The gentle way to feel better about your work (for real)
I yearn to live without stress and self-doubt, but is it possible?
Allow me to tell you a story.
Last weekend, I attended a day-long seminar called "Introduction to Personal Mastery" hosted by two of my favorite people: a life coach I'm lucky to call a friend and my personal trainer. As the seminar started, they asked us to share our expectations for the day. As we went around the room, most people shared that they weren't quite sure what to expect or what we'd be doing throughout the day. Our instructors told us:
"In every activity today, your way of being is going to emerge, reacting to what we say, the exercises we all do, the lunch we eat, and more. Your job is to notice that reaction—your way of being emerging—and decide what to do about it. That's personal mastery."
As the day progressed, the seminar pushed me out of my comfort zone. And if it stopped pushing me for a second or two, I pushed myself. I made new friends, raised my hand before anyone else, let someone I'd just met guide me around the busy room with my eyes closed.
And throughout the entire day, I felt so much peace. Looking back on that day, I wonder:
"Why can't that peace extend to my work?! What am I doing differently?"
Just to recap, I recently wrote about how mindfulness helps you find what you're meant to create. Today, I'll share how it helps you fine-tune how you're meant to create—essentially, your process.
After years and years of stress and self-doubt, this new way promises to be incredibly, soulfully, wonderfully liberating. I'm hoping it'll help me bring the peace of mind I hold so dear into my "work life."
Let's get to it.
How we are meant to create
Focus on the process (not the outcome)
You know when you're writing a difficult email and you hit a little bump where you're not sure what to type next, so you open a new browser window and start typing "facebook" before you even realize what you're doing?
Yeah, me too.
Constantly, we feel small bits of inner resistance to what we need to do, which is why we procrastinate. By being focused on the process, instead, you feel the resistance well up inside you as you urge to switch your attention to something else, but then you just let it go. You wait for a moment—seriously, wait—and when it passes (it always does), you get back to typing the email or whatever else.
I did this constantly during the seminar last week. For example, when the group's conversation veered to something that didn't apply to me, I felt the urge to check my phone well up inside me. So, I felt it, and let it fade.
But that's not the only roadblock we face... Once you stop procrastinating, you hit another wall: performance anxiety.
While we're creating, so much of our mental capacity goes toward self-doubt and worry about the reaction to our work. It seems inevitable growing up in a world filled with pressure to attend the best university possible, to get the best job possible, to buy the biggest house possible, etc.
The saying goes "more money more problems", right? Probably because being successful (and knowing it), brings about all sorts of anxieties. I once read that Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were well aware of their literary clout as they wrote their books, and they suffered a great amount of stress as a result, always trying to one-up their past efforts.
Story of our lives, right? No thanks.
But if you could wipe that doubt away and create with 100% of your effort, how much more could you contribute?
When you create without caring about the outcome, you wipe out the self-doubt and anxiety about what others might think. You create for the sake of creating, because what you're creating feels like it needs to come to life.
I experienced some of this at the seminar. When the instructors opened the floor to questions, I felt a wave of panic rise up from my feet to my face, burning my cheeks. I became aware of my panic, my fear of being ridiculed at asking an inane question...and then I asked anyway. I felt strongly enough about my question to face that fear and get an answer. (And the answer was worth it!)
Bring your attention to the process and intrinsic value of what you're working on to eliminate procrastination, stress, and anxiety.
Let creative power work through you
Another great way to improve how you create is to reframe what you do as in service of others. For example, instead of imagining myself as one day being a world-renowned writer (which I'd love to be!), I focus on helping people through my writing.
In essence, you suppress your ego. You think of yourself as a servant, not a winner. (See my post "Exploring Mindfulness" for more on this.)
What I love about this concept is that it makes stress an impossibility. Sure, you'll be focused and immersed in your work—and it'll be difficult and intense at times—but it won't be stressful. When I think back to all of my stressful moments, they all have so much ego attached to them.
"What will my client think?" Ego.
"Will I make the deadline?" Ego.
"Is my work any good?" Ego.
In the words of the Sufi master Hafiz:
"I am a hole in a flute that the Christ's breath moves through. Listen to this music.”
We aren't the stars of the show. We aren't what we create. We're just the medium.
Putting it into Practice
To help you (and me, who am I kidding!) put this into practice, try out these exercises:
- Practice facing inner resistance. Stretch your mindful muscle by allowing yourself to feel resistance to tasks, wait it out and keep going. (Tough but worth it.)
- Reframe your aspirations. Instead of thinking of yourself as a star, how could you reframe your role to be more of a servant? How would you think about what you create if you removed your ego from the mix?
I'm going to start off my week by getting down and dirty with these exercises and the ones from my last post. Will you join me?
Through all of this, I hope to remember (and live by!) these words:
Magic happens at the crossroads of creative flow and peace of mind.