On Resistance and Work

The message I’ve gotten this week, this month, hell, this whole damn season is, “do your work.” It’s been a steady drumbeat, but because I’ve neglected my personal victory strategies while getting busy with work and life, my inner ear got cloudy and I couldn’t quite make it out. 

Or I could, but I wasn’t really ready or willing to listen. 

But just like any other alarm that goes off long enough, this one alerted me that it was time to get moving. Get back to the things that work. Back to doing my work. 

In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield says,

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

I’ve been distracted. I’ve been shoved away. I’ve neglected my work. 

I have reading and thinking and writing to do. Manuscripts to start. Scholarship to undertake. I cannot do anything if I am foiled by Resistance. If I do other things, and, in fact, everything else except my work. 

Toni Morrison died last night. And she left us many things to think about. Her words. Her work. Her admonition on the function of racism as distraction – a clarion call these days. And much as anything else I’ve explored this week (Brené Brown’s Call to Courage, Ann Pendelton-Jullian and John Seely Brown’s Pragmatic Imagination, my own thoughts), her death, or rather remembrance of her life and legacy, have prompted me to get back to it. Back to work.

FILE — The author Toni Morrison in New York on Jan. 9, 2004. Morrison, the 1993 Nobel laureate in Literature, whose work explored black identity in America and in particular the experience of black women, died on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement. She was 88. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.” ~Pressfield

I pushed my work away for a month, a week, yet another day. More often than not, it was dereliction of duty more than anything else.

But not today. Today I overcame Resistance. Today I did my work. 

Journaling is a Dialogue with Yourself

A great dialogue can unfold when you seek to truly understand your partner. If you go into conversation with an open mind, ask meaningful questions and listen deeply, you can come away with powerful insights about the topic (and the speaker). With this framing in mind, I offer that the most meaningful journaling is really conducted as a dialogue. With yourself.

Previously, I mentioned the importance of making journaling a routine. But what exactly are you putting on the page?

Just as there’s no singular way to engage in conversation, there are just as many possibilities for journaling.

Positives

In her 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Want to Be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal, Nancy Adler suggests leading your reflection time with some positive takeaways:

  • What was I thankful for today?
  • What did I do well today?
  • What did I learn today?

Responding to questions like these helps put your brain in a positive state of mind. The brain is easily threatened. Threat dampens your creativity, decreases your understanding of options, and leads to reactive, rather than proactive thinking. When you reduce threat and increase positivity, you increase your field of possibilities, engagement and motivation. In short, you raise your confidence and productivity.

Self Awareness

  • What made me laugh today?
  • What upset me today?
  • Did I feel successful today?
  • Did I disappoint myself today?
  • What inspired me today?

Self-awareness questions give you the chance to be a truth teller. You can acknowledge the good, the bad and the ugly, and your true thoughts and feelings about it all. You can improve your emotional intelligence by assessing your responses to various circumstances. You’re not judging yourself, you’re simply learning more about yourself. Gaining self-awareness helps you to become more intentional over time.

My Leadership

  • How am I leading?
  • What do others think of my leadership?
  • Am I reflecting my personal values?
  • Am I supporting my organization’s values?
  • Were my people better off today because of me?

Questions like these allow you to assess your impact and how it can be improved. Again, this is not the time to beat yourself up. Based on your observations, interactions, gut feelings and so on, what did you notice or learn about your leadership today?

My People/My Team

  • Who needs my attention?
  • What might my team be feeling?
  • What techniques/support/resources worked best?
  • What techniques/support/resources didn’t work?
  • Who has been consistently dependable / non-dependable?

Answers to these will shed light on how to manage talent better.

My Goals

  • Did I get closer or farther from my goals today?
  • What can I do differently?
  • What did I prioritize today?
  • What were the results?
  • Are my goals still appropriate?
  • What is the purpose of my work?
  • What fulfills me?

In particular, when I felt my time did not reflect my priorities or values, I reflected on questions like this quite a bit. It helped me to be more proactive with prioritizing and scheduling. It also led me to do some exploration of my values to find out how I could express them more at work.

My Day

My current favorite is the quick run down. I do a check on the day and set an intention for tomorrow:

  • What were my goals for today?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What will I do differently tomorrow?

The categories and questions here are just a guide. I recommend you try journaling a few days and then decide what kinds of questions are most meaningful for you.

If you’re stuck and feel unsure how to begin, you can simply ask yourself one question: What happened today? As you answer, really listen. Pay attention to yourself. Just as in a dialogue, you’ll naturally pose relevant follow-up questions. After a few days you’ll have a good idea of the questions that will make journaling most meaningful for you.

The most important thing is to start. 

A Journaling Habit

Journaling is a powerful practice. But like any practice, it only works if you work it. That means your goal is to do consistently, not just when you feel like it. You don’t have to carve out a lot of time, but you will need to carve out some time.

If you’re not sure how to make the time, a coach can help you rethink and redesign your day. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, journaling allows you to document ideas and work through hunches. It allows you to keep track of otherwise fleeting, yet potent thoughts, and it also improves your thinking. These benefits accrue to the degree you can make journaling a habit.

Plan Ahead

Building a habit can feel daunting, so it’s important you set yourself up for success. Consider a consistent time or trigger that will alert you to journal. For instance, set a recurring meeting with yourself for first thing in the morning or perhaps as you close the day.  

You might also consider your work ebbs and flows. Look ahead several days, and see if you have short breaks between longer meetings. Block 15 minutes for yourself and commit to journaling during that time. Midday journaling is more difficult for some – especially those without as much control over their calendars. The important part here is to plan ahead and schedule reminders to keep you on track.

Defeat Decision Fatigue

I recommend clients go so far as to picture where you will journal and make sure your notebook or favorite app is handy at the time and place you’ll need it. As you go through the day, each decision you make takes a toll on your brain. As a result, you become more likely to do what’s easiest, rather than what’s best.

Having a clear plan of action in place minimizes your chance of being foiled by decision fatigue.  Journaling by hand is great for slowing down and processing, but digital journalingis certainly a viable choice as well. So whether a special colored pen or a stylus, select your tool ahead of time and have it ready.

Silence the Inner Critic

Journaling allows you a moment of quiet honesty. Since you’re journaling for yourself, not for a broader audience, give your inner critic the day off. This is not the time for judgments about spelling, grammar, formatting or content. Avoid editing. Really. You’re thinking on the page, and analyzing those thoughts. You’re not trying to win a contest or create a post to display on Pinterest. Don’t stifle your thinking. Just write.

This is your leadership development time. Use it to better understand and nurture the leader within.

What do you think? Are you making a routine to journal? Are you seeing benefits from journaling? Let me know what you think. 

On Leadership Journaling

Black woman writing in a diary on a wooden desk.
Journaling can be a great practice for mindful entrepreneurs.

In today’s digital world, there’s one analog practice I cherish. Journaling.

Now to be fair, you can journal on your phone, tablet or computer, but I’ve long found that my best thinking comes when I make time to put pen to paper. This age-old practice isn’t just for personal insights and daily documentation. It’s also a great tool for leadership growth as well.

On first thought, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest leaders find time to journal, of all things. The business climate changes day by day and there’s pressure from all directions – superiors, stockholders, customers. You have to be ready, agile, quick. But you also have to be visionary, innovate, creative and smart. And that’s where journaling comes in.

Nancy Adler, an expert in arts-inspired leadership, writes:

Extraordinary leadership requires seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act.”

Wise leadership requires careful reflection of evolving ideas and feelings that may be forgotten from one day to the next. Mental processing is difficult enough without the added distractions from push notifications, information overload and more. Let’s face it – deep thinking seems impossible when you can barely keep up with email!

But we encourage leaders to try journaling as a way to retell, review and understand the events of the day. Just the act of recording what happened and what you thought, felt, or noticed will give you perspective over time.

Journaling allows you a moment of quiet honesty in a busy life. You’re not sharing your notes with direct reports, peers, or anyone else. You’re writing for you, so you can tell the truth as you know it. Document ideas you want to revisit, research or refine. Acknowledge, observe and work through feelings, gut reactions, and hunches.

Not only does journaling prevent your important mental notes from being lost, but it also improves your thinking. Research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that settled brains are better at processing and problem solving. Journaling quiets the mind so you can think more clearly in the moment. I sometimes refer to it as meditation by writing.

Take a few minutes to document and digest your day.

Additionally, research sponsored by the National Institute of Health found that replaying experiences in our minds is a great tool for learning. As you relive thoughts and feelings while journaling, you reflect on them. Such reflection is a key step in increasing self-awareness, as well as better understanding the world around you.

Dan Ciampa, author of Right From the Start: Taking Charge In a New Leadership Role (Harvard Business Review Press, 1999), believes journaling what’s working and what’s not throughout the day is great for learing. There are lessons in your successes and mistakes, and with a little practice and diligence, you can discern when and how to implement positive changes. 

Close the Gap

I love a good beginning.

As far as I’m concerned, any reason is a great reason to start. Any time is a wonderful time.

Today is the first day of the year, the first day of the week and the first day of the month, but none of that really matters.

The important part is, today is the day I’m ready to begin.

It seems I spent most of 2017 dormant. I basically stopped blogging and limited my tweets to greetings and #templebuilding updates. But the truth is, I helped my cousin/big sister land our first federal contract. We also delivered two excellent projects for a corporate client (we’ll finish one last one this month).

The thing I’m most proud of is a creative victory. I took a short story I wrote years ago and transformed it into a chapter book manuscript. I love my book, AMANDA AND MISSY, and I’m looking to get it traditionally published.

I’ve gotten some encouraging passes (nos) from agents, so we’ll see if it finds a home in 2018. It won’t be my best book or my last, and it isn’t the book I wanted to write last year, but I needed to start somewhere to begin closing the gap.

Ira Glass refers to the gap between your taste and your creative ability when you’re first starting out. Some of your early pieces might anywhere from horrible to even good, but they may not live up to your own standards of excellence. Not due to self-disparagement, but because of an honest assessment of where you are vs. where you’d like to be.

The only way to bridge this gap is by doing the work. Learning, trying, producing. There’s no magic formula, there is only doing. And that’s what I’m about in 2018.

I’m actually about many things this year. I’m returning to some old tried and true productivity strategies and trying out a couple of new ones. I’ll tell you more about those, as well as my three mottoes for the winter quarter in future posts.

What are you about this year? What will you accomplish this year? What’s the work you have in store?

Steps and Strides

The view during my first three miles.
The view during my first three miles.

Today was workout 21 of 61, and I ran 3 miles, 5 strides.

The three miles is old hat this point, but we’ve upped the strides this week. That last stride just about did me in! I wanted to give it my all, and I did, but rather than running through the tape, I pulled up at the final split second. I felt disappointed as I heard the last chime, but I gave all I felt capable of at that moment.

All day I assumed the last stride was slower than some of the others, but now I’ve checked – it was fastest! By far! Goes to show, perception is not always reality.

Still, I plan to work at  running through the tape. It’s easy for me to do when I’m somewhat tired, but when I’m truly fatigued, I stop short. If I ponder this long enough, I can probably think of many life circumstances where this was true as well.

Me on Snapchat, after mailing my manuscript.
Me on Snapchat, after mailing my manuscript.

In other news, I hit a writing milestone. Yesterday I polished a children’s book I wrote years ago, and today I sent it out into the world! Very exciting.

Knowing that it takes anywhere from 3 months to 6 months to hear from some publishers, today’s step motivated me to write more. Several things can happen at this point:

  1. No response
  2. Form letter rejection
  3. Personal rejection/ editor’s encouragement
  4. Rejection with request to revise and resubmit
  5. Acceptance

Obviously I’d prefer options 3-5, but I feel liberated. My only choices are to wait or write. Having this story circulating, no matter her fate, is freeing. I choose to write.

One task

Today I am thinking of fear. Feeling it. Working through it. Understanding it. Appreciating it as a teacher.

Fear, in certain degrees, can feel like a happy excitement. Stomach tingling, breath quickening. I felt that fear today. It comes when I have doubts about something I want to do, and I can see the beginning of paralysis. Self-sabotage. I haven’t given into Resistance yet, but I have the sudden urge to talk myself out of… progress.

But for now it’s just a tingle. It’s commentary about the relative location of me and my comfort zone.

A New Year’s Eve declaration.

Any time fear is my muse, I ponder the word fearless. I explored this a few years ago, and I have come to understand THAT being fearless is not really being without fear, but about lessening fear’s influence.

If giving into fear means remaining silent or standing still, then being fearless means speaking up or moving, despite the fear. The fear is still present, but it does not defeat you.

Fearlessness is about the steps you take when it feels safer, more comfortable, to stay put.

I’m working on a small project. For many reasons, it inspires fear. Will it be good enough? Will it come out as I expect? Will it have the impact I desire?

Will it…?

Will it…?

Will it…?

If fear wins, I’ll soon make up reasons to work on something else entirely.

If I am fearless, tomorrow I will complete one more task; bring it one step closer to completion.

Muscle memory

If you don’t use it, you lose it. People say this often about second language learning, and really, most everything except riding a bicycle.

sophrologie-au-quotidienIt’s true, too, about blogging. For years I had a regular blogging practice, changing format, tone and location whenever I was ready for a change. In the past couple of years, my blogging has gotten more sporadic after dramatic shifts in my daily routines. Sometimes I miss it, but I’m not quite sure what to say. So I think about blogging, but leave the page blank.

Beginning April 28, I started a blogging challenge. My goal is to blog something every day through early June. The early going has proven as challenging as I expected it might be. I do expect as time goes on, I’ll write more reflections and musings and commentaries. But for now, I may rely on stream of consciousness, curation, and graphics to get back in the groove.

It’s #NaNoWriMo Day…

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 10.01.06 PMToday is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. The competition, commonly hashtagged as #NaNoWriMo, encourages creative writers to draft 50,000 new words (a “novel”) in the month of November.

I’ve decided to participate this year, and I’ve set my own goal as I did when I wrote in 2013. My goal then was 30,000 words. Though that bar will be more difficult to accomplish this year, that’s my goal for 2015 as well. Yes, I create my own rules!

I’ve done more pre-work this year. Well, more isn’t saying much as I did none at all in the past. I’m very excited about my ideas in progress. They are a culmination of seeds long ago planted, and I can’t wait to tend to them.

Deciding on my project was a tug-of-war. The truth is, I can’t see an outlet for it. But believe it or not, that’s what made me truly press ahead with this idea and not another one. There’s no pressure to perform! There’s just fun and exploration! It’s an idea with themes, characters and conventions that are important to me, so I’m going to honor that inspiration and just write.

This has been the root of my most consistent acts of self-sabotage: worrying about the audience and the next steps instead of being true to my own ideas. Who’s gonna read it? Where might it go?

It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna read it and it’s going on the page.

Getting free is goodness. What’s holding you back? What small thing can you do today to set yourself free?

To #NaNoWriMo or Not to #NaNoWriMo

It’s been a couple of years since my first and only participation in National Novel Writing Month. Despite my reticence of previous years, I found it a great experience and I was very glad I tried it.

Last year this time, I thought I’d try it again, but the beginning of #NaNoWriMo happened while I was on a honeymoon. Who knew two people could sleep so much when relaxing on a boat!? Suffice to say, I was focused on other things and could never really get my mind on starting or continuing work on anything major last fall.

So here we are.

I think I’m in, but I’m not positive. In a few short weeks, I’ll be undergoing a surgical procedure. I’ve never been under general anesthesia. I’ve never even had a broken bone. I simply have no idea what to expect (and I do know anything is possible). For sure I’ll be completely out of commission for a few days, and then managing pain for an undetermined length of time after that. What effect will this have on my writing momentum? What about the fog of painkillers? What about the energy required for healing? It’s all a guess.

But as I type this, I feel a sense of rebellion against the “play it safe” stance I’d normally take. I don’t want to be deterred from starting, just because the finish looks so uncertain.

So that’s that.

I’m in for #NaNoWriMo this year. My month might be more like two weeks, but no matter what, starting is the first victory.

Are you in?

Nic and Blue on an excursion during our honeymoon cruise.
Me and Blue on an excursion during our honeymoon cruise.