Now Brewing: Starbucks VIA® Instant Peppermint Mocha Latte. Okay, I’m not actually enjoying one of these right now (because I’m on a #JanuaryWhole30), but I so wish I was. Best instant coffee I’ve had to date and getting them as a gift makes them extra sweet.
Hello…. Is it me you’re looking for? (You thought I was going to use an Adele lyric there, didn’t ya? Sorry folks, Lionel Richie for life.)
It has sure been a while since I’ve written for Chippin’ Off the Block and although I could list reasons keeping me from writing for the entire four minutes and fifty-six seconds of Adele currently ruining playing on Apple Music – there’s really just one issue that’s become my biggest hurdle.
I’d be willing to bet my paycheck nearly all of us have face this at some point when we’ve tried to write something. It’s inescapable. Your text becomes sludge-like, all creativity runs out of your body faster than an elementary student on the last day of school, and you’re tempted to wave your white flag. You’ve hit a dreaded writer’s block. Timing, procrastination, perfectionism, fear, and distractions are some of the biggest culprits in forming this common mental nuisance. Although we’ve likely all struggled with it at some point, whether in for a school assignment, in creative writing, or in our jobs – breaking down a mental barrier, like writer’s block, isn’t as easy as forming one. This goes for just about any activity – exercising, crafting, cooking, you name it and I’m again willing to bet that your mind can form an unwanted aversion to it.
So what do we do when we’ve lost the will to do something we love? First, let’s talk about what not to do:
You shouldn’t give up or wait until you feel inspiration or motivation strike. New York Times’ best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver wrote,
“I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.”
I’ve found that inspiration can be a bit like looking at your weather app and praying for sun on Saturday and then waking up to rain. If you constantly hope and wish for inspiration to hit, you’re overthinking it. Motivation will come; don’t dwell too much on what is beyond of your control – and keep doing what you love.
While you’re at it, you won’t get anywhere if you get too negative about your lack of progress. To be successful at anything, you first need to champion yourself. If you don’t believe you’re capable of doing something, why should/would anyone else? There’s a line in the Optimist’s Creed that says, “Think of only the best, work for only the best, and expect only the best.” Commit to that, whether you’re running a step, writing a sentence, practicing a new song, or trying a new recipe. Give yourself a pep talk and get to work because you’re the best, duh – and keep doing what you love.
Avoid procrastinating further or making excuses (here’s where I struggle.) I’ve had no trouble writing the past few months at work. In fact, there’s been countless days when I’ve written for hours about water treatment and transit systems at ease. But, instead of heading home eager to write my second novel or perhaps a blog post like I had for the better part of the year, for the last few months whenever I thought about writing outside of work, I felt actual dread. So, I would procrastinate opening my MacBook to write by making dinner, or calling my friends, or watching an episode of Worst Cooks in America on Netflix. And then I would repeat the same cycle for the rest of the work week. I kept blaming it on different things –‘Oh, I wrote all day today. My brain’s fried.’ ‘I’m too hungry to write, I will after supper.’ ‘I need to catch up with my friends first.’ I had many excuses but always the same result – my novel was getting nowhere and my blog was sitting stagnant. I should know better at 23 that making excuses and procrastinating when I’m feeling less than motivated isn’t going to get me anywhere. If you’re looking for a good way to make progress – put away your excuses, stop putting things off until later, and take action.
The wakeup call came for me when I realized I have only a few more than 100 days until I turn 24. I made some big promises to myself for my 23rd cycle around the sun. I knew I needed to make some adjustments if I wanted to accomplish my goals, so tonight I took a big gulp of my seltzer water, opened my MacBook, and started a new document.
Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all solution to conquering our own mental blocks. There are a variety of tactics; like listening to classical music, changing your surroundings, calling someone you admire, or drinking a cup of coffee or tea; that can help kick start your ambition. For me though, I use three main strategies to chip away at the block in front of me:
- Keep doing what you love. It’s the repetition of the practice that will help you overcome whichever culprit dammed up your motivational juices. It’s important to keep pushing yourself, even if you feel tempted to throw in the towel. As the world’s former No. 1 professional tennis player, Billie Jean King once said, “Champions keep playing until they get it right.”
- Create a routine and stick with it. American author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou wrote, “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write.” Angelou’s best point here is that the quality of what you’re doing isn’t what is important, believe it or not. What’s important is that you’re doing whatever you’re doing (in her case and in mine, it’s writing.) Typically, I’ll write in short spurts for 15 minutes every day, one right when I get home from work and another just before bed. It’s not foolproof, because I can still form excuses not to sit down and write, but the routine of writing each day trains my subconscious to at least attempt to be alert and ready to produce during those times. It’s essentially like a strength workout for my right brain – and overcoming a mental blockage, just like any other obstacle, screams STRENGTH NEEDED.
- Figure out what’s stopping you. Take these words from former stockbroker and author Jordan Belfort to heart: “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” Figure out what obstacles are in your mind, nail them down, call them out for being jerks, and then set out to solve the problem. For me, it wasn’t just the procrastination and excuses holding me back from writing. Every year I get a little anxious in the back half of months, and this year I felt especially dormant in my progress, both professionally and personally. So, I committed to making some pretty big changes in both of those playing fields. I got excited about these changes – and whaddya know? I felt the drive to write creep back to me like an ex-boyfriend on Facebook – except unlike those unwanted messages, this is so very welcome.
Welcome to 2016 and welcome back to Chippin’ Off the Block. Let’s make this the year that we’re each our own best cheerleaders. There are plenty of people in the world who won’t sing your praises – why let your own self be one of them? You’re Capable. Intelligent. Worthy. And Damn Attractive. It’s time you let the world see that. Shout it out, my friends.
More on Beating Mental Blocks:
I’ll see you again soon,
Kathryn E. Weast