Get Off Your ‘Buts’ and Write!
“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” -Sidney Harris
Everyone has at least one dream; some a whole entourage of them. Since you’re here, I’d assume your dream is to be published, or to achieve acclaim in the field of writing—Great Dream! If we all know what we want, why haven’t we all achieved it? What keeps us from attaining our heart’s desire?
You can immediately come up with all sorts of excuses and that’s the problem—there is no excuse—the reason we don’t live our dreams is inside each of us—we pretend its people, things, situations on the outside that are to blame but …
BUT: It’s that little 3 letter four letter word that allows us to lie to ourselves and limit ourselves without us even knowing it, BUT—that means “ignore all the good stuff that I just said, here comes the truth” i.e. “I plan to write a book some day but I have kids at home”, “I’m going to get back to my novel but first I have to get a computer, or an office, or bake cookies for the third grade class” or whatever it is that keeps you from making good on your promises to yourself.
BUT has two best friends: IF ONLY and TRY. You know them well: “IF only I had the time” “I’ll TRY to write five pages a day”
“Do or do not. There is no try!” Yoda
In life there are either reasons or results, excuses or experiences, stories or successes—which would you rather have? We’re great at creating fiction, but shouldn’t those stories go toward advancing our careers and not toward fooling ourselves? In the time it takes our mind to invent a good excuse, it could have been creating an alternate way of achieving a result!
If you’re going to spend your life doing something, it might as well be something you enjoy, right? Don’t listen to the “But what about the money?” “But what about all the competition out there?” “But what will I do if I fail?” Those are the BUTs we have to get off in order to even consider living our dreams.
Our problem is we were raised to value one thing over all others: our own personal comfort zone—that place we feel safe and secure away from pain and disappointment. When contemplating something outside that realm of the familiar, our comfort zone goes into a panic and throws up a host of defense mechanisms that will keep you under its control.
You know them. You’ve all felt them. You’ve all given into them at one time or another. If you want to live your dream, you have to learn how to change these patterns of habit, this desire for the comfortable we were trained to hang onto, by learning to recognize what sets us up to fail and how to get beyond it. Dreams are made and achieved by choice. If our choice is to try something new or stick with the familiar, most will stick with the familiar. Why? Because we were taught by our well meaning parents to avoid that which might bring us pain, and when we were children and didn’t know any better, those were good rules to follow. As adults, it’s time to put away childish things—time to follow our dreams.
Understanding how this self-sabotage works can help you turn it to your advantage. Let me introduce your comfort zones’s friends, the one’s who hold you back, limit your ambitions and keep you from achieving what you want: Fear, Guilt, Unworthiness, Hurt Feelings, Anger and Discouragement.
The Big Three:
Fear is the most common limiting emotion: it stands for False Expectations Appearing Real. It isn’t real in itself. It’s the mind imagining something terrible that hasn’t happened yet. Producing a negative anticipation for the worst, it sets off all your bell and whistles, warning you to avoid all things that MIGHT produce fear. It’s what keeps you from sitting down at the keyboard, keeps you from sticking that proposal in the mail, keeps you saying, But, If Only and I’ll try…
Guilt is the anger we feel toward ourselves when we think we’ve done something wrong:”I really should spend this time with my family while they watch TV”, “Instead of buying myself a computer I should get Johnny another game system,” “My friend will be mad at me if I don’t go out to lunch with her,” “I’m just wasting my time.” Guilt doesn’t just occur when we try something and fail; it also happens when we try something and succeed. It’s not a logical emotion: “What if I become too successful?” “How can I do that good a job again?” “Who do you think you are?”
Unworthiness is the deep-seated belief that we’re undeserving, not good enough, inadequate. Fear says “Don’t try it,” unworthiness reinforces with “Don’t even think about it!” We would rather do anything than face feelings of inadequacy. Ever compare yourself to a NY Times bestseller and say, “What chance have I got?” How great if we always got what was promised to us, if we never felt let down or hurt by failed expectations—not only from others but from ourselves! We cover up this hurt with anger, blaming whoever or whatever let us down and decide not to do what causes pain or hurt. “I’ll never do that again!”
Over time, the result of fear, guilt, unworthiness, hurt and anger is discouragement (which is a form of exhaustion) that tells us to hurry back to that which is familiar, predictable and comfortable, promoting inaction, and that guarantees failure.
How do we escape from this vicious circle? By learning to see through different eyes, to interpret our feelings differently. When considering the pursuit of a dream, our emotions are alive: If you call it fear, you feel uncomfortable. Call it excitement and you feel energy, i.e. rollercoaster ride! Think of it as fear and it will stop you. Think of it as excitement and you become active in the pursuit of accompishment! Turn fear of a new situation into a positive energy: Use the adrenaline, the sharpened senses, the sensitivity and awareness to learn and absorb all you can and to do your best.
Guilt is anger directed toward self and anger is the energy for change. Stop apologizing for being who you are. Don’t compare and condemn yourself. Realize you’re not perfect, that you’re never going to write as fast as someone else or earn as much as someone else or look as good on a book jacket as someone else. Use guilt to provoke positive personal change.
Turn unworthiness into humility. It keeps us on the path of what we want—our goal. With humility comes a maturity that forces choice and prioritizing. We only feel hurt about something we care about. Most people use hurt as a reason to stop doing something. Learn from hurt—not to stop, but to change or grow stronger “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared” –Eddie Rickenbacker
Courage isn’t absence of fear: it’s the ability to act in spite of fear. Discouragement says, “Give up.” Encouragement says,”Keep going.” The goal isn’t to never be discouraged again but rather to catch discouragement sooner, recognize it and recover from it faster. Discouragement or rejection builds our courage, helps us learn to forgive ourselves and move on. Instead of dwelling on what you didn’t achieve or what you should have done, realize that you can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want!
The biggest lie we tell ourselves in choosing is “I can’t!” We can do anything we want. If we don’t achieve something it’s because we’ve committed our time, energy and resources elsewhere. We can have anything we want. We just can’t have everything we want (at least not all at the same time.)
Our comfort zone stays quiet as long as we don’t seriously consider action. When that little hobby becomes a serious pursuit of writing, we have to make some uncomfortable choices:
1. When we choose, we must let other options go, but if we make no choice, we have nothing. Be prepared for the consequences and don’t apologize for them.
2. When we choose, we risk losing . . . and everyone will know it! If we don’t commit and lose we can say, “I didn’t really want it anyway”, “If I don’t play, I can’t lose”—but you can never win! Success in one area often clears way for success in another.
3. When we choose we risk winning: Now what? How can I ever top that first book? What else is there? We make changes to become successful but success itself brings more changes. We fear success because we fear our own power. Know you are worthy of your dream. Yes, you are special!
Commitment to a dream is not a one-time occurrence. It’s done daily, hourly, continually. When we commit and act, we are confronted by the comfort zone: Tempted to stop, encouraged to stop, demanded to stop. If we move ahead anyway, we expand the comfort zone, learn a necessary lesson, and the commitment becomes stronger.
Here are some tips for making and keeping commitments:
1. Don’t make commitments you don’t plan to keep. Make your commitments realistic—don’t set yourself up for failure.
2. Learn to say NO! Greatest test of our sincerity is whether we say no to things not on the way to that dream. Let go of distractions—anything not on the way to our goal that consumes time, thoughts or energy.
3. Make conditional agreements—I will achieve my goal unless the following happens . . . These are things out of your control. Stuff happens.
4. Keep the commitments you make. Set the stage for future successes. Take responsibility not blame, not excuses. We are individually responsible for our own lives. Responsibility is the ability to respond.
5. Write commitments down. Don’t just say it: write it, set a time, arrange for it, make it as important as an agreement you make to someone else—a very important someone. Make lists.
6. Renegotiate at the earliest opportunity if conflict arises. We don’t plan to fail, we just fail to plan! Be ready to change horses in mid stream.
Perils: Some people don’t like to see others pursuing their dream. It reminds them how far from living their own dreams they are. In talking you out of yours, they are talking themselves back into their own comfort zone. Tell people about your goal after you’ve achieved it. This doesn’t apply to close friends and supporters who have always believed in you.
Become passionate about your dream:
2. Make affirmations. Like goals, these work best in the present tense, “I am a successful writer making $100,000 a year,” not “I’m going to be…” These will help you believe in your dream
and that belief is essential. The dream must become more real than your doubts.
3. Find a hero—a role model, someone who had a dream as big as yours and achieved it. They are human and have flaws and still achieve their dream! You don’t have to be perfect.
4. Positive focus. Keep moving forward toward your goals. Don’t worry about the RIGHT way, just get it done. The time for rewriting is once the writing is done.
Be persistent: “Many of life’s failures are people who didn’t realize how close they were to success when they gave up” said Thomas Edison. When faced with rejection ask:
1. What’s the next step?
2. What’s in the way of taking that step?
3. Remove that obstacle
4. Take the step
5. Go back to #1
“The real secret of success is enthusiasm” Walter Chrysler
Do what you love and love what you do! Create a winning attitude: (From Time Management for Dummies, Jeffery Mayer)
1. Challenge yourself
2. Expand your horizons
3. Take responsibility for the things you do
4. Surround yourself with people who are successful
5. Be the best you that you can be
6. Take a risk when it counts
7. Make the most of your time
Above all, remember these two quotes:
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat”—Theodore Roosevelt
“Just do it” –Nike
Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts by Peter McWilliams (whose book provided many of the above tips, insights and inspirations. Get it. Read it.)
Time Management for Dummies by Jeffrey J. Mayer (full of ideas and an OCD treasure trove of lists.)
© 1996 by Nancy Gideon