So, imagine you’re crossing a stream. Half way across, you decide you don’t feel like stepping on the next rock. You’re just not in the mood. So you don’t. And you don’t step on the one after that.
Do you expect to get to the other side?
Of course not. But that could be how you’re relating to self-employment.
The feel good trap
One of the traps self-employment can set for us is believing that it should feel good. Even if our work pulls us out of self-absorption, it’s easy for the feel-good trap to keep us from doing less appealing things. Like marketing. Or selling. Or bookkeeping.
Perhaps it is the intimate connection between our emotions and our work that tricks us into thinking that self-employment ought to feel good.
It’s a dangerous belief.
When you believe self-employment should feel good, you enter a vicious cycle of make-wrong. It starts with not feeling like doing whatever needs to be done. When you avoid the task, your momentum slows. When momentum slows, enthusiasm drops. And pretty soon you’re feeling even less like working on the project than when you started. And then you berate yourself for procrastination.
And it all started because you thought you needed to feel god about doing something.
Why feeling good isn’t relevant to taking action
The fact is, you don’t need to feel like doing something to do it, not even to do it well. Our moods are actually rather poor indicators of how well we will do on a specific task. More important is being clear about what we want to accomplish and choosing the next step to getting there.
Like writing this article. Sometimes writing just flows. And sometimes my brain feels like mush and I can’t remember where I put my authentic voice.
But experience has proven that putting it off doesn’t help. The longer I avoid writing, the harder it gets.
And every time I choose to focus my attention on the next indicated step, the writing is good enough, and often even better than that.
I’m not talking about stuffing your feelings.
You probably already know that stuffing your feelings makes trouble. Whatever you send underground leaks out somewhere else, usually in embarrassing or destructive ways.
What I’m talking about is accepting your feelings and then taking the next step in the creative process. Because every aspect–not just the obvious ones–of self-employment is part of a creative process.
This means getting some distance between you and your moods and emotions. Just enough space that you are not completely identified with your feelings. Enough wiggle room that you can make creative choices, one step at a time.
How to get out of the feel good trap
Okay, so how exactly do you do that?
Recognizing that you don’t need to feel good (or “feel like it”) to take action is the first step. This in itself unhooks you from your emotional state.
Next, understand that momentum comes from an accumulation of small actions, not from big, enthusiastic pushes followed by grinding to an unenthusiastic halt. When you really get this, you can take baby steps regardless of how you feel. And those baby steps add up.
(Like jotting down a few ideas for this article. And then putting one sentence after another without insisting that they be “right.”)
When the way you feel is getting in the way of taking action, tuning into your body can help. Notice how your emotions are showing up in your body. What is the sensation in your belly, your chest, your shoulders or jaw? Paying attention to these things makes you more aware of how your feelings are affecting you. And awareness leads to change.
Refocus your attention. When your attention is locked onto how you feel, you can’t pay attention to what you are trying to accomplish. Remind yourself why this is important. Not to overwhelm yourself with significance, but to clarify what you are up to. Then identify the next step in the process and take it. Don’t wait until you can take it perfectly, just take it.
Talk it out. Have a buddy or mastermind group you can talk to when your emotions take over. Reporting what is going on can often create the distance you need to get unstuck.
Self-employment is a creative act
Self employment is a creative act. Whether you are creating an income stream, a marketing piece, or a benefit for one of your clients, the rules of creating apply. One of them is to watch out for the feel good trap.
For more help escaping the feel good trap, check out Stephen Nachmanovitch’s Free Play, Improvisation in Life and Art and Robert Fritz’s Creating. Yup, this is a repeat recommendation. They’re essential reading for self employed creatives.
Image from istockphoto.com