My phone dings, whirs, beeps, buzzes. I don’t even know which app is signaling to me at any given time; but it’s constant. I mute them, but they turn themselves back on. At my business, there’s always a crisis, always a critic, and always something vying for my attention. But the loudest noise of all by far; the only noise with any real power to distract me from my work is the one in my head.
When someone calls my phone, it only rings — pathetically. It has no other power to do anything. But, if undisciplined, the voice in my mind will yell, “Drop everything and answer that phone!” and then with a simple “hello” I’m on break from my work.
Some research studies suggest that email, social media, and text messaging erodes the attention centers of our brains, decreasing our productivity. An entire industry has emerged with products to help us improve “focus” and “brainpower.” I don’t buy it.
Barring any serious clinical diagnosis, our minds have all the attention capacity we need; we’re just looking for an excuse to distract ourselves. Throughout the workday text messages are candy, and we’re acting like children.
It sounds blunt, but this month I’m writing 5 ideas to help us shut up and do our work.
1) Accept that All Resistance Comes from Within
“Resistance” is anything that prevents us from getting our work done, and these days it seems to come from every direction: our coworkers, news feeds, 702 Facebook friends, even our families. Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, explains “Dad gets drunk, Mom gets sick, Janie shows up for church with an Oakland Raiders tattoo. It’s more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.”
While resistance seems to come from outside us, in truth is it a 100% self-generated toxin. It infects us when we attempt any act that makes us feel vulnerable, or that delays immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth or productivity. How difficult is resistance to overcome? Pressfield offers this hyperbole; “[Hitler] at eighteen … moved to Vienna to live and study…Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”
2) Force Yourself to Show Up Everyday on Time.
When Earnest Hemmingway was interviewed about the challenge of writing, he said, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I used to agree with this—that writing was as draining as bleeding out. But it’s not quite accurate. The hardest thing about writing, or going for a walk, or running a business is sitting down, standing up, or showing up (every day on time), respectively.
The first keystroke, step, or executive action of the day is always the hardest. That’s why most ultimate failures in business aren’t the product of failed actions, but the failure to act. As counselors, we spend years telling ourselves “I’m going to start/grow/fix my practice; I’m just going to do it later.” Later never comes. After years of stagnation, practices don’t go up in flames—they quietly die.
Are you running your practice like it’s a hobby? Those who do this never make the transition from ‘amateur’ to ‘professional.’
An amateur waits for ‘inspiration to come’ and lacks consistency. The amateur will never grow his business (or compose his symphony; or finish his novel). In contrast, for the professional, ‘Inspiration strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.’
3) Don’t Get Distracted, but Stay Focused on Your Path
A counseling practice can be focused on mediation, seminars, intensive outpatient programs, art therapy, equine therapy, counseling video games, etc.! There are many attractive paths to success and it’s normal to have some ‘buyer’s remorse’ as it applies to your practice’s focus. However, once you choose a direction, unless there are real signals that you’re on the wrong path, don’t redirect! To make progress in any one direction you may need to ignore other opportunities. For example, Buffalo Wild Wings dropped weck sandwiches to focus on their now famous Buffalo wings (that’s why some people still call it ‘BW3s.’ They were once “Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck”). Had they not focused their attention on wings, but tried to be the best at wings, weck, steak, and polish sausage, they never would have become a breakout success.
Often when we deviate from our focus it’s because we’re afraid of the failure we might face if we continue down our current road. It’s resistance in another form! It looks a lot like work to start over, and there’s a lot of activity to be sure, but it’s just running back to the safety of square one. Consider this: Last year I spoke with a therapist who had a growing art therapy business. She had plans to expand it throughout her community. Recently, I asked her about her progress and she said, “We’re putting art therapy on hold to launch our mediation program.” That’s Resistance!
4) Know that Meetings, Workshops, Collaboration can = Procrastination
Collaboration is imperative to the health of a company. However, resistance finds a way to pervert it.
Ever have a coworker who spends all day talking about his work? He writes an email, and then he reads you the email he just wrote! Or he makes a phone call and then recites the entire conversation to you line-by-line!? This person thinks he’s working, but he’s avoiding work with every new office conversation. Same goes for the person who wants to schedule a “follow-up meeting” when there’s really nothing to meet about. Or the coworker who wants to “get some feedback” on something she’s been working on for 32 minutes. Or perhaps the person who’s signing up for a workshop (it should be called a “noworkshop”). It all looks a lot like work, doesn’t it?
Sometimes what we pass off for work are emotional-support-seeking behaviors that let procrastination (i.e., resistance) overtake us.
5) Agree that Very Successful People Overcome Very Difficult Odds
Need a good, justifiable, excuse not to work on your practice? Let me help.
- Nine out of 10 businesses fail
- You’re stuck because you never learned business in school
- Growing a practice doesn’t fit for you at this age
- You’re working at your own pace
- The insurance companies are making it impossible
- You don’t have the capital to ‘do it right’
- You have medical issues
- You have some personal issues you need to ‘take care of’ first
It’s not hard to find reasons not to work. I promise, no one will blame you. In fact, most people are doing the same thing. But just remember, successful people don’t let adversity stop them: Tolstoy had thirteen kids and still wrote War and Peace. Oprah was brutalized as a child. Richard Branson has Dyslexia. Steven King’s first novel was rejected 30 times.
Are your challenges greater than theirs? No? Then let’s shut up and do our work.
Tell us what motivates you to keep pushing forward in the comments section below.
*Pressfield, S. (2002). The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Used in quotations, and also concepts throughout.
*Some case example details changed for privacy.