Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.
Steven Pressfield (The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle)

I just finished reading Steven Pressfield’s The War Of Art that my husband had acquired for our Kindle. (The great thing about having a creative spouse is that I don’t have to get all the here’s-how-to-be-better -literature myself. 😉 ) The book deals with our inner Resistance and gives pointers about how to overcome it.

I didn’t read the book the first time I laid eyes on it because of the whole war analogy in the title. Fortunately, there’s not as much in terms of crushing and beating and violent self-mastery as I was expecting. It’s more along the lines of recognition and necessary precautions. In that sense, it reminds me of Havi’s concept of Monsters, although Havi does have a lot softer approach.

At this moment, the most useful part of the book for me was the insight into recognizing Resistance. Because lemme tell ya, it’s sneaky.

Thesis Resistance

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.
(The War Of Art) 

Come on, you’re practically finished with your analysis. You deserve a break. How about, say, a week? Two weeks? Because you need to let your thoughts percolate before you start writing.

And besides, the categories you are using are pretty inane anyway. See, there are mostly appearances of this one single category. Why would this be interesting to anyone? You’re wasting your time trudging through the analysis, when you could be doing something much more productive and interesting.

You know, there’s really no guarantee that the analysis you’ve done so far is any good. You’re, what, labeling sentences with different categories? How can you be sure that you are using the right criteria for the labels? You really should go back and redo the whole thing, just to be sure. See, another label that you had to change when doing a whole different iteration? How much more proof do you need that you are really not doing this properly?

And even if you do get the labels even ballpark correctly, you still need to find the theory to back it up. Have you been able to do that? No, didn’t think so. It’ll take you hours upon hours of library time, and when will you ever find that, what with the babysitting duties and everything.

You will never. Ever. Ever. Get this done properly. Ever. So why even bother?

Shiva Nata teaching resistance

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
(The War Of Art)  

Sure, go ahead, teach Shiva Nata. See if I care. That is, if you can find a single person who wants to learn it. You know how hard it is, and you have trouble keeping up a practice yourself. What are the chances that there are enough people in Finland to warrant one single class of Shiva Nata, let alone a several?

And even if you could find enough people who want to learn it, and enough people who want to sustain the practice, why do you imagine anyone wanting to pay you money for it? There’s a perfectly good DVD they can buy and learn on their own. It’s cheaper, it’s more comprehensive, and it’s done by someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

Where do you come off telling people you know Shiva Nata? It’s not like you’re any good at it, since there’s no such thing as being good at Shiva Nata. You keep picking it up and forgetting all about it – how on earth could you encourage anyone else to sustain the practice?

Because if people do not pick it up after you teach it to them, you have failed. As a teacher, and consequently as a human being. It’s your responsibility to make everyone in this world realize what is in their best interest, and then lead them, step by step, holding their hand, into that magical land of Everything Is Perfect So Nothing Needs To Change.

Whereas if you fail, people have to take responsibility for their own life, their own learning, and their own happiness. And you have to live without that sense of control, and the sense of approval that comes from grateful students.

Resistance to being a Teacher

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.
(The War Of Art)  

Teaching in an of itself? No problem. Have been doing it for years. That is, if we’re talking about the act of planning a lesson from predetermined content, getting up in front of a group, and delivering that lesson.

Becoming an English teacher? No problem. Give me a grammar book and a copy of the National Core Curriculum and I’m golden. When I know where the pupils are in terms of their skills, I can craft a lesson that more or less hits the Vygotskian Zone of Proximal Development where sociocultural learning happens.

Becoming a drama teacher? Yikes.

First of all, I’d have to relinquish control of much of the content of the lesson. I’d have to get better at creating the scaffolds that enable the learning. I’d have to take a risk and plunge into the unknown every single working day, every single lesson. It’s either that or I’m playing it safe and denying the pupils their right to learning.

Becoming a Shiva Nata teacher? Geesh.

I’d have to craft a progression of things to teach, and maintain a more challenging personal practice instead of the dabbling I do now. I’d have to get over the preconception that only yoga teachers can teach Shiva Nata. I’d have to admit to myself and the world that yes, I am actually highly intelligent and that is one of the reasons Shiva Nata appeals to me – and one of the reasons that it might not appeal to everyone I meet.

In general, I’d have to accept that to be a Teacher (instead of just teaching something), I will be teaching something that is not already in a book or a manual. I’ll be looking to myself, my own skills and world view, to help my students view the world in a new way. I’ll have to trust that I am an open-minded individual who will not impose their own limitations to their pupils. I’ll have to work to become an even more open-minded individual.

And that, my friends, is almost too scary for words. No wonder I’m going through a wild Resistance rampage as I’m working on my thesis, since it largely revolves around my drama teacher identity.

I can see you now, Resistance. There you are. Holding my biggest fears on a leash, urging them on to tear me apart.

Letting go of Resistance

Funnily enough, two days before I read The War Of Art, I reread a part of The Sedona Method book that deals with letting go of resistance (with a small initial, since it was not personified there). Apparently it’s a theme that I need to be dealing with.

The process that most struck me was that of letting go of resistance to both X and not X. Since if you’re resisting X, you’re probably also resisting not X, or there would be no resistance, just movement to a certain direction.

Case in point: my bedtime.

I didn’t really manage to make any progress in terms of getting to bed earlier, until I found the chapter on letting go of resistance. Here’s what happened.

I was reading the book at 10.30 p.m., so I was acutely in the middle of some resistance.

My resistance to going to bed sounded something like this: “But the book is really really interesting, and besides, when are you ever going to find time to read it if you go to bed now? You know you want to keep reading, and you deserve this time for yourself! You work so hard during the day, with the baby and with your thesis, so come on, relax a bit!”

My resistance to not going to bed, however, sounded like this: “You’re really tired. You should put the book down and stop procrastinating on your bedtime. The longer you stretch the decision to go to bed, the worse you’ll feel tomorrow and the more you’ll beat yourself up. Besides, if you don’t sleep, you won’t have the energy to hang out with the baby tomorrow, and you’ll just feel like a bad mother.”

You can imagine the two aspects of resistance having this discussion until midnight – as has often been the case.

However, when I first welcomed and let go of the resistance to going to bed, and then welcomed and let go of the resistance to not going to bed, I could make the decision based on my actual feelings. And since after the letting go process I almost fell asleep on the couch, the decision was a no-brainer.

So maybe the next step, after clearing out the resistance on my thesis, is to dive into the whole Being A Teacher Conundrum and clear out my resistance to being one and to not being one. Again and again.

Thank you so much for coming over and reading again! I hope this is helpful, in case you are feeling a degree of Resistance towards something. 🙂 And as always, keep catching your own insightings!



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Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.
George Herbert

I’ve been battling with a lot of seemingly unrelated issues lately. On the one hand, there’s my deep-rooted procrastination about my MA thesis. My favorite means of procrastination has been hanging out on message boards, reading more than contributing. And then there’s my Shiva Nata in Finland project that’s been hovering at the edge of my active attention for a while now.

All of these issues share an element of being seen and watched. There’s the online presence I’m creating while participating in the message board culture, and a big part of that is noticing how others see me. I feel the need to contribute, either by asking questions or sharing knowledge, rather than just to agree with others using silly smileys. I need to feel Useful.

The Shiva Nata in Finland project is currently me trying to figure out a context in which I could teach Shiva Nata in Helsinki. To my knowledge, there aren’t that many Shivanauts in Finland. This means that I need to find enough people who are willing to give it a go and a venue to teach in – not to mention figure out a feasible mode of teaching. This would mean telling people that I’ve got this great thing and how would you like to be a part of it. Scary stuff.

The latest addition to this whole Vortex of the Terror of Being Seen came today, when I finally cracked open my thesis files again. My seminar paper is due in two weeks, and the next step towards that goal is to transcribe a section of my data – a videotape of me teaching a lesson.

“Dude. Seriously. Lame.”

The realization of the Vortex actually came a few days ago. I was trying to figure out why I suddenly felt the urge to purchase something that I don’t really need but that’s a Limited Edition Item that Everyone Is Bound to Want. I dug around the problem by journaling, and discovered a deep-rooted belief that I have:

“Unless I’m interesting or useful, I’m an embarrassing nuisance.”

Hmm. That’s interesting.

By having an interesting Limited Edition item, I myself would become interesting by association. With Shiva Nata, I would have to convince others that the practice is both interesting and useful, and so I would become interesting and useful by association.

The worst case scenario with either of these would be for me to show up and get greeted by evasive looks and an embarrassed “This was what you had for us? …Umm, it’s not even close to what we were hoping for. Maybe it’s best if you just go home.” My worst social nightmare is to be perceived as an embarrassing wannabe hangaround that no-one has the heart to get rid of.

Which brings us to an interesting point about my thesis procrastination.

My data, as I’ve already mentioned, consists mainly of a videotaped lesson where I navigate a group of teenagers through a drama process. The teenagers were new to the genre, and since teenagers are the undisputed kings and queens of the eye roll when they’re not one hundred per cent sure about a situation, there was much eye rolling to be had. It’s an understandable defense mechanism, and since the teenagers did participate and put in an effort, it didn’t damage the process too heavily. It was caught on tape, though.

And as I watch the tape, all of the embarrassed glances seem to be aimed straight at me, like daggers.

My brain knows that the thing I perceive as embarrassment is strictly, purely and only a characteristic of the participants who are feeling unsure of their footing. After all, there’s a new type of activity with a not-yet-familiar teacher, outsider spectators and video cameras. I mean, I’d be pretty insecure, too.

The part of me that holds on to the belief of me being first and foremost a nuisance, though, is going bonkers with this huge pile of evidence. “See? See?! I’m right! I’m one hundred per cent right and there’s a video to prove it! Ha! I knew it!” There’s a little goblin with a pitchfork tail running around, waving its hands, and bouncing around. Kind of hard to ignore.

A short recap. In order to work on my thesis, I have to transcribe 75 minutes of what is effectively a live enactment of my worst social nightmare.

Geez, wonder why I’m procrastinating? 🙂

The dilemma of being seen

What’s difficult about this fear of being seen is its twin, the desperate need to be seen. Eye contact alone is hugely important in relationships. When raising children, the best thing you can do is give them your uninterrupted attention, complete with eye contact, several times a day.

When I was starting out as a kids’ group counselor as a teenager, our course leader advised us to seek eye contact during roll call. Whenever we’d say someone’s name and they’d answer, we were to really notice the answer and the person by maintaining eye contact for a few seconds before moving on. I’ve been on the receiving end of this policy and it makes a world of difference.

Being seen, being watched, is a vulnerable state, though. Maintaining eye contact can be a high status marker, and high status is linked to power. When you’re being watched, someone is using power over you. That’s why it’s so difficult to go on stage thinking that there will be an audience. Waiting for an audience reaction is like standing against a wall blindfolded and trying to guess whether the guns shoot bullets or “Bang!” flags.

One useful solution to this problem is to put on a different role. Actors do this as a part of their profession, but other performing jobs do require some kind of role protection. There is the role protection of the uniform – a police officer in uniform is first and foremost a police officer, not Jake, except among his peers. The same goes for clergy members, store clerks, and other professions where you represent your position, not your personality.

Teachers don’t have uniforms, at least not in the Finnish educational system. The role protection must be an inch deeper, in the behavior of the teacher. I’ve been very happy with the way I’ve grafted my Teacher Me, a character who can maintain discipline and create a warm ambiance in the classroom, who is reliable and inspiring. And, most importantly, who deflects all kinds of status threats effortlessly.

The problem with the thesis data, however, is that it’s not my Teacher Me doing the transcription. It’s Student Me, and she’s completely unprotected from the eye-rolling power of the teenagers. She does not have the shield of experience on her side like Teacher Me has, and the “You’re a nuisance!” goblin has a clear shot whenever it pleases.

This is what I fear with the social circle around the Limited Edition and the Shiva Nata in Finland project. If they see me the wrong way, they’ll want nothing to do with me. If I just show up, plain old Me, no interesting gadgetry or sacrificial usefulness, they’ll see I’m an embarrassing nuisance.

And if I feel I’m seen the wrong way, I feel the need to quickly create a barrier against the Nuisance Goblin. When I do that, I lose contact with myself, and with that I lose any potential of creating actual human contacts.

I wish there was an elegant, sophisticated solution to this problem, other than Shiva Nata and journaling, followed by Shiva Nata and some more journaling. But at least now the Nuisance Goblin has been brought to my attention, and I can start negotiations so as to not have it running around in my head anymore. This has also been an exercise in letting myself be seen, warts and all.

Thank you for stopping by, and for lending your proverbial ear and eye. If any of this sparks any ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments. Until next time – keep catching your own insightings!



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Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.

Background: I’m Finnish. Stereotypically, Finns only speak when there is something so important to say they just can’t bear the silence anymore. Continuing with the stereotype, a Finnish form of small talk is sitting in a circle (or a line, better yet) and silently nodding without eye contact.

I’m a relatively outgoing and talkative Finn – some might even call me social. 🙂 I’ve noticed, though, that there is something about the written nature of online communication that reduces me to a stereotypical, silent Finn. To me, that’s something worth exploring.

Silence is golden and all that

I’ve noticed this behavior in myself on Twitter, on Facebook, or when reading other people’s blogs. I even do it on my own blog every once in a while. I come up with a thought about something, I start writing, and halfway through my text a small inner critic crawls out of its cave:

“You don’t honestly think they’d want to read that?”

And then I really really have to consider whether or not this is just a random tidbit or if it’s something that Truly Provides Value.

Providing Value was something I really struggled with before I started my blog. I wanted to start writing way before Insightings ever went live, but I wanted to create something that would really have some kind of a focus.

There are a million and one blogs online. At least half of them (it seemed when I was starting out) offer advice on how to create a great blog. Rule one:  provide value. Don’t rehash content. Have a focus.

You can imagine how that created performance anxiety for a perfectionist.

Same thing with commenting on other people’s blogs. I still do it: I read an entry, love it to bits, and just before I scroll down to the comments box the critic jumps up again:

“You honestly think you can contribute?”

Most of the time, my unposted comments are along the lines of “nice post, enjoyed reading it, have had similar experiences myself.”  Not really contributing to the conversation, is it? (That’s my inner critic snarking away.)

Even scarier than the thought of not contributing, though, is the thought of downright spamming people’s comment threads. It doesn’t matter that I know my own intentions to be pure, I’m afraid my “nice post, thanks” -comments will flood the Internet and get me eternally banned from all of the cool blogs I love reading.

Getting to the root of the phobia

Just now, inspired by the fact that I’ve dug out this fear (dressed as the critic) out of its hole, I’ll follow in the footsteps of so many great bloggers (Havi, Joely, and James, to mention a few) and have a real heart-to-heart with my fear. I haven’t done this before, so let’s see how it goes. 🙂

Me: Hi, you must be my fear-of-getting-banned-from-the-internet, right

Critic / fear: Umm, yeah. You caught me. (trying to hide behind itself)

Me: Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you or drive you away. I just want to know what your job is.

Fear: My job is to stop you before you make a fool of yourself online and accidentally reveal who you really are.

Me: I see. What do you think would happen if I revealed who I really am?

Fear: I don’t know. They might see that you’re not really smart, that you just think really hard before you say something.

Me: Okay. You’re saying that people might notice I’m not really smart?

Fear: Yes.

Me: But I am smart. You know that, I know that. If I say something silly, it doesn’t instantly make me less smart. Or do you disagree?

Fear: Well… no. But people might not like you if you’re not smart all the time.

Me: Oh, honey. You want me to be safe from not being liked, is that it?

Fear: Yeah, kind of.

Me: Could we figure out some way to make sure I remind myself that people really do like me, smart or not, so you wouldn’t need to censor my online writing?

Fear: I guess we could…

And with that, the fear went away. Curiously, it took with it the need for reassurance as well. I tried to think of a way to remind myself that people like me, and I couldn’t come up with anything that would’ve made me feel any better – because the need was gone.


Let’s see how this conversation channels into my online presence.

If any of this sparked any ideas, have a quick heart-to-heart with your own inner critic, and if you feel safe enough, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.

And as always, keep catching your own insightings!



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The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.

Shiva Nata is wonderful and inspiring. It’s also hugely difficult, frustrating and scary. Since I’ve had some stucknesses with my “practice” during the past few weeks, I’m going to share some of them here. My hope is that a) someone struggling with similar problems will notice they’re not alone with it, and b) I’d get some wonderful insighting about what to do.

I mean, I know what to do. Make it more difficult. Challenge yourself. Get completely lost in the pattern. Not rocket science (at least not that part).

For a hugely more in-depth Shiva Nata progress reportage, it’s worthwhile to visit James at Adventures of a Shivanaut – his vivid description of learning Shiva Nata has inspired me more times than I can remember. 🙂

Letting go of control

In Shiva Nata, the key is to push yourself to and beyond the limit where you completely mess up and make a fool of yourself. At least that’s what you need to do if you want to enjoy the fireworks of insightings flowing into your brain.

For me, the difficult part is that you need to let yourself go past the point where you know what you’re doing. The healthy, happy control freak who up until recently used to rule my life is not letting go that easily.

Whenever I don’t know what I’m doing, I freeze until I can figure out the next movement. I guess the more insighting-inspiring way of doing it would be to keep going and find yourself lost, but there is a strong resistance to that.

As I’m writing this, it reminds me of the blocks people often have with impro. When you’re in a sticky impro situation that promises conflict or other difficulties, the first instinct is to deflect the action, start talking about something else, or bring in a whole new storyline. In other words, to avoid the danger.

On one hand, it makes perfect sense, since we normally want to avoid conflict and difficulties. In impro, though, conflict and tension is what makes the drama interesting. In Shiva Nata, the difficulties are what makes the practice work.

And in both these situations, there is no actual real danger. Any danger or difficulty is imagined and perceived. You could argue that this is true in real life as well, but it is certainly the case in imagined dramatic worlds and a brain developing practice where the goal is to fail.

No real danger.

[taking a moment to reread what I wrote and realizing I might actually be making sense here.]

Thank you for stopping by – keep catching your own insightings!



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Why should I go into details, we have nothing that is not perishable except what our hearts and our intellects endows us with.

So my hard drive called it quits on Saturday. My darling tech-savvy fiancé did everything he could, but unfortunately the data is apparently beyond restoration, at least in any DIY manner. My last incomplete backup was from October. Let’s just say there was a lot of data I’ll probably never get back.


But not in vain, I hope. After finding, buying, installing and formatting a new hard drive, and after five hours of installing, I actually have a functioning, albeit quite empty, computer at my disposal again. And all during the weekend, I kept having these little *ding* *ding* insightings that relate to this whole crash. At least I’m learning. 🙂

Way to ignore your intuition, bonehead!

This is what my intuition kept yelling at me all through Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t get offended, because it was right, of course.

I’d just switched computers two or three days earlier, transfering all my data from one hard drive to another by cable. There were at least three separate occasions when I remember thinking to myself, “I should really do a backup one of these days,” and following up with “Nah, I’ll get to it tomorrow.”

Before this, I hadn’t given a second thought to backing up my files for months – as is probably evident  from the fact that the last backup was ancient.

Remembering this made me even more intent on listening to my gut feelings, and possibly even making physical notes about things I have to do. You know, in addition to the mental ones I kept making and then forgetting.


When my computer stopped responding, I called out to my fiancé to come and help me. He did a bit of online research, asked me a few questions about what I had been doing the moment the computer started beachballing me (browsing a discussion forum, in fact – nothing extremely demanding), and then said “I’m afraid I might have bad news.”

Me, jokingly: “What, like, all my files are gone or something?”

Fiancé: “Yeah, it looks like that’s the case.”

Me: “Oh.”

And then I waited for the huge emotional reaction. You know, of rage, of disappointment, of grief.

And waited.

And waited.

And it never came.

Fiancé: “I feel really bad for you.”

Me: “I do too, I guess.”

Even when I started to go over all the stuff I had on my hard drive that hadn’t been saved – my schoolwork from the past four months save for a few files I’d worked on at the uni, my music, my photos, my wedding planning files, my e-books and mp3-audiobooks – I still didn’t get the panic reaction. I still haven’t, and it’s been two days.

Two possible reasons for this:

One, I’m still in shock, and will break down crying two months from now.

Two, and the one I consider more probable, I know I’m going to live.

Of course I’m annoyed at myself for not backing up my work. Since there’s no-one else to blame, though, I chose to not reprimand myself over and over again for this. I’ll just feel worse and it wouldn’t help anyway. The more useful way to cope with this is to consciously start creating a habit of backing up my stuff every day.

What’s even more important is that what I lost was information and effort, nothing more. Sure, information and effort are important, and I would probably be more frazzled if I had lost e.g. a week’s worth of billable work due tomorrow. The most important thing, though, is that no-one died. No-one was injured. No-one had to give up their home or livelihood because of my mistake.

Realizing this made me really happy, since it means I’m moving towards having reactions that are actually congruent with my values. Losing all that information, money and effort doesn’t bother me as much as it could, since those things are not at the top five of my list of values.

Things you can do something about

All this got me thinking about loss and ephemerality. There are some things we lose in life that we can’t really help. Others, like the contents of my hard drive, can be saved with a bit of time and effort before they disappear completely.

Which is why I finally decided to send an email to a friend I’ve been thinking about a lot. All through this fall, I’ve been pondering about whether or not to contact him and tell him that I’d really enjoy it if we could go out for a cup of coffee every now and again.

Before Saturday, something had always stopped me. Maybe the possibility of making a fool of myself in assuming he’d want any contact with me. Maybe the fear of not saying it right and giving out the wrong message. Maybe the assumption that if he wanted to hang out with me, he’d contact me himself.

Now, though, I decided I didn’t want to lose the possibility of a wonderful friendship simply due to the lack of effort. If he never answers me, that’s fine. At least I won’t wonder about it. He now knows I think he’s awesome. What he does with that information is up to him.

If I make a fool of myself in the process, it’s the lesser of two evils and nothing I haven’t done a zillion times before. 🙂

Thank you for stopping by! If you feel like sharing your own insightings in the comments, please do – and until we meet again, keep catching those insightings!



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“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston Churchill

I have one or two acquaintances who are self-proclaimed pessimists. As in, whenever they encounter a new situation, they promptly declare that it’ll never work because of this, that and the other reason. And whenever someone challenges their negative attitude, they proudly state that they, as pessimists, will never be disappointed.

As an optimist, it’s really hard for me to relate to this attitude. Which is exactly why I feel I need to try.

In addition to pessimists, I’ve noticed a lot of people have a weird group identity pride about perfectionism.

“How come you haven’t returned your essay yet?”
“Well, as a perfectionist I can’t turn in something that’s not ready yet.”

I’m a kind of recovering perfectionist – I do notice perfectionistic features in my behavior, but I try not to label myself as a perfectionist, at least in public. I’m also recovering in the sense that I no longer feel I have to do everything in one go and deliver an impeccable result.

The Safety of the Label

“Pessimist” behavior and “perfectionist” behavior don’t often resemble each other on the surface.l It occurred to me a few days ago, though, that in some way, perfectionism and pessimism stem from the same source. They’re both about “why bother, if it won’t work out exactly like I want it to”. In other words, a fear of less-than-perfect.

If you’re a perfectionist, you can never really feel satisfied with the results of your actions. Nothing we do in this physical universe will ever achieve perfection. Deep down, most perfectionists know this. Or they think that even if perfection is possible, their own skills will never be enough to achieve it.

For me, the logical train of thought was
1. Perfection is the only thing worth achieving.
2. I will never achieve perfection, no matter how hard I try.
3. Why should I try at all?
End result: the things I was most perfectionistic about were the exact things I’d never get around to.

For a pessimist, the thought process is maybe slightly different. I’d imagine something like
1. New possibility. Hmmm.
2. There are at least seventeen things that can go wrong about this project because I’m not good at/experienced in X, Y, Z.
3. Why bother doing it at all, if it’s going to go wrong anyway?
End result: the things you might learn most from are the ones you’ll reject first.

The best part of such a label – pessimist, perfectionist – is that it gives you (me) a ready-made pattern to deflect scary challenges with. It keeps you (me) in the safe realm of no disappointments. It also keeps you from achieving anything of any value, though. And that might lead to a bigger disappointment in, say, ten years’ time.

Scratching the Label

I’m not saying everyone should jump at every chance to experience failure and disappointment. What I’m saying is that identifying as a perfectionist or a pessimist may affect your behavior so that you can’t move forward. If this is the case, it might be a good idea to try and scratch off that label a bit.

A lot of what I’ve done (and am still doing) to recover from my perfectionism comes from Havi and FlyLady. I’ll try to give you a few ideas here, but I’m definitely not saying I came up with all this. I don’t know if these things work for pessimism, too, but I’m guessing they might – if you actually do them. 🙂

1. The label is not you.

The first thing I’ve learned about teaching and leading a group is that when you give  feedback, you should always criticize the behavior, not the person.

Telling someone they are stupid, lazy or impossible doesn’t really encourage them to change. That’s who they are in your eyes, apparently, and no amount of work will alter the situation.

If you tell them they are behaving in a way that is unacceptable or less than desirable, you’re giving them a chance to change their behavior without threatening or defining their actual identity. You can still give them positive feedback as well and not end up contradicting yourself and confusing the other person.

This is where the self-proclaiming comes into play. If you always go behind “I’m a pessimist, I can’t X”, you’re rooting the thought deeper and deeper into your mind. A simple change in the sentence – “I tend to think like a pessimist, therefore I think I can’t X” gives you a choice. You can either continue thinking like a pessimist, or you can change your behavior and try thinking like an optimist for a while. You don’t necessarily have to. The choice alone makes a huge difference.

2. It’s a fear. Hear it out.

This idea comes straight from Havi. If you’re afraid of less-than-perfect, then somewhere in your life it was useful for you to be afraid and avoid less-than-perfect. The fear is there to protect you from something.

Admitting that it’s a fear, of course, is a big step. It’s not considered cool to be afraid. It’s a lot cooler to just despise, look down on, not care about or scorn a person or an activity than it is to be afraid. Depending on the culture, some people would rather saw off a limb than admit they’re afraid of the pain. Or they’d rather insult a loved one than admit to them they’re afraid of losing them.

Recognizing the fear doesn’t necessarily require other immediate action. Except maybe going to read Havi’s article about the fear knight. And then slowly considering if there’s a deal you can make with the fear so you can take small steps forward.

3. Something about the big picture

This goes under the perfectionism heading, but I guess pessimists can relate to this as well.

Holidays are coming, and with them the stress to clean out your house. A wonderful chance for every perfectionist to guilt themselves into a burnout. Everything has to be clean, since that’s how Mom used to do it.

A few days ago, I read my favorite holiday cleaning tip in the newspaper. It comes from the Finnish Marttas, although it might be a universal one as well.

You only need to clean out the kitchen closets if you plan to spend your Christmas in them.

Think about the past month. Was there anything you wished you’d done but didn’t, because your perfectionism or pessimism stopped you? Was there anything you wish you’d participated in? What were those things?

Then think about the things you’re really proud of achieving this past month. How did your perfectionism or pessimism feature in that picture?

Finally, think of the moments you were really happy during the past month. How did perfectionism or pessimism come to play there?

I can’t give you a stock answer on how to get rid of the perfectionistic or pessimistic behavior. As I said, I’m still struggling with it myself. But I guess considering the big picture – what will stick with you in a month, a year, ten years – could be a good way to communicate with the fear and put it into perspective.

I don’t even remember the essays or projects I was stressing about three years ago. I don’t remember one single instance when I was happy I didn’t participate in a project or a trip because it failed.

I do remember, however, the thrill I get when I realize all my projects are handed in and I have the weekend off. Or the satisfaction of a horribly difficult job pretty well done. Or the moments we’ve had people over and enjoyed their company, even if there were dust bunnies in the corners and a pile of dirty clothes piling on top of the hamper.

Whenever you hear yourself saying the words “I can’t”, it’s time to stop and think. Do you want to? Is this important? Is there a little itty bitty piece you can do? These are the things you might want to say to your fear and see if it’ll shift a bit.

My perfectionist side is urging me to write a wonderful closing paragraph that draws the essay together perfectly. I’ll gently remind my fear that I can always edit the essay later, and that if my readers want to clarify some point, they can do so in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by again, and until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings.



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This is a series of posts about motivation, based on Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s Self Determination Theory. In each post, I will talk about one of the three key needs that are linked with intrinsic motivation: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Situation: I’m in the middle of battling a severe case of demotivation, and I’ve summoned the Three Motivation Musketeers – Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness – to my rescue. In the previous posts, Competence and Autonomy have been doing a good job with battling the Monstrous Demotivation Monster, and Relatedness is about to step in to finish the task once and for all.

For some reason I get a real kick out of reading people’s Twitter updates and Facebook status reports. Especially if I’m surfing Twitter and Facebook to avoid doing that-thing-I-should-really-be-working-on. Or in the procrastination vocabulary, if I’m “just about to get started” on that. It’s a lot easier to take on my own demotivating task if I know there’s someone else out there battling theirs at the same time.

And oh, the joy of being able to update or report an achievement! Even if no-one actually comments, I know someone somewhere knows what I’ve accomplished! Yay me!

To me, the power of Relatedness is three-fold. First, there’s the support and acknowledgement that comes from belonging to a like-minded group. Second, there’s the all-important accountability. And third, there’s the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts idea of pooling your brain power.

1. Belonging

Everyone has an experience of a class, a course or a study group that just clicked. The atmosphere was positive and supportive, and everyone seemed eager to pitch in and do their part. The teacher knew the topic, and was approachable and fair.

Did you feel motivated about the topic of the course or class? Well, duh.

A supportive, trusting environment enhances motivation, because it decreases the amount of energy we spend on being afraid. Whenever I enter a new group of people, be it for school, work or some extracurricular activity, I spend the first few sessions being afraid of making a complete fool of myself.

That eats up a whole bunch of energy I could be spending on other mental processes, like, say, learning.

The teacher (or group leader) plays an important part in this equation, since it’s their responsibility to create a supportive atmosphere in the group. Noticing each student, receiving their remarks with respect, and encouraging positive communication are strategies a teacher can use to create that atmosphere.

Participants are responsible for the group dynamics as well – depending on their age, of course. If a sandbox fight breaks out between five-year-olds, I’d look to the caregivers watching over the situation.

Poor workplace dynamics, though, can’t be blamed solely on the boss, although management does have a big role in creating the group culture of the company. If ten adults notice a problem and none of them does anything about it, there are ten people responsible for letting the problem exist.

So how does all this translate to my battle with the Magnificent Demotivation Monster?

Relatedness is already going through my list of friends, trying to figure out who to call. No matter what the task, I’ve already got a context-independent circle of friends who might well take the time to listen to me rant. If one of them can actually help me out with the task, all the better.

What I mostly need from Relatedness now, though, is the knowledge that I’m not alone. There is someone out there who knows what I’m battling with and cares.

2. Accountability

This is a biggie for anyone who has ever tried to change a habit. Tell one person, or no-one, about your attempt to quit smoking, and you might or might not succeed. Tell fifty people that you’re going to quit smoking, and it’ll be a lot harder for you not to make it.

This, again, boils down to the “not wanting to make a fool of myself” emotion. I don’t want to seem like a person who doesn’t live up to her promises. If I’ve told ten people I’m quitting, I’ll rather shudder through a meeting with them than sneak out for a cigarette. The more people I tell, the less people there are that don’t know, and the more I have to keep to my word, if only to protect my reputation.

It’s also about not wanting to let people down.

Did you ever have a teacher whose lesson you never wanted to miss and whose exams you always wanted to ace, so as to not disappoint the teacher?

In truth, the teacher’s emotions probably didn’t revolve around your success in that particular subject. Sorry to burst the bubble. The main thing is, though, that you thought they did. And that thought kept you working on the project more than on any of the other projects combined.

And by you, again, I mean me. In high school, I did extended physics mostly for this reason. Which is awesome, since I would otherwise never have taken physics seriously. 🙂

So to get Relatedness in your corner on this one, can you come up with someone you really love and respect, and then tell them you’ll be finishing this project by such and such date? Maybe promising them a weekly update on how you’re doing and what kinds of problems are coming up? And then buying them a cup of coffee and lending your ear to whatever it is they want to talk about?

3. Brain power

Sometimes I’m struggling with a task, a translation text, an essay or a project and can’t seem to make a dent in it. The whole thing is full of knots that are tied up into other knots and the whole thing is icky and nasty. I then complain about it to someone, who asks me two questions and points out a loophole I’d missed or a fact I’d forgotten. *ding!* I’m back on track in no time at all.

You can only do so much on your own. When you’re working with someone else, there’s a lot more brain capacity available and more pairs of eyes to pay attention to detail.

You know how you sometimes watch a game show where the contestants have already made it to the second or third stage of the competition, and then start making stupid mistakes? And you’re sitting on the couch going “I can’t believe that idiot is about to lose zillions of dollars by not knowing that stuff!!“? And nearly dialing the “sign up for our game show here” number because you’d certainly win the zillion dollars?

Chances are they know that stuff. It’s in there somewhere, and when they’re watching the show later they know they knew it. At the time, they were just using a lot of their brain power on thoughts like “I hope I don’t screw up” and “I wonder if Mom is watching” and “Oh man, did I just swear on TV?” and “Geesh, that game show host looks like a leprechaun“.

The same phenomenon happens in improvisation games all the time. The person whose turn it is blanks out completely, while the others have a thousand ideas for that particular association. When everyone gets to chip in and blurt out an idea, the story starts to evolve fast and no-one has sole responsibility for the result.

When a group of people pool their brain power on a task, it’s likely that they’ll not only get it done faster, it’ll be better than any of them would have managed on their own. Embracing the collective responsibility for a task will also increase the chances of better group cohesion and mutual accountability. Relatedness has just scored a hat trick on this one and is taking his bows as we speak.

One for all and all for one

Like the original Three Musketeers (or my favorite spin-off, Musket Hounds), these three Motivation Musketeers are awesome on their own. They totally rock at what they’re good at, but they do have some weaknesses. Their best performance, then, comes when you get all three together in your corner.

It would be arrogant to say this is all you’ll ever need to know about motivation. This goes a long way, though, and especially if you have a basic inventory of actions from each of the three Musketeers, you can really develop your self-motivation skills.

Again, if there’s anything that popped up for you while reading this series, I’d love to hear your comments. Until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!



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