A lot of times when I’m coaching someone, there’s some behavior they just hate that they’re dying to get rid of, because it’s ruining everything. Or so they say. (And when I say “they”, I mean, equally, me.)
When it comes to creativity, this behavior is almost always what the client calls “procrastinating.” Or being “stuck.” Or maybe they’re feeling hesitant about submitting a piece of work somewhere, and they’re beating themselves up for not doing it.
If it’s a person who wants to lose weight, the behavior is “snacking too much.” Or “not exercising enough.” Or tearing the doors off the kitchen cupboards and emptying them one by one.
I get it. In my teens and early twenties, I had an eating disorder. At the time, I couldn’t have told you that: I thought it was “normal.” I thought I had about ten pounds to lose, so I would starve myself until I lost it. I couldn’t stay on my crazy extremely-low-calorie diets, so the pressure would build and finally one day I’d crack and I’d binge. Then I’d feel I’d failed, and what was the use anyway, and I’d binge and binge until I gained the ten pounds back.
I tried to rid myself of this bingeing behavior by more dieting. Then I tried to rid myself of the dieting behavior by “eating normally.” But I had no idea how to do that. One day I didn’t show up for one of my classes in college because I’d eaten so much I felt like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Woman, and I didn’t want anyone to see me.
I was in enough pain by this point that while I was supposed to be in class, I walked to the bookstore down the street and found a book by Geneen Roth called Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating. I had deep skepticism about books with titles like that. But I knew I’d hit bottom. With great shame, I trudged up to the counter to purchase it.
This book changed my life (I still have my little dog-eared, yellowed, paperback copy, in which about half of each page is underlined in red ballpoint pen). Geneen suggested that behavior that appears to be hurting us on first glance actually has a purpose. It’s helping us in some way that we don’t, or won’t, acknowledge.
When we change our question from “How can I get rid of this behavior?” to “How might this behavior be helping me?”, we change the story we’re telling ourselves. I was no longer “woman hell-bent on self-destruction”; I became “woman who’s trying to take care of herself the best she can.”
When I saw how my behavior took care of me, I was able to thank it and gradually let go of it. When I saw that “feeling fat” gave me a good reason to say no, I realized I didn’t have to feel fat in order to say no. I could actually say no just because I wanted to say no. I could actually choose not to attend class just because I didn’t want to attend class. I didn’t have to binge on lasagna and make myself sick so I’d have a “good excuse.”
This was only one way my behavior helped me, of course; it was complex, and I needed to do some digging and some looking around for me to understand all the ways it served me. And it took some time before I was able to truly thank it for its service, and let it go.
When it comes to our creativity, too, our “counterproductive” behavior is serving us in some way. If I’ve stopped writing in the middle of my draft, there’s a good reason for it. I can plow through, force myself to write, but in the long run, it’s probably more helpful to look for the good reason and see how it’s helping me.
That doesn’t mean I will stay stopped. It means I trust that there’s a wisdom within me that wants to be listened to, if I’ll only give it a chance to be heard. This wisdom wants all good things for me — and when I don’t listen to it, it acts out in ways that seem destructive to get my attention. The sooner I listen, the sooner I can discover what it is I really want, and move forward in the way that serves me best.
If you think you are “stuck,” I guarantee you there’s a good reason for it. But you don’t have to stay stuck. Check out my Free Creativity Consultations — I’ll help you find your good reason and we’ll figure out how you can move forward.