I recently started a new writing project and for the last few days have been engaged in a full-on dogfight with fear and doubt. The project didn’t start with fear. Instead, it began—and progressed—like all my writing projects:
A vague idea that had been with me for several months started to take shape. I grew excited. I began to conduct research. I think I’m onto something! I jumped into the writing and kept writing until… breakthrough! I now understand what I’m trying to say! I then wrote-wrote-wrote until I felt I had a draft I could work with.
Then, I set the work aside. By the time I picked it up again the next morning, my certainty had vanished and I had begun to question the whole stupid enterprise. What was I thinking? I have nothing original to say on this topic.
And yet… the idea hasn’t left me. It’s still humming in the background and my job now is to remember what I’ve learned about how to move forward in the face of fear. Here are five tactics that have never failed me, which I share with you as a way of reminding myself:
1. Find inspiring role models: For every project I’ve undertaken—from writing a memoir to designing a website—I’ve looked to my bookshelves and the internet for inspiration. I search until I find a writer or two or five whose work lights me up. Studying what they’ve done and how they’ve done it almost always gives me new ideas and renewed confidence in my work.
2. Take baby steps: I don’t need to know everything about a project before I begin. I only need to, well, begin—and then keep with it, step by step. In the process, I use my own curiosity as a guide. What do I need to learn right now? For my current project, I’m taking the time to inventory what I already know about this subject, I’m researching other thought leaders, and am learning more about social media.
3. Make friends with fear: Two years ago, I worked with an extraordinary business coach named Brian Whetten who developed a process to help people make friends with fear. “Fear’s job is not to stop us,” he explains. “It’s to warn us. Like all our voices, it has a positive purpose behind everything it does.” His fear worksheetalways helps me realize what fear and doubt are trying to tell me. In this case, my fear was telling me slow down and not act impulsively.
4. Connect with the why: Whenever I become overwhelmed with the how and what of a new project, I try to remember why I embarked on the project in the first place. Connecting with my original passion and vision helps me keep the big picture in mind. If you’d like to connect—or reconnect—with your vision for a project, here’s a guided visualization that might help.
5. Remember that resistance is part of the package: In his masterful book, TheWar of Art, Steven Pressfield explains that resistance arises whenever we embark on an important new venture. I love Pressfield’s book and have reread it countless times because it normalizes fear, doubt, procrastination, second-guessing, starting over and all the other ways resistance tries to sabotage us.
More importantly, his book reminds me that when resistance is strongest (like it has been for me this past week), there is good reason for it. As he writes:
“Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference.
“The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you—and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.”
And with that reminder, I think I’ll get back to work…