“Maybe coaching isn’t really for me” “Maybe I can’t actually help people” “I just want a job that I can show up to and get payed” “I don’t want to have to market myself online” “It would be easier to just do something else”
Those are some of the things that were swirling around my head this morning as I contemplated what the hell I’m doing with my life. Hey, maybe it’s not a good look for my brand to tell you these things, but fuck it, I’m writing this particular blog to help me process this. Maybe it will help you, but as I’m writing these words, I’m actually doing it to process my own thoughts.
But I Don't Wanna
“I don’t want to” or “I don’t want to anymore” are two key red flag phrases I pay attention to when I observe the language I’m thinking with. Now when either of those phrases come up in relation to something I know that I enjoy doing or have previously had a bunch of momentum behind, I know there’s something deeper going on.
Why? Let me explain. Over many years I’ve identified a pattern. I quit things I used to love doing. I did it with baseball in high school. At the time I said it was because my coach was a jerk (he totally was, but still). I’ve done it with different instruments. And, at the time I chalked it up to not just not wanting to do the thing anymore. But in, retrospect I realize there was almost always an internal sense of frustration that I externalized onto the thing itself. It's a subtle difference, and I hope this blog helps differentiate it for you.
Now, let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to stop doing something you’ve put time into. In fact, one of the well known formal logical fallacies is the “sunk time” or “sunk cost” fallacy. This states that just because you’ve spent so much time, money or energy doing something, it’s a logical fallacy to conclude that spent resources are reason enough to continue doing it. And, with this in mind I’ve walked away from some things after careful deliberation that turned out to be great decisions.
But, I’m talking about a different kind of “wanting to quit.” I’m talking about the kind of wanting to quit that I experienced this morning. It comes from a part of my personality that isn’t my favorite, but it’s a part that I’m in the process of learning to understand and work with. The place this these thoughts come from isn’t one that I naturally want to advertise. In fact, it really comes from a part of myself that I generally try to hide. The part that’s unsure, doubtful, gives up easily, and wants to blame other people for my problems.
When Motivation Turns into Procrastination
As I talked with my wife about these feelings and thoughts I was having, she asked me “What’s changed since a month ago when you were really excited all this?”
A month ago I made a massive list of action items I wanted to do to take my coaching practice to the next level. Update the website, put together client material, start using instagram, make videos, run some ads, etc, etc, etc. All the things that a business coach would tell me to do. But, you know what? I didn’t do them. I wrote a blog and that was about it. I procrastinated. I didn’t do the thing. I let the part of myself take over that shuts down in the face of overwhelm rather than break things up in small easy-to-manage tasks. I logically know all the things I should do, but I found a ton of resistance to doing them. There was always an excuse at each point along with way.
And, as the overwhelm of not doing the things I meant to do caught up with me this morning, my natural instinct was not to think how I could reduce my overwhelm by doing the things I had put on that list. I actually didn’t even think about that. Instead, my internal defense mechanism was even deeper avoidence (talk about digging myself into a deeper hole, right?) After thinking through it, I realized that I was projecting the frustration with myself onto the concept of coaching as a whole.
Find the Source: Internal vs External Causation
Instead of even recognizing that the source of the difficult emotions I was having was related to built-up anxiety related to the list of things I needed to do, my mind defaulted to blaming coaching itself and my career choice for the negative emotional state I was in.
And, while it’s easy to think this is something that “only I do”, I’m pretty sure this a fairly common phenomenon.
To rephrase it again in a different way: When I put things off I need to do and I simultaneously avoid feelings of self-disappointment that inherently come with that procrastination, my mind wants to do anything but take responsibility for the negative emotions. Rather, it tends to attribute those negative emotions to the thing I'm not putting my full energy into (the thing itself) and not my relationship to it. There’s some inverted logic that seems to say “Well, if you just quit now, you won’t have to ever do those things you were putting off.”
But, that’s obviously not a sustainable solution. Those same patterns will pop up in other situations until I deal with them head on. It’s a painful process, but I’m grateful at this point I’m able to catch myself and see this as part of a larger pattern. Perhaps you’ve experienced something like this too?
Ultimately, it's an example of trying to find external causes for an internally generated problem. It's a dysfunctional loop that only get's broken when I admit to myself that the real cause of my anxiety and overwhelm isn't anything except the situation I've created for myself. Taking responsibility is actually the key to alleviating the problem.
Looking back, when I quit taking piano lessons when I was 10, it was because of the same loop. I didn't want to practice. And, then when lessons came it sucked to have my teacher tell me I wasn't playing it right. I blamed the teacher for my negative emotions towards playing piano, not my lack of preparation. I didn't wanna play piano anymore. But, if I had come prepared and done the work, I probably would have felt very differently about that teacher and my relationship to playing piano as a whole.
Emotional attribution is really important. Where are these feelings of self-doubt and anxiety actually coming from? Is it because I did the work and I didn’t like the result I got? Or is it because I didn’t do the work and I didn’t like the result I got. When it’s the latter, I’ve figured out that the solution is to just do the work.
Guess what was one of those things on the list? Write a new blog.
Ah. That feels better.