees against a rising tide:
- Video – Mateusz M’s Unbroken
Hands down my favourite source for motivation. The words and images of this video recharge me and help me commit to my work and passion. Thank you thank you thank you Mateusz M for making this.
- Song – Just be Held, by Casting Crowns
(yes, sorry, Christian rock. But it’s got a good sound, and somehow it just speaks to me — as I said, find what works for you)
- Book – The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield
Just go buy it now. Understand that you are not alone. That this journey/struggle to write/create/produce is well-trod and that you can achieve it. Keep moving.
- Quote – “Pain is universal. Suffering is optional”
Buddhist teachings are sometimes inscrutable. This one’s pretty in-your-face-clear.
Simple, Not easy
Befriend your demons. Use them as the signal they can be.
Find what helps you keep your demons at bay. And do it every day.
Keep producing. Sleep. Repeat.