By Leo Babauta
Every day I struggle with the resistance to writing, and every day I lose the struggle … but then I beat the struggle.
I lose more often than I win, but I win every day. And that’s what matters. Because we can’t get rid of the resistance to create — whether that’s creating art, starting a business, or writing. The resistance will always come up … but we have to learn how to overcome it, to work with it.
Do you face this resistance, and struggle with procrastination? Do you want to create daily, but face difficulty finding focus and fighting off distractions?
Let’s talk about creating that habit, and how to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of the creation habit.
Today I’ll share the main obstacles and what I do to overcome them.
What stands in our way of the creation habit? Here are the main ones:
- Distractions. We all face the problem of distractions, and we all give in to them. The only way to overcome them is to clear them away with a clean sweep: bookmark all your tabs, close your browser, close all other programs, turn off your phone, and open only the program you need for your creating. A blank text editor, a sketch pad, nothing else. Set a timer for 5 minutes, and just start. When the 5 minutes is up, congratulate yourself, let yourself be distracted, then set the timer again. You can work your way to 10-15 minutes over time, but start with 5.
- Fantasies about how easy/nice the creating will be. It’s not easy — it’s hard and messy. These fantasies get in the way, because when we face the reality, it never measures up to what we’d hoped. Instead, we need to recognize that our fantasies aren’t real, turn to the reality, and be grateful to be here in this moment. It’s hard and messy, but still great, and we should be thankful for the opportunity.
- Fear of failure. Yes, putting ourselves out there is scary, and not being good at something is frightening as hell. But how do you ever get good if you don’t try? You have to suck, daily, for a long time. Unfortunately, that’s not easy. So to get us through the suck, we have to have fun, embrace the suck, allow ourselves to play. Write a shitty first draft, work on it some more until it’s a bit better, get the help of someone who knows what they’re doing, get feedback and get better. And play around the whole time, like we did when we were kids. We didn’t stop from fingerpainting when we were kids because we might suck at it — we did it for the fun!
- Discomfort with the difficulty/confusion. It’s uncomfortable to do something that’s confusing, where we don’t know what we’re doing, filled with difficulty. The only way I’ve learned to overcome this is to sit there, as I’m feeling like quitting, and just feel the discomfort. Allow my mind to complain. Allow myself to want to quit, to feel sorry for myself. And just sit. I’ll feel this discomfort, and realize it’s not that bad. Then I can just write, even though I’m uncomfortable, and realize that I’ll be OK.
- Perfectionism. We want things to be great, so we nitpick and are unhappy with the results. It stops us from actually creating. So we need to smash through perfectionism, embrace shitty first drafts, and get into the habit of just putting stuff out there imperfectly. I do this by not allowing myself to edit before I publish a post. I just publish, tweet it, then go back and edit. It’s scary, but by forcing myself to put it out imperfectly, I don’t worry about perfectionism anymore.
- The urge to switch. As you’re trying to write/create … you’ll want to switch to something else. Check email, check social media, check the news, clean the kitchen. The timer method (5 minutes) helps to highlight this … set the timer, don’t let yourself switch to anything else until the timer is up. Just write one sentence, draw one line. Just start, then when you get the urge, sit. Stay. Feel the urge. Let your mind complain. But don’t give it anywhere to run. Then start again.
- Interruptions. I write in a house full of kids. I just kindly tell them I need to write for an hour (or whatever), and plug in some headphones. Or get out of the house and go somewhere with solitude.
- Not enough time. We are all busy. Who has the time to focus for an hour or two? Well, forget about an hour. Just do it for 5 minutes. You have that much time. Cut out some distractions, some social media, some TV, some online reading, and you have an extra 5 minutes (or more). After awhile, find another 5 minutes. If it matters, you’ll find a few minutes here and there, and put the creating first.
- Being tired. It’s impossible to focus and work hard when you’re tired, right? Wrong! You can do it, if you really want to. You can go for a run if you’re tired. You can carry a stranger to safety if their life is in danger, even if you’re tired. You just need to really want it. So ask yourself this: why do you want to create? Is to help others? To express yourself? To do something good for yourself or other people? How important is this intention to do good? Is it important enough to prioritize, to set aside time, to push through confusion and distractions? Is it important enough to push through tiredness? If not, just forget it.
- Negative self-talk. We tell ourselves, “I can’t do this,” or “I suck at this,” or “I can do this later.” This kind of self-talk, often unnoticed, can be defeating. So how do we counter it? By paying attention. Shine some light on it. Use the timer method, and when you want to quit and the timer is still going, force yourself to sit there. Listen to your talk, but don’t believe it. Your mind will do anything to get out of this work, so don’t heed its commands, but just sit there and heart the talk, like the complaints of little kids. Give your inner child some compassion, but don’t give in to the complaints!
You’re doing this for a reason that should be as important as saving the life of a loved one, or it’s not worth doing. Ask yourself how much you want this, then take the steps you need to take — sweep away distractions, put on headphones, set a timer, sit through the urge to switch, push through the tiredness.
If it’s important, you have it in you.