How I Get Out of My Own Way When Setting Big, Scary Goals

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. 

But then!

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!)

Getting Focused

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. 

Final Thoughts

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.

6 Weird Tricks I Use to Boost Productivity & Attention Span

Working from home is awesome for many reasons: comfy clothes, extra time to let hair masks set in, and being able to do my laundry at a snail’s pace. But, it comes with a whole host of new distractions.

Distractions are the drug of procrastination-prone people. And, if I’m being honest, I’m basically the poster-child for anxiety-driven procrastination. I love a good distraction because sometimes it can be so hard to send that pitch or update my site or write a freaking blog post. Of course, a day of procrastination is a day wasted. And that wreaks havoc on my mindset in general.

It was clear early on that I needed to find ways to make it psychologically and physiologically easier to get tasks done. This is beyond making a to-do list and prioritizing tasks. This is about giving myself the best possible conditions to thrive.

So weird as they may seem (some aren’t that weird) here are strategies I use on the regular to keep spirits high and fingers typing.

1. Listening to ASMR on YouTube

Okay, let’s start with the weirdest one first.

I think by now we’ve all at least heard of this strange phenomenon: people whispering and making soft sounds into a microphone will make your head tingle. It seems like a really weird thing to listen to, but hear me out.

I get distracted easily. My mind wanders frequently, which has been a blessing in many ways but also poses an obstacle to my work and a threat to my business. I’ve used ambient noises, classical music, and what I can only describe as spa music. These have all worked, and I do continue to use them all, but…

ASMR works better than anything else I’ve tried.  

You may have guessed that I have an anxiety problem (i.s. I probably told you already). At one point the problem was so debilitating, I couldn’t drive for fear of getting a panic attack. Almost anything can set me off. Although I have developed some seriously time-saving coping techniques* when it comes to the fear of putting myself “out there” as a writer? It easily becomes messy given the chance.

The thought goblins come together at full force to remind me how absolutely untalented I am. It sucks. It wastes my time. One of the ways I prevent the thought goblins from ruining my day and toppling my mindset is by listening to things that relax me while I write.

I have a playlist of videos of “no talking” videos that are close to the 20-minute mark. This provides me with a sort of timer to remind me to stretch and move around.

2. Get Up & Move

A few years ago a study came out and caught fire. Its claims about the danger of a sedentary lifestyle minced no words. Basically: it’s bad for you to sit still all day. Period. Their recommendation was to get up around move around every twenty minutes.

The popularity of the study convinced many to purchase standing desks or to swap their chairs for yoga balls. But, physical health isn’t the only major benefit. Your attention span will also thank you—because it works naturally with your brain’s natural ability to pay attention to one thing.

Ever heard that the average person’s attention is roughly 20 minutes?

* 20 minutes *

But it’s not 20 minutes because we can’t pay attention. It’s not because there is something wrong with us. As Alejandro Lleras, a research psychologist at the University of Illinois, says “you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not a problem.”

The problem is that our brains get bored with a task after about 20 minutes. Hence the popularity of the Pomodoro Technique and apps like Tide. (I really love Tide, btw).

So, I get up about every twenty to thirty minutes to refresh my brain, do a random household chore, and stretch. As an added bonus I suffer less from stiffness and body pain, while keeping a clean home.

But somedays a five minute break just isn’t enough.

3. Taking a Nap

Somedays, I burn out more easily than others. Usually, it’s because I didn’t sleep enough the night before. When that midafternoon slump starts to hit me and I feel droopy, I know that a nap is the best cure.

Sleeping on the job may sound like a real waste of time. Especially in a culture that equates hard work (and being overworked) with intrinsic value. But it’s absolutely key to keeping my brain fresh.  

As a writer, not only do I write a lot, but I read a lot. I draft and work on several projects at the same time. And don’t forget that in addition to my writing business, I also write as an artist. I have to make considerations about submissions, pitches, line-breaks, blogging, marketing—all  of these tasks require different mindsets.

They also require bandwidth. The best way for me to keep that bandwidth running at top speeds is to ensure my brain is well-rested. And the only way to do that is to actually rest.

I set a timer on my phone, which calms any anxiety associated with, “but what if I sleep all day!” When I hit start, I easily slip into sleep mode—of course, this is years into being a nap-regular and practicing yoga. For others, napping may be really difficult at first.

With time, you will become accustomed to it. You might consider an ultra-calming guided meditation to begin. I highly recommend giving it a try (and I would love to know if you do give it a try!)

4. A Two Hour Lunch Break

That being said, I don’t need to nap every day. I’ve been blessed with an undue amount of energy (keeps me up and anxious). If I’ve slept well the night before, I usually don’t get the midday sleepies.

But, I never work the day through like I once did in my 9 to 5.

Back then, I returned home generally too cross-eyed to read—a large reason why, for much of my working career, I’ve tried to leave my mornings open for my writing—and generally feeling like a sack of potatoes.  

Nowadays, it’s a matter of getting to my desk by nine and completing my most important tasks by 1 o’clock. Currently, this means writing for clients or my blog. Then my break followed by three to four hours of work that’s less creativity-dependent, like revision, media planning.

During my break, I can read and relax, go for a hike, take a nap, pet the cat, go grocery shopping. Basically, anything that can be done in less than two hours. Once the break goes beyond that mark, I find it exceedingly difficult to return to my desk.

5. Sip Something

The truth behind this one is that I am a smoker. I don’t smoke anymore (tbh: for now) but I loved smoking. I mean, I loved everything about smoking except smelling like an ashtray. It was key to my productivity in college—a period of time where I worked two jobs to stay afloat.

I’d work for an hour and then take a smoking break. It’s where my best ideas came to me. All the better if I could smoke on a roof. I rolled my own cigarettes. There was a lot of ritual involved.

But, smoking is terrible for the lungs. And I don’t have great lungs to begin with. So, now

I sip tea.  

Tea solves a lot of problems. It’s hydrating, provides antioxidants, and there is a ritual. I love rituals. Plus, it comes in so many flavors that I can’t get board.

Oh, I also drink a lot of coffee, too. I just have to be careful about caffiene.

If you’re trying to cut back on smoking, I’d give tea-substitution a try. There’s nothing like taking a victory sip after finishing that email or a perfect sentence.

6. Wrap Party aka Look for Something to Celebrate

This one took forever for me to really put into practice. I used to think to myself, what you did today didn’t really warrant a celebration. But now I know that taking a moment for some self-support, especially to say thank you to myself, is a small action with a HUGE impact.

Why shouldn’t I be grateful that I showed up? Why shouldn’t I be proud of my efforts? Why shouldn’t any of us allow ourselves to be inspired by our own courage, action, and resiliency?

I’m not talking about self-delusion; I’m talking about self-encouragement. Self-encouragement is my secret to ending a cycle that looks like this:

I love when I check things off my to-do list, but sometimes the day doesn’t unfold the way I wanted. And I needed to develop the humility to deal with this sort of ‘loss’ instead of consuming myself with thoughts of self-doubt.  

One of the ways I transform this situation into something motivational is to:

  1. Look for what I did well and celebrate it. Every day I know there is at least one thing I did right. I discover what that is—if I can make a list, all the better. And I thank myself for making that effort.
  2. Find the opportunity. I try to figure out where I went wrong when I didn’t check the box. Usually, it’s a case of procrastination (fear) or overwhelm (too big a task). These are areas of opportunity for improvement.
  3. Plan for success. Once I discover the opportunity for improvement, I make a plan to work new strategies into my life to avoid a failure in the future.

A good thing to remember is that we never really run out of opportunities. There is always a next level we can aim for once we’ve mastered the level we’re at now.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed that basically everything on this list is as much self-care as it is “productivity hack.” That’s definitely by design. I firmly believe that self-care is the path to accomplishing anything great.

I also recognize that for many of us, offering ourselves some care and kindness can be shockingly difficult. It was for me! Yet, with time and humility—and plenty of IDGAF about the how—I have been able to develop plenty of ways to keep productivity up and spirits high.   

What do you think? Is self-care part of your productivity? Let me know below.

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* I have had the help of several amazing therapists over the years. I encourage anyone to seek the counsel of a therapist, especially if you have a history of anxiety, depression, or trauma. Zoc Doc and Psychology Today have many listings to choose from.

How to Keep a Positive Mindset While Pursuing Big Goals

A freelancing friend texted me the other day, “So much on my to-do list, but I’m wallowing in my own inadequacies again!” Like me, she’s had a lot of trouble maintaining a positive mindset as she pursues bigger goals with her business. So we contact each other when we hit a mental block and offer each other support.

The thing is that taking on big goals is scary as hell. Especially when thought gremlins start telling you that everyone else has it figured out while you’re lagging behind. Broken and woefully inadequate.

But you don’t have to be consumed by negative thoughts. I should know. After years of struggling with self-advocacy and self-esteem, I’ve developed several strategies to change my mindset and get things done.

Below, I outling six tips I use to cut down on wallowing time and even avoid the wallow altogether.

Accept where you are right now

The first step to real change is to start where you are. Accept that everything is a process. Whether you’re at the start or in the middle of trying to accomplish a goal, you need to embrace that nothing happens overnight. Success happens because of a series of actions you take to get you closer to your goal.

If you haven’t already, identify your goal. Maybe you want to get out of debt, make new friends, or change careers. Maybe you feel “fine” but you want more from your life. You may want to change a negative behavior or build a new skill or make it to the next level.

Now, ask yourself where you are right now in relation to that goal. This isn’t the time to rage with harsh self-criticism. This is the time to be open with yourself. If hard numbers are involved, be sure to write them down.

Be honest, but stay emotionally neutral. Refrain as best you can from taking your findings and turning them into your self-worth. The point of this exercise is to assess where you are so that you can create a game plan to get to the next place.

If you already have a plan in place, your reflections will help you tend to that plan and make adjustments if necessary.  

Put self-care at the top of your priority list

When I started writing full time, I quickly realized that there are absolute physical limitations on my ability to write. And I don’t mean words per minute.

I found that if I was sleepy, my writing process slowed to a trickle. If my body hurt from sitting too much or bad posture, I was unable to concentrate for longer than a few minutes at a time. If I wasn’t mentally calm, I couldn’t focus on anything.

I needed to bump sleeping, exercise/stretching, and nutrition to higher priority levels. My brother, a tanker in the military, likes to quote a cavalry proverb, “feed your horse first.”

In this case, my brain and body were the horse. Sure, I could sleep like shit and eat like shit, but then I’d write like shit. So I set boundaries. If I am tired, I rest. When my body starts to hurt, I get up and stretch. I stretch before bed as well, and I make sure I get a full night’s rest.

I promise that if you make your self-care a top priority, there will be a trickle-down benefits for you. But again, when approaching how to set yourself up for success, refrain from turning your findings into reasons why you’re not enough.

Imagine your success in full color

Success doesn’t come by chance. People who reach their goals get them by accepting the hard work has to be done, and they are the one to do it. But to understand what tasks lie ahead, they also need to understand what the end of the road actually looks like.

If you can see the destination, you can find the road map.

Additionally, if you can visualize yourself in that successful place, you can combat the negative voices telling you that you don’t belong there. Just be careful not to get too carried away by the fantasy. This is for motivational purposes, not to distract you from taking chances.

Change the inner narrative

What inner dialogue is holding you back? How do you treat yourself within the confines of your mind? If you’re reading this, then I’m going to imagine it’s similar to me. Here are some common, but problematic inner narratives:

  • I’m not worth it.
  • I’m such a poser and everyone will know.
  • When I inevitably fail, I’ll never recover.
  • No one will want to be my friend after this.
  • I don’t deserve to get what I want.
  • No one wants to hear/see/work with me.

These kinds of thoughts don’t go away overnight. They’re a habit our minds engage with because, even if it hurts us, these beliefs keep us “safe.”

Now, I’m not saying that they actually keep us out of harm’s way. In fact, they harm us a lot more than they help. However, the reason we hold onto them is that we are trying to avoid pain altogether.

When you feel a breakdown of spirit coming on, pretend you’re on fire.  

Stop: pause all self-flagellating thoughts for at least a minute. Just set a timer, breath, and politely dismiss all thoughts that aren’t “in 2,3,4 out 2,3,4”

Drop: give yourself permission to let go of those ideas. If this is an acute problem, you may want to actually give yourself permission to think those things for 2 minutes, setting a timer, and at the sound of a bell, let it go. However you have to do it, get to a point where you can let those thoughts go.

Roll: Reframe your negative thoughts into something helpful and roll with it.

Get your support network together

It’s hard to offer yourself encouragement during a setback or a period of wallowing. You’ll need to get your cheerleaders and your mentors together to offer you support and encouragement when you can’t do so. Your parent, teachers, bosses, besties, and even strangers on the internet can offer support.

Reach out to your network regularly. This will help you stay motivated, and the inevitable giving back you will do will give you a sense of purpose and community. Win/Win.

I also want to note that if any of these sources of support are actually not sources of support — if your mom is the kind who might subtly put you down, your friend’s blame their problems on others, your facebook group is full of spammy self-promoters, and you don’t have a mentor.

Well.

You need to find someone else. Join a different facebook group. Attend networking events. Get out there like your life depends on it. Because in many ways it does. If you’re on the fence about whether or not a loved one is supportive ask yourself this question:

After speaking with X do I feel:

  1. Energized and ready to push further.
  2. More informed and clear about what I’m trying to do.
  3. Like the goals I wanted to achieve are actually kind of stupid.
  4. Like I don’t have the X to achieve my goals.

If your answer is A or B, your loved one is a source of support. If your answer is C or D, your loved one is not a source of support. Whether you want to continue a relationship with an unsupportive person is up to you. But I advise that, if you can, cut ties with people who actively undermine your sense of self.

That also goes for people so wrapped up in their own lives that you’re constantly offering them support without getting any support in return. Life isn’t tit-for-tat, and sometimes your loved one is going to need your support waaaaay more than you will need there’s. But, if their life is always in shambles, proceed with extreme caution.

Okay? Okay. End of rant.

(Re)Frame the Game

Lastly, it’s time to check back in with your goal planning. (Again) if you haven’t actually explored what goals you’re focusing on and how you will accomplish them, then you need to add that task to the top of your to-do list. If you have a plan in place, now is a great time to assess your plan.

A word of caution, though. While goals to occasionally need a good tweaking,they also need to be worked through. If you are in a trap of constantly altering your goals, you need to address that. I’ve been known to work toward something for a few days, only to abandon the strategy in the middle of its process.

You can’t get anywhere if you keep stopping.

However, you may need to assess if your goal planning is getting you the results you want. That’s why it’s so important to think in the long and short term. I break my goals down to the daily actions I need to make. This way, I actually have something to assess when looking at my progress.

If I’m coming up short, chances are something about my daily to-do list needs to change.

Big Picture

For many of us, fear and shame seem to rule our lives. I know that these two ruled my career for years. I know so many people who have refrained from asking for that promotion, refrained from moving somewhere they love, even refrained from dating due to the self-limiting behavior of wallowing in their own inadequacy.

But none of us have to be chained by negative self-talk. And none of us deserve that sort of treatment.

In fact, if we can approach our wallowing with positive coping, we can cut our wallowing time in half. And someday, eliminate it altogether.

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Do you have any tips for building and maintaining a positive mindset? Please share below!