Has it ever happened to you? You start your month feeling like a champ. All can-do attitude and ready to rocket into success. You’re going to get those posts up or make those monthly sales goals or finally finish your website.
You can taste that next-level status you’ve been working toward your entire life.
A setback comes along that throws all projections out of whack. You’re thinking there’s no way I’ll get to X by the end of the month. And despite your best efforts — despite positive vibe mantras and attempts to finish what you started — you just can’t muster the energy.
Now your mindset is four miles deep into a why-do-I-suck-so-bad shitstorm. Self-doubt starts creeping in, and you can’t help but think that it might be time to give up.
Well, I’ve been there. In fact, I spend a little time there every week.
But I’m not worried about it anymore. Rather, I’m not consumed with worry about it anymore. And it’s not because I’ve somehow broken the cycle. I’m not even concerning myself with ending my thought goblins once and for all.
Instead, I take take myself as I come. I make plans that help me feel more comfortable with my goals. I have strategies in place to help me move forward, and it doesn't involve denying myself the recognition that sometimes growth is scary and painful.
Below are the methods I’ve employed to get beyond my own self-limiting behavior. I’m still a work in progress, but progressing nonetheless. Hopefully, what I’ve learned can help you in your journey.
(And if there’s something that really helped you, but isn’t on this list, please share!)
For me, it was hard to imagine my business at the start. I knew I wanted to write for businesses with values that aligned with my own. I knew I wanted to write from my home/traveling office. I knew I wanted to make enough money to support myself (i.e. steer clear of content mills).
But what a life like that actually looked like? I had a hard time picturing it.
Luckily, there are hundreds of freelance writers out there sharing their journey. Reading through a few dozen blogs and Medium articles gave me a heading. I spoke with potential clients and business owners about what their writing needs looked like. I spoke with freelancers about their road-maps and to-do lists.
The final step, however, was all within. I had to dream for myself. I set a timer and free wrote about what I wanted from my career. I wrote for 30 minutes. I may have also cried (new hormonal truths in my 30s, what can I say?) I pushed myself to acknowledge and move past the self-doubt. I pretended that no rules applied. I just dreamed.
After a short break, I read over my words. I cried again. And I felt a vision for my future come into focus. I could see what my year could hold — if I could get a plan in place and stick to it.
I knew if I could just get a visual, a clear vision of what my life would look like, I could begin to visualize the actions I’d take to get there. But to get to the place psychologically where I could let go of my fear and imagine a life for myself?
That was tough.
If you’re having trouble, try speaking with your most cheerleader friend, actually writing yourself a permission slip, or shout out to a Facebook group. You’d be surprised how much even absolute strangers are willing to encourage you.
Choosing goals and discovering a process to reach them
With a vision in place, I could choose goals based on what would most likely get me there. Before I could imagine the next steps to a successful business, I had to form a rock-solid foundation. So my first goals were all about building that foundation.
I needed to build to practice a new form of writing, build a website, create a pitch template, and design a blog. I also needed to choose which social media outlets I would focus on.
In the beginning, much of my work was exploratory: How much do I like Twitter? What design aesthetic do I most appreciate? What do I want to write about? All of the work was self-directed.
Knowing that I couldn’t get to the next level without it, I made plans to accomplish everything that I knew I’d have to do before I leveled up. Instead of getting overwhelmed, I just focused on trying to do at least one thing every work day toward my goal.
The late poet, Marie Ponsot, used to say, “There is always time to write one line of poetry.” For me, there always time to get one thing off my to-do list, especially writing one line of poetry.
I needed clips, so I wrote at least one each week and began storing ideas for future articles. I needed a website so I bought my domain and struggled through designing it. I read other people’s advice on social media, pitching, and networking. I sent out pitches to businesses.
Even if I didn’t feel absolutely sure I was doing everything perfectly, I just tried my best, learned from my mistakes, licked my wounds, and moved on.
Breaking down the steps.
Now I don’t always break down each step into a million tiny pieces. But. When I am overwhelmed I need to break things down into the tiniest wins possible. This might sound a little cuckoo, sure, but it does wonders for the self-esteem.
And I have struggled with self-worth all my life. As an adult, I sought help from professionals to learn how to build a positive self-regard. The only way I was able to truly move beyond the limiting beliefs was to accept that I had them, and that nothing about these thoughts actually meant I couldn't figure something out.
And the thing is, the thoughts haven’t changed all that drastically. I still think that I am a waste of breath at least a few times a week. For a long time, I thought that I needed to earn my right to be alive. I had a real problem with my success. A person like me, I would think, has no right to be happy or successful.
Looking back, I wonder how I could delude myself out of happiness for so long.
Now I trust that I have the right to be alive. No justifications necessary. It’s a law of physics and it applies to everyone.
When I get to the end of my day and a goal isn’t checked off my list?
This is, honest to Gawd, the real danger for me. I think I have to constantly find workarounds in order to avoid triggering my need for self-justification. Stepping into the territory of this is why you’re not good enough is the f*cking pits.
Suddenly I’m all self-comparison shopping (and my friends are so talented I start questioning why they would ever be friends with me!) and shitting on every ounce of creative energy I’ve ever mustered. Thoughts like, no surprise that you’ve failed again, become my mantra from hell.
And the next thing I know, I’m near tears. Possibly finding chocolate. Definitely snuggling with my cat.
Okay, it’s been a minute since I went into full-fledged self-esteem break down. But they used to be a regular part of my day-to-day life. What worked for me were a few strategies.
First, I decided that showing up is always a win, no matter the outcome. Second, I’ve decided that any effort at all is a win. And lastly, if I have nothing else to show for my day I’ve learned to say to myself, you’re here, you showed up, you’re trying.
In the event that I’ve perhaps distracted myself from doing the thing that I super really meant to do that day? I’m honest with myself. I know I’ve procrastinated, and I remind myself of my goals, my vision, and my commitments. Then I tell myself to do better tomorrow.
99.99% of the time, I do better the next day. Plus, my usual distraction is to clean my house, so...
So, what can you do to get this box checked off your list?
Sometimes I only need to break the task into smaller pieces. I’ve been known to put multi-step tasks on my to-do list without breaking them into something smaller, but a complicated goal can begin to hang over my day like a rainy cloud if it’s not broken up.
Othertimes I need to adjust the scope of the goal. The goal might be a bit too lofty to be completed by the end of the month, and actually would make more sense as a quarterly goal. The goal might require too much investment capital for the current state of my business. A pros and cons list along with a tough look at my budgets is a real savior in these cases.
On rare occasions, I realize that the task is actually just not worth my time and effort. Which is great because I can just cross it off immediately and move on.
The worst of it is when I find I’m avoiding the task for personal reasons. I’m just straight-up scared to do something. Or maybe, a lot of research is required, and it’s become super intimidating. Before I freak out, I just go back to basics.
Text the cheerleaders, call out to friends who might know something, hire a coach, break the goal down further, lengthen the project completion dates, etc. etc.
By no means is this some sort of definitive guide to fixing all the dawdling problems that exist. But, hopefully, it can help you as it’s helped me with my love of freaking out.
If you struggle as I do with self-limiting beliefs. If you get overwhelmed when you take on big, intimidating goals. If you get into slumps of procrastination. Trust.
You’re not alone. You’ve got what it takes. Deep breaths.