How to get out of your own way

Woman peeking out from under the covers of her bed.

I used to write regularly for this blog. Pretty much every month, for years. But then last summer I went through a major house move that totally disrupted my life and brought my writing to a halt.

But that’s really just an excuse. I’ll admit it’s inertia and my inner critic that’s getting in my way now. Despite my wanting to do it, I’ve always found it hard to write. And when I fell off my routine, and weeks and months passed, it just got harder and harder to get restarted.

I’m wondering if this sounds familiar to any of you out there. When it feels like YOU are the main thing getting in your way?

I wish I could say there’s a surefire way out of this, but of course there isn’t. As I slowly nudge myself back, I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’m pursuing.

My main approach is to think in terms of planting small seeds of change. The forces of inertia and my inner critic are too overwhelmingly powerful to confront directly. They’re way bigger than me. It’s futile to struggle against them.

But I can mindfully step back, take a breath – and in each moment of awareness, choose to do one very small thing differently than I have before.

So, when my inner critic tells me that last sentence is awful, I don’t have to delete or rewrite it immediately. A friend of mine says she responds to her critic by saying, “Thank you for sharing!” At the very least, I don’t have to fall hook, line, and sinker for the babble my mind is coming up with. Even if I still think that sentence isn’t very good, I can leave it there and at least allow for the possibility that it’s useful in some way. That’s one step in a new direction.

Another strategy is to respect and work with the natural processes of the brain – specifically, its capacity for productivity and willpower. A recent New York Times article cited research that the brain is productive for about 90 minutes at a time. And to sustain productivity, it’s best to rest – take a nap, take a break, or go meditate. So I’ve stopped making myself sit for hours trying to produce something. I now get up, and at least stretch and walk around every hour and a half.

I think this is the same basic idea that Daniel Goleman writes about in an article about building willpower. He says we each have a fixed budget of willpower. If we keep pushing hard on one thing, we’ll have nothing left to face whatever comes next. And that leaves a perfect opening for my inertia and inner critic to step in and mess me up again.

See also:

On the flip side, Goleman says that being disciplined in small doses on a regular basis does help to strengthen the willpower muscle. It gets easier to do that thing as time goes on. So I take heart in the knowledge that writing in small doses regularly will help me get back into a routine.

I know it will take some time before things feel like I’m back on track. And I suspect there will be a few stumbles and backward steps along the way. Above all else, I’m being careful always to stay kind to myself. No beating myself up, no unrealistic expectations.

I’m just going to point myself forward and know that I’m doing the best I can. And I’ll keep the faith that over time, many small seeds of change can grow into a forest.

What about you? What are your strategies for getting out of your own way? I’d like to hear from you.

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10 Comments. Leave new

  • Welcome, back, Sunada!

  • Gosh, I really needed to hear this today, Sunada. Thank you!

  • Great advice, Sunada!

  • Thanks for writing this. I have to beat back my inner critic daily. There is comfort in knowing that I am not the only one and having a few tips to deal with it is great.

  • George Colombo
    March 29, 2013 12:16 am

    A very nice column… and very timely for me. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Holly, Sharmon, and George! A note to Sharmon — you certainly aren’t the only one. Every writer I’ve talked with tells me they face the same critic and writer’s block that you and I do. That helps me put things in perspective. It seems to be a universal experience. So then the question I ask myself is, OK what are you going to do about it?

  • Kathie Gerber
    March 30, 2013 5:47 pm

    Thank you so much for this beautiful article! Thank you for finding time to write it. I’m glad your picture was on the bottom of the article. You are a beautiful beautiful lady and I wished I lived in Boston to learn from you! I needed your advice today as I must write a paper and have been procrastinating because I’m afraid it won’t be perfect. Thank you for your advice. I will now go meditate and give thanks for you!

  • Thanks for all this! It’s great to read a post by you again. Anyone who writes or paints or does any creative kind of work knows this all too well. You’d think that over the years we’d all learn this is so and not be so crushed by it when it happens yet again – but I think perhaps it’s all part of the cycle of creativity. My strategy is to stop trying to go in the direction I think I need to go, and take lots of time to play around with ideas that don’t seem in the least bit relevant but which are a lot of fun. The theory being that underneath my conscious mind, my unconscious self knows exactly where I need to go. And it’s always the path of least resistance – whatever is the most enjoyable, the easiest, and the one that seems to happen almost all on its own – that’s the thing that turns out right in the end………


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