Help! I’ve Run Out of Time!
When I teach classes on creativity and writing, the number one problem students mention is they don’t have time for the writing, painting, or designing they long to do.
Believe me, I know. I suffered for years from the twin syndromes: “I’m too busy” and “I’m too tired when I get home from work.”
Of course you’re busy. Of course I was tired. Even on vacation, our lives are hectic.
The question to ask is, how can I figure out how to allow myself to invite more happiness into my life?
I say that because people who participate in creative work, paid or unpaid, public or private, are happier, healthier and more satisfied with their lives. This is true regardless of income, education, and socio-economic status.
If you have urge to create something, even if you don’t know what, it makes sense to figure out how to get less busy.
The busyness syndrome is real and it is deadly. Modern society supports it. Busy is good, right? If you’re busily creative, sure. If you’re busy with busywork, not so much. Being overly preoccupied with details is a sure sign that your busyness might not be productive.
The busyness syndrome is manageable if your inner critic is only moderately strong.
Time management tomes advise us to declutter, set goals, re-arrange our schedules, dispose of or delegate less urgent tasks, and set up organizational systems. All are useful and important,
But what if your inner critic is heavily muscled and overbearing? It might not even let you start. It might tell you that other people’s needs are more important than your desire to create.
It might say that you’re bad, wrong, deluded or stupid to consider spending time on what you love.
It might entice you with movies, gaming, shopping, cleaning, television, even volunteering. After all, it’s more important to help others than yourself, right.
If you are blocked and unable to start, move past a certain point in your work, or allow yourself to work regularly, there are things you can do to convince your critic to back down.
- Recognize that the negative messages you are getting are not coming from you, but from the critic. Acknowledge the critic. It is part of your conscious mind. Its goal is to keep you safe, which it interprets as not taking risks.
- Form a clear intention to do your work. Write your intention in present tense and post it where you can see it every day.
- Set specific times to work. Try to choose the same time for every session. At the appointed time, be there. Beforehand, do what you need to do to get ready. Some people light a candle, say a prayer, meditate, close the door, turn off the phone.
- Gather any resources you need and have them at hand. Don’t leave your space to find anything. If the internet tempts you, find a program to block it during your work time.
- Stay in your appointed spot for the designated time. Even if you don’t work, stay there. When the time is up, leave. This will help develop a habit, and you’ll find before long, you’re becoming productive.
- Notice that your intention to do creative work is part of the universal field. You can connect to it any time. Notice that the critic is part of the ego mind. When you connect to the universal intention, it is much easier to say no to the critic.
- Find a way to reward yourself for learning a new habit that will increase your happiness. At minimum, tell yourself “I am creative. I spend time regularly on my creative work.”
- Remember to forgive yourself for any judgements you make against yourself. Forgiveness opens you to the universal intention. If you do it enough, it becomes a habit, and before long, your critic will turn into a positive ally.
Do you have an inner critic? Do you recognize its voice?
You know the one I mean. It whispers, “How could you be a writer? Start a business? Stay on a diet? Stick to an exercise program?”
It murmurs in the background, always on alert, ready to stop you from moving forward.
Or, maybe you don’t even hear it. Maybe you stall out in the middle of a new venture. Lose interest. Get too busy. Decide it wasn’t important.
Resistance is a force. It’s human and it’s normal. Everyone resists change. Some a little, some a lot. Resistance seems to be a function of how our brains work, so it’s nothing to judge yourself for. The point is to recognize it, and learn how to work with it.
The inner critic is a form of resistance that is especially virulent because it mimics our inner voice. We listen to the critic and believe we are hearing ourselves. In fact, we’re hearing an internalized judgment from parents, teachers, friends, the community or the larger culture.
You can think of the inner critic as a recalcitrant child, a part of us that has not evolved. It’s stuck in the past. Something hurt it, and now it wants to protect you from experiencing more pain.
Better safe than sorry. Why rock the boat? What if I try and fail?
The problem with this approach is that we stagnate. Potential goes untapped, hopes fade, creativity withers and enthusiasm is lost. All because we weren’t willing to engage the inner critic.
Something as simple as asking yourself if its messages are true TODAY can work wonders. If you engage it, you can find out what it wants. You can help it evolve and come into the present.
Instead of seeing the inner critic as a force to be ignored, defeated, boxed in, argued with, silenced or stomped on, a gentler approach could transform it into an inner ally.
An inner ally supports, encourages, focuses on the positive, sets goals, makes plans, knows that growth is process, is a learner, and remembers that others are more focused on themselves than on judging us.
There are many ways to change your relationship to the inner critic. I have found this simple process to work for me.
1. Sit quietly. If you meditate, pray, or quiet your mind in nature that’s the perfect time for this exercise. If you journal, you can engage your critic with free writing.
2. In your mind or aloud, say “hello.” Allow an image, a sensation or words to appear. Say “hello” again.
3. In your mind or your journal, ask your critic if she is willing to talk to you. (this may be a little unfair, since she’s doing it all the time, but it’s polite, and often changes the dialogue).
4. Ask her why she is giving you negative messages.
5. Listen. Do not argue. Simply listen.
6. Conclude by writing and/or drawing what you asked and learned from your critic.
You can repeat this exercise with any question. You can offer the critic alternative ways of looking at the issue at hand. When you hear a negative message, you can turn it around.
For example, if your critic say, “It’s too cold to go for a walk today. Just stay inside.”
You could say, “Yes, it is cold. But I’ll wear my heavy coat and I’ll feel better if I complete my goal of exercising four times this week.”
With practice, you can turn around any negative programming that’s stuck in your brain. As you realize that your beliefs can be changed, your inner critic will gradually transform into an ally.
7. The last step of this exercise is the most powerful. Conclude each session by forgiving the critic and yourself.
My next post will be about a simple, yet profound method of forgiveness that has helped me shift my critic into an ally.
What about you? Does an inner critic hold you back?
I struggle with resistance.
Not all its forms bother me. If the house is cleaned tomorrow or next week instead of today, no big deal. However, when it comes to my writing, yeah, it’s a big deal. If I make excuses for why I’m too tired, too busy or too distracted to do my writing, I’ve fallen prey to the insidious voice in my head. It whispers:
- “You can’t.”
- “That’s not good enough.”
- “You’ll never publish that.”
- “You don’t write as well as she”
- “You have a job. That doesn’t leave time to write.”
- “Business before pleasure.”
- “How can you take time for yourself when others need you?”
- “It’s too late to start.”
- “You have nothing important to say.”
- “When things settle down, you can write.”
At least now I know that the excuses, the rationalizations, the self-doubt, the procrastination and the other thoughts that stopped me repeatedly are not out in the world, but live inside my brain.
As it turns out, everybody has resistance. Some more than others, but no one escapes. It seems to be a condition of being human, a function of how our minds are wired. Maybe it’s culture, upbringing, pollution. I don’t know why the ego mind throws up roadblocks to any change we intend to improve our lives, but every school of psychology and all spiritual traditions have noticed it. Many named it. You probably know some of them.
- Death wish
- Demon lover
- Negative anima/animus
Resistance is fueled by self-doubt, guilt and fear. Whenever you hear yourself saying, “I should” prick up your inner ears. Resistance may be lurking.
Even if you’re not struggling with a call to write a novel, paint a picture or start a new business, you’re not immune. Have you ever tried to change a habit? Start an exercise program? Incorporate meditation into your life? When you try to change your life for the better, resistance whispers its objections to why you’re better off the way you are. The status quo is safe. It’s here. The territory is familiar. Change means navigating your boat through dangerous shoals. Nobody wants to risk drowning. Or do they?
If you listen to the voice of resistance, before long you lose momentum, get dispirited, realize you’re too busy to make that change, and it wouldn’t be worthwhile anyway. Easier to stay in safe waters.
We defend our own creations, no matter how poorly they serve us. Even people with clearly dysfunctional life styles fight to keep the status quo. Have you ever known an addict, an alcoholic, a compulsive gambler, housecleaner or shopper? A whole institution of self–help programs exist to help people who realize their addictions are killing them. The first step in these programs is always the same. Admit that ego is not the answer, that ego cannot heal itself. We need to call on something bigger to overcome our resistance to change.
A wonderful little book about how one writer identified and deals with his resistance is the The War of Art by novelist and nonfiction writer, Steven Pressfield. I found this book when perusing Amazon best sellers in the category Creativity. I tried the book and am now a huge fan, both of his nonfiction and fiction. The War of Art is inspiring and profound. It is a short book that makes its points in simple language.
Pressfield’s answer to resistance is to act like a pro. If you have a job, you show up every day. Why is creative work any different? Get clear about you want, and buckle down. Take your calling seriously. Make the time, even when it isn’t convenient. Learn the craft. Show up. Don’t take rejection personally. Make a separation between your personal life and what you’re doing. Think of your creative work or exercise program or diet as important. A priority. We do what we think is important. We do what we value.
The other thing you may notice is that we do what we’re accustomed to doing, without questioning ourselves. Have you ever asked yourself, why do I do this activity rather than my writing/art/craft work? Are there any tasks I could let go of? Delegate to someone else? Do I use my time doing what I truly want to do? If not, why not?
Pressfield makes an important point that every professional creative has learned. When you commit to a task, make the time for it and stick to it, the Muse smiles, the heavens move and events re-align themselves in ways you could not dream of before you started.
One day I realized I could change my thoughts. Then I realized I could decide to sit at my desk and write even with the chorus shouting their objections. I’ll still be scared, but resistance won’t win.
For me, it took a serious illness to get my attention. It would have been better to figure this out beforehand, but I’m grateful that I was miserable enough not acting to start taking action. Taking the risk to do what I’ve always wanted to do probably saved my life. I don’t know. You can’t ever be sure, but I’ve learned more about my creative process, having compassion for myself and for everyone who struggles, and who I am in relation to my Self and to Source than I dreamed I would before I committed.
What about you? If you have a story about your own resistance, I would love to hear from you. All voices are valuable in the struggle against the resistance. The more we speak out and tell our stories, the stronger we are, and the more we empower others to start to change their lives.
Getting out of own way is a worthy fight.
To check out Pressfield’s book, you can go to Amazon.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles