By Kel Weinhold
After falling into the kind of writing “hiatus” I have coached thousands of people out of, I am taking my own advice and getting back on track with my once-upon-a-time weekly productivity column.
The way to get back to writing is to do just that: Start writing.
But for coaching purposes, I want to explore why I stopped writing and how my reasons offer only as much value as excuses ever do: To learn how not to do it again.
So, why did I stop writing my column?
Partly, I stopped writing because I didn’t adjust my expectations to my changing reality. At the time I started it, a weekly column was totally doable. And it clearly was for the length of time that I managed it. But when travel and life… and life …and life… made it no longer realistic, I didn’t adjust. The first time I missed a week I wrote two to catch up, back filling the dates I missed (which technology allows you to do) so it looked like a weekly column. But backdating only covers the past. It doesn’t deal with the present. And the present reality (at that time) was that I did not have the bandwidth to write every week.
In response, all I had to do was to shift to every couple of weeks or once a month, and let that be enough.
What I did instead was keep trying to meet an unrealistic goal, miss it and fall further “behind” my imagined reality.
The lesson here, children: Face reality. Set goals based on reality. If your reality changes, change your damn goals!
This leads to the next reason I stopped writing: I succumbed to all or nothing thinking. I wasn’t writing every week so clearly the whole thing was a bust. The only choice: quit the column altogether. Yes, I see how ridiculous that sounds. Believe me, as a productivity coach, I know! I can see now that every couple of weeks, every month or even once per quarter over the past couple of years would have resulted in more columns than what my all or nothing thinking eventually produced.
The lesson here, children: Some is better than none. I could have published once a month and had 23% more published than the 0% I have now. Every number between 1% and 100% is a positive number. So take the 1% “W” (that’s “Win” for those of you who aren’t into sports).
Also, I stopped because I got too concerned about people’s responses to what I wrote. It’s actually kind of funny. Blogging seems so easy, compared to peer reviewed publication. But when you control the medium of publication, the bar for what is “publishable” is set by you. (I would add that I ask Karen to edit everything I write, and if you have worked with her you know that is no small ego test, so it’s not exactly a slam dunk. But even so, ultimately, I decide.)
Which means, Karen or no Karen, I don’t really have that extra comfort that you get from having your work vetted and “accepted” by others before publication. My assessment comes only after the work is in the public eye. And, let’s face it, in a world of hot takes, my gentle reminders to “be realistic” and “make small consistent changes” are not necessarily the stuff of viral posts. Combine that with my tendency to second guess every third idea and whether it is valuable, and it’s easy to find reasons not to put myself out there.
Don’t get me wrong. I know my coaching is valuable. I hear from people in Unstuck all of the time about the life-altering changes they make because of the program. What I am saying is that when you operate in social media frenzy of likes and dislikes, it is easy to lose sight of your goals. So, I let comparison (the thief of joy) dampen my enthusiasm, and my motivation waned.
The lesson here, children: Approval is a dangerous drug and external motivation will ultimately fail you. If you count on them, at some point, they will disappear and you will slowly empty of enthusiasm like a leaking balloon.
But these three lessons are just lead ups to the actual learning outcome for this post: No matter where you go, there you are. No matter how much you look outside yourself for reasons for not writing, in the end, the reason is you.
Take a deep breath.
This is not your chance to take the easy way out. So often when we make a mistake, we fall into a trance of shame, and dive face-first down the self-loathing luge, wailing, “I am terrible!” all the while refusing to do the hard work of looking at why it happened.
It’s like when you try to tell somebody that something they did was a problem and they immediately go to “I’m a terrible person. I never do anything right!” There’s no engagement with the actual issue in that, and you are left with the very frustrating realization that there was no real accountability offered.
So crawl up off that sled, step away from the shame luge and ask: “Where was I complicit in the breaking of my promise to myself?”
Take your time. Make a list.
Look for the moment that you chose to act against your intentions. Explore why you allowed it. And start making plans how to avoid the same response in the future.
I’ll be right there with you.