What to do with resistance

What can you do about resistance (aka creative block, procrastination, avoidance, dread)?
 What have you already tried?
 You’ve tried the Nike solution. Just do it! It’s a favorite of many motivational types and self help programs. The pep talk, loud cheering, even shaming lecture are variants of Just Do It.
 How did that go? If it worked great out of the gate then all you have to do is apply Just Do It to all your goals, resolutions, habit building and habit breaking needs. You’ll be in all the papers, because this rarely works as the main strategy for serious resistance.
 Just Do It will often get me into a task I would rather not do if the resistance is minor, temporary, token. When I’m exercising regularly and have a day or two where I just don’t wanna, but there is no good reason to be a skipper, some form of Just Do It self talk will get me into the routine and momentum gets it done.
 Also, serious external consequences when teamed with Just Do It can be effective. A big deal deadline and a self pep talk or lecture can often get the presentation written, the taxes done, the party planned.
 Positive external structure can also make it seem Just Do It is working. When we paid for the program, made a date with our friend or took on a heck of a wager, we may have turned up the heat enough to make Just Do It tip us into action. Or not.
 But for regular old serious resistance we need the Melting strategy. How do you melt an ice cap? A little extra heat at a time. When our resistance feels glacial, that’s how we melt it.
 Small small assignments, gradually built enabling routines, tweaks to the environment to gradually give more positive cues, little victories celebrated, more supports put in place, a larger bite tried out and backed off, seven or seventeen things tried until one of them works, and one day we notice we’re doing it. Not there yet probably, but doing it.
 Resistance is still there, but we may have to prod for it, provoke it to find it on good days. It’s no longer running the show. As long as we keep some regular heat on it, the choice to do the desired thing isn’t feeling so much like choice. It’s more like we’re just doing it.

Energy of desire

We have so many different kinds of desire, and I don’t mean just the different kinds of things or experiences we desire.
 Some of our desires energize us, fuel our idea machine, our daydreams, our searches and conversations and most tellingly our actions. They even seem to somehow strengthen our hearts and minds, our bodies and characters.
 We rise to meet these desires with the best we have. Maybe not always, with consistency, but when we have left enough space and invited the desire in, here it comes, and we greet it happily at the door, run down to meet it, embrace and dance with it.
 Is there a better feeling? A more desired desire?
 Other desires aren’t so true and clean and inherently powerful as sources of energy.
 You know which kind fills up our desire bucket most often.
 Do you know when you last had a true desire of great beauty and energy?
 It may have felt more like curiosity, a vision, a passion, a burning question, falling in love with a person or idea or experience or thing, an unshakable need to make a thing happen, creative inspiration, or a deep connection that called out for ever more connectedness or communion. But you also know it as desire.
 So, when did you last have it?
 Is there space now in your life, your heart, your mind, your room, your work to let in another true desire?


Recently I read something self-helpy about the anchors that hold us down, stuck in a kind of life we don’t want. Yes, true, nod-worthy.
 Yet I rely in certain anchors in my life that help me live or move toward the kind of life I do want. So do my clients. Coaching can be one of those anchors at times.
 If anchors have a positive role in our lives and a negative one, we need to be conscious about both.
 Great strategies are built around this kind of awareness. How can we leverage our greatest assets and avoid many of the conditions of failure otherwise?
 Let’s start with the dark side.
 What’s holding you down, holding you in place so you can’t move, grow, explore, be transported, find a different place to be for a while?
 The anchor could be an attitude, condition, anything really.
 It can be internal or external. Completely within your control (the habit of staying up so late that your days are often a miserable fog) or completely out of your control (an economic crisis, or perhaps a devastating injury), or something in between.
 Of course, even when the condition of the anchor is far out of our control, we have the freedom to choose our response, to choose to influence the situation or work around it or carry on despite it or rise above it in some way. See, for example, holocaust survivor Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
 Now for the friendly anchors. Again, these can be anything, internal or external. They may be largely accidental or incidental to our external circumstances, even if we would like to take credit for them (youthful good health, natural optimism, family privilege, faith, national freedom).
 Or they may be hard won (a solid self-started business, a rescued relationship, health recovered, a position of leadership earned on hard merit, the perspective gained from loss and courage, the small regular habits of financial health or tidy living).
 Incidentally, you may have noticed that one person’s positive anchor may be another person’s nemesis anchor from which change was a major victory. Anchors are a mighty personal experience.
 Do you know your anchors? If not, is it possible to know yourself?

Influence and self-coaching

Whatever form of self-coaching you choose, being intentional and strategic about the influences that surround you will gradually but surly carry you further in the direction you mean to go. Choice and attention to outside influences can even be its own form of self-coaching.

What direction do you want to go in, or what do you want to experience or achieve? What will this do for you–or, why do you want this? What will be possible, different, delightful as a result?

What will it look like, sound like, feel like when you are moving in this direction or enjoying this achievement?

Where are you now–do you see or feel the shire where you’re standing, the water you will be crossing, the new shire where you will be landing and leaping out onto new ground?

Also, what does it matter if you don’t move in this direction, or experience or achieve this thing? Is this your dream or someone else’s? Is it what you deeply want to experience or is it what you believe you should do so that finally things will be alright? Is it an invitation or an accusation?

When you know this, and feel alignment with what you really want, you are beginning to coach yourself. There is focus, purpose and intention.

Now, who do you need to be in order to go truly in the direction you want? What strengths and resources do you need to exercise? What weaknesses and risks should you acknowledge, address, or work around?

What kind of actions, attitudes, perspectives or strategies were you using the last time you took on a new goal, dream or challenge with good results?

Who are, or could be your role models, inspirations, or mentors now (either literally and externally or virtually, in your own thought world or imagination)?

Now you have a good idea of both what you want and what you have to work with.

We both know that outside influences will push against your intention every day, nudging you toward or away from what you said you wanted.

We like to deny, ignore or minimize this fact.

Think about them now.

Friends, acquaintances, co-workers, family members, neighbors, casual encounters around town.

The voices and images of television, film, YouTube, podcasts, radio, music, Instagram, refrigerator art. ADVERTISING.

Words. Books and blogs, email and tweets and chat. And real conversations. Letters. In the mail. Junk mail. Graffiti. Lists. Quotes. Newspapers and news sites. Magazines. Trade journals. Your journal. Memos. Statements. Stories. Proposals. Articles. Arguments. Essays. Poetry. Menus. Recipes. Lyrics. Sticky notes.

We are actually aware of little of this influence, or we pay little conscious awareness to its presence or the real effect on our energy, mood, attitude, fear, courage, actions, thought train, interactions, ideas, inspiration, acknowledgment, reinforcement, resilience, resolve, perseverance, focus, meaning and feeling.

Yet what, besides these things (energy, mood, attitude, etc.) is going to take us toward or away from what we want?

We think we are above much of that. Not so much.

These are the wind conditions that steer or stall us or push us ever back to where we started. How will we get somewhere we want to be if we don’t notice and consciously work with or around that kind of energy?

If all we do, after finding out something we want and noticing what we specifically have to work with now, is pay attention to our regular influences and then choose among them like an athlete choosing among nutrition and workout plans and trainers and rest cycles, we will be in a powerful coaching relationship with ourselves. And experiencing so much more of the direction, experience, or goal we said we really, really want.

Certainly there is more to coaching than noticing what you want, who you are, and what you choose to allow in your influence sphere. But much of it can be condensed to these factors.

Do you know something that you want, from a true and inspiring place?

Do you have some awareness of the stuff you have inside and outside to work with?

Do you expect to do some purging, polishing and selecting among those outside influences in the name of going where you want instead of just washing up wherever the default winds take you?

If yes to all three, you’re working with a fine coach. Congratulations.

Ways of coaching yourself

Coaching yourself is not the same experience or tool as working with another person who is your coach. It is different but also valuable. If you learn to be a good coach for yourself you always have coaching available to you, and your relationship with yourself shifts as well, maturing and deepening.
 A common and powerful approach to self-coaching is through regular writing.
 That may be through skillful and intentional journaling.
 Or it can be keeping a notebook of your inner and outer work, observations and insights as you work through someone’s program, which could be a course, book, or system in any form for any topic–self-development or business, spirituality or craft, organization or health, leadership or relationships, creativity or money, career development or parenting. When using a structured program and keeping a regular writing practice about that, you have both the benefit of another voice and thought process besides your own, and the growth of your own awareness and insight about this work you have chosen to do.
 But what if you’re not going to do any regular writing? It may not appeal to you, or you start it and for whatever reason you aren’t going to keep it up. That doesn’t rule out self-coaching for you.
 Focus, attention, insight and acknowledgment may be found in other forms of intentional connection. Meditation and other quiet practices are a form of self-coaching for many. They also support and deepen all forms of coaching and self-coaching. But like writing, this is powerful but not strictly necessary.
 Choosing to work with a situation, experience or topic in conjunction with other people is a useful strategy for gaining perspective, getting feedback, learning from models, and noticing things about yourself and your assumptions that you might not otherwise.
 The quality of the experience will depend on many things, from the agenda, maturity, or expertise of the people you are connecting with to your own ability to choose what you take in or give credence to, to act on insights and intentions, and to discern which of your own inner promptings, reactions and responses are valuable to you.
 When you make a connection that is healthy and a good fit for you now (friendship, support group, mentor, trainer, teacher, online community, strong online voice acting as mentor or guide, “real life” community project, etc.), your intention to pay attention and grow or gain from the experience as well as to give back, and more importantly to learn to hear your own wiser voice and act from your own judgment, personal motivations and insights more than from someone else’s agenda for you, can raise your link from just more noise and pressure in your world to a genuine self-coaching opportunity.

The dubious beauty of goals

Most of the Western world takes the value, the critical nature, of goals as an article of faith. It defines much of our culture and identity.
 What is the American dream but a goal–measurable, definite, easily judged.
 What is the purpose of a year, a decade, a season, a semester if not setting and achieving goals? How much should you weigh, earn, produce, bench press? Will you look good enough in your bathing suit, satisfy your children with their holiday gifts, make the grades, get the job or promotion, sell the house, retire securely?
 We are drilled in how to do goals right (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely), so correct goal-setting is itself goal.
 Some of us thrive in a goal-centered life, or at least enjoy setting and tracking them. You might say we are addicted to goals. It’s hard to imagine not having them, more than a little disconcerting, even frightening.
 Who would we be, what would we become.
 A few people, in the sea of goal-setting experts, propose that we ditch goals. Give them up like the sticky desserts we crave but realize we don’t actually need.
 Stop measuring and striving and judging, the idea goes, and instead set compass a compass heading and move toward what you care most about. Discover where it takes you when you aren’t constrained by the limited vision of a specific goal and the micromanagement of its achievement.
 Could you do it? Have you tried it?

The jar of rocks

A day is a big wide-mouthed jar. It holds as many rocks as you can get into it, then it’s done.

Fill it with thousands of grains of sand or hundreds of gravel bits and pebbles. Lots of activity but no room for big hunky rocks-the projects you yearn to work on, to finish; the significant satisfactions that renew and delight you, the people you care about most deeply.

How many days do you think to reverse the packing order, starting with one or two big beautiful rocks? Then coming in with a few smaller but still substantial hunks. On these days there is still room to toss in some pebbles, gravel and sand. Never room for all of it of course.

But look back at that row of jars. How many glow with the fascinating features of those big hunks of wonderful? How many are nondescript holders of endless, endless bits of what and why?

Can you work anywhere?

An obvious booster of creative work is to make more time to do it. Being able to work only in a specific place or time or condition can be a drag on creative productivity or momentum or the ability to make use of the errant butterfly of inspiration.

What kind of art you make makes a difference in your flexibility, naturally. Stonecutters, choreographers and chemical engineers have different opportunities for flexibility than programmers, writers, and diplomats. Still, most of us can be more creative about finding ways to progress or grow our art outside our normal work parameters.

Even writers, who have perhaps the most flexibility and portability of any craft or profession, are often trapped in I-can’t and I-must ideas about how they can work.

Either we can’t work in the morning, only late at night because of our biorhythms, or can’t get in a groove unless we are in our offices or favorite coffee shop, or can only work at our desktop computer/laptop/fat notebook, or if we have a long stretch of time in which to work, or when the kids are in school, or never when traveling, or only with all of our reference materials available. You get the picture.

What are your own requirements in order to do your art?

Certainly there is value in having routines for our work, which may include time, space, and specific tools. Some conditions are so non-conducive to our work that it is nearly useless to try to find or force a way to work within them.

Working within our personal prime conditions is smart–until we find that we regularly don’t have as much time as we need or want to do our work, or miss too many unexpected visits of the muse or urges to work because we aren’t prepared to respond in some way when they light on us.

Challenge yourself to stretch the conditions in which you can work and the ways in which you can advance the work a little even when it seems unlikely that you could do so.

Is your phone or tablet, your day bag or diaper bag, your car or day-job desk drawer, your bedside table or suitcase outfitted to provoke or capture inspiration? To make plans or sketches or temporary models? To capture an image? To connect with a resource you didn’t expect to need until you did? To tweak or prune or polish what you’ve already made? To make some junky art that primes the pump for what wants to flow?

To do some marketing or evangelizing, recruiting or accounting in support of your art, or as your art? To create some art that can be worked on again when you’re back at your preferred work table and time? To do a little more than you can already.

Is there really nothing you can do in your travel schedule, other-job time, child-care situation to make even snippets of your art more regularly, so they can pile up to make a whole piece of art sooner than later?

So I can only becomes I can always.

So your momentum gathers more steam instead of wilting. So your head hits the pillow with a smile or sigh or even groan of satisfaction. More art was done today.

Making ways to make our art is a critical way of art making. What we think we can’t do is often what we must do in order to honor what we love.

Two myths about discipline

Creativity and discipline are naturally at odds, are they not?

Not, actually. The regularly productive creative person who is least likely to suffer from long fallow periods, guilt, incomplete projects, scattered attention, roller coaster energy levels and frequent major creative frustrations is the one who has enough structure to her creative work or regular life or both. Enough is a variable and subjective idea, but not enough is a killer of creative contribution.

So what are the two big myths about discipline (or habit, routine, ritual, organization, or any other word you can stomach that means doing a little something you don’t want to go right now in order to create the bug somethings that are your life’s heartbeat)?

That was the first and main myth, which is that discipline is kryponite against creativity. Instead it’s WD-40 in the keyhole of the door to creativity.

Second is that you either are or aren’t a person who is disciplined, has discipline, or can have discipline without giving up your true nature of fun, spontaneity, creativity, or however else you see your true nature.

This falsehood stops so many people in their tracks. Stuck. Spinning wheels. Frustrated. Angry. Maybe hopeless.

If you bought this myth, you can also give it up. Because discipline is just a muscle. You build it up a little or a lot or not at all, in which case you watch it atrophy. You just choose what you want to do with the muscle and how much.

Discipline is not a fixed trait. You may have inherited or developed from your youthful environment a tendency toward more or less structure. So the muscle may feel more or less natural to you right now. But you are not inherently and fixedly either an undisciplined or a naturally orderly person.

If your feel creative life might blossom or explode (in a good way) with a bit more structure either in your creative work processes or your regular life, you have only to practice using that muscle a little more than you have been, on a regular basis, until you reach the strength that works for you.

Like doing a yoga routine at home or lifting at the gym. It makes no difference where you start, what your goals are, whether it feels awkward or natural to be practicing this muscle. You just decide to do it, not too much, then do it again, not too much. You don’t even need new shoes.

How much of the two big myths of discipline do you still believe, even a little bit? Are you willing to give it up for a stronger creative life?

Creative sanctuary

Environment has a lot to do with who we become, what we do, how we behave and what we feel.
 Clients often tell me that it shouldn’t matter so much. They should be able to overcome work cultures, physical environments, or peer influences that drag them down or don’t support or inspire their best work or their best selves.
 In part I agree with them. Environment is one of the many common excuses we latch on for not creating what we desire. Being a player, an person of persistent action following intention, is the opposite of being a victim. Victimhood has derailed creative work for all of us at times.
 But mostly I disagree with the put-up-with-it response to environments that weigh us down. Usually there is something more we can do to change, improve , counter or otherwise ameliorate the situation.
 We can be stronger players in shaping our environments so they propel us forward instead of holding us back or eating up our energies trying to work against the environment or continually manage our natural responses to it.
 Once we do the work of all- we can-do-now in setting up environments that work for us and that we can work in, we have an asset that works for us every day, every moment of our creative projects. We have more focus and freedom for what we want to make, change, contribute. It costs us less.
 We are better and stronger because our environments have contributed, because we decided that they should and must, and made it so.