I’m not sure why it’s so rarely talked about that business really takes a lot of work on the self, from the inside out. When you run a business there’s a misconception that you have it all figured out, but in reality we’re all figuring it out as we go. We all have mental blocks that become hurdles for success. And this goes for any creative endeavour you’ve been wanting to do, but may feel stuck.
From the outside, business can look good and easy, but here’s a secret: the most successful businesses aren’t just working on tangible business, they’re also working on themselves. As much as it’s good to have a balance between work and life, running a successful business also means working on yourself.
Here’s the thing, the deeper you get into not doing something you really want, in many ways it can be harder to get out of the hole. In my own life I’ve found myself working on setting goals, creating good and structure, and mental toughness. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned that have helped me get back on track.
WORK TOWARDS A GOAL
I’ve had a pretty good idea that I’ve wanted to work on my own projects for years now. I just kept getting into pseudo-full-time work. And while there was a bit of time left in my week, there was no mental energy left for my own writing and work.
When I had one contract ending, I decided to embrace the uncertainty. I knew this transition time was going to be key and I’d need to put good habits into place in order to stay on this trajectory. I could no longer just think about writing more, I actually had to do it. I decided to make myself accountable by using the month of November to post something every day. I no longer had the excuse of a job or client taking all my time, so I needed to prove I had it.
For me, I’ve always kept goals somewhat flexible rather than having my eyes set on one thing. I know there are many possibilities out there that I haven’t considered because I don’t know they exist. I prefer to think of goals as getting me to the next step. By talking about the work I want to be doing (and working on it in the background) I find good stuff manifests.
The main catch when it comes to goals is it should be your goal, and not society or social media’s pressure on what you think you should be doing. The “comparison trap” can be a dangerous road to follow, playing mind games along the way, and risking putting you on a path you think you want to be on, but regret later. Artist Elle Luna talks about this as the crossroads of should and must. Don’t do what you think you “should” be doing, do what you MUST do.
The true path to success is digging deep, taking time to reflect, and working towards your own goals. Don’t skip this step. I found writing a manifesto helps. We can talk about doing something forever, but it’s far more rewarding once we do it.
CREATE GOOD HABITS & STRUCTURE
As much as I loved the freedom of the way I was working before, I’ve come to be a big proponent of a bit of structure to ensure we thrive.
With each passing day and year that I wasn’t working on what I really wanted to be working on, I started to adapt bad habits. The most noticeable one was staying up super late and snoozing all the time. There is nothing wrong with either of these habits, but for me, I wasn’t setting myself up for success by getting myself sucked in deeper. In fact, I was beating myself up because I’d spend more time and energy being frustrated and avoiding things than I would actually doing. I knew I needed to work on better habits in order to do, and get years of writing unlocked from my head.
Here’s the next secret: You don’t always have to go it alone. Books and podcasts are fantastic resources, but sometimes I feel like the human touch goes far.
One of the turning points for me came with a Deep Writing Workshop I took with Eric Maisel in Paris. The week of writing took my habit formation at step further where there were things I was working on myself that I didn’t realize weren’t working for me.
There were two big takeaways from that workshop that have helped set me up for more success (and happiness in my day to day). First is having a morning routine where writing is the first thing you do without making any excuses. These are not morning pages (à la Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way) but actual words of your own work.
When the idea of a morning practice was first presented, I was quite skeptical, knowing it’s not how I work these days. I could listen to the instructor, but the true value came from a return participant who shared her own experience, saying how she was not a morning person, but this practice has changed her life and what she has produced. It was a spontaneous moment I could not have predicted, but it had a big affect on me.
Still it took me a solid SIX MONTHS of real work to get mornings to be a thing for me. I learned to be forgiving for myself, understanding that life happens, and there’s always tomorrow. When I made it a month long challenge, it made it feel more possible, because it was a one month trial, not forever. But that little experiment completely changed the way I work, and my life as well.
Me telling you this story is not to force you to be a morning person so much as to point out how putting structures in place can help you thrive. It’s a mindset shift and resetting your priorities to get you where you want to be. It was not easy for me, but it was worth it in the end. I find that my biggest growth in business stems from things that seem easy at the surface, but in fact, a lot of work goes in behind the scenes.
Another silly habit I worked on is doing my dishes before I go to bed. It means I’m not making excuses not to write in the morning, by prioritizing dishes rather than my own work. (You may want to check out behavioral designer BJ Fogg’s “tiny habits” free email training.). I often joke too that when I paint my nails it’s an indicator I’m taking time for myself in my life. Not only is it putting the nail polish on, but it’s taking the time to take it off, I know, I know, this takes less than a minute, but when we’re not in control of life, sometimes we walk around with half painted nails for weeks. Look for little signs for what you may want to work on.
And one more thing worth noting, is that ever since I put in the long term work to create better habits, I’ve had a lot more good days. By getting MY work done first thing, I’m setting my day up for success as well.
BUILD THE MENTAL GAME
Social media seems to teach us that we all know everything about everyone, the reality is that it’s a bunch of half truths. Behind the scenes everyone is dealing with something.
In the same Deep Writing Workshop another unexpected lesson stuck with me. When you find yourself comparing yourself to others beating yourself up with a negative thought, ask yourself, “is that a thought that serves me?” If the answer is now, it’s time for a re-frame.
If you say to yourself, “This is complete rubbish,” try responding, “It’s a first draft, of course it’s not my best work. I’ll keep reworking it.”
”I’m not as motivated as [name].” try responding, “I am my own person. I need to find what works for me.”
“I’ll never be as good as [fill in the blank],” try responding, “What’s one small thing I can do today to help be my best self.”
The key is making it a thought that serves YOU. There’s no right or wrong answer except for the fact that it should be something that moves you forward. I know it may come off as a bit woo woo at the beginning, but once you realize even the most successful and talented people in the world have their own hangups too, it’s easier to find tactics to try to help yourself too.
It’s also important to realize there’s no one size fits all secret to success for everyone. Life goes in phases and cycles, and you may find yourself working on different aspects at different times. Once you get to each new level, new challenges will present themselves. Don’t be scared or intimidated. Be ready to face them head on.
As a final word of warning when it comes to the mental game, don’t get stuck in social media. The most successful businesses may use social media as a channel for promotion, but they’re rooted in something much deeper, and there’s a story behind the work they do. If you spend all your time worried about how to get more likes (in terms of both count, and perhaps ego as well), you’re not playing the right game.
Social media is designed to be addictive. It’s an incredible tool for research when used right (I’ll write about that soon), but it risks being mentally taxing as well. In order to create a successful business, focus on the heart of your business first. Don’t let social media take over. Create something that is sustainable for long term success.
Find a way to create balance. Make sure it doesn’t suck all of your time from creating the work you WANT to be doing, that you’re craving, and calling your name. If you find yourself making excuses, it may be time to revisit steps one and two, to create a structure for success.
BUILD BUSINESS FROM THE INSIDE OUT
What comes naturally for one person, may be an uphill battle for another person. Every entrepreneur or creative type is going to have their own equation for success. I hope my experiences have shed some light on the mysteries of making things happen. I write this very much as a reminder for myself, as well as to help others.
Working from the inside out is hard to do on your own. It is be much easier with some help, guidance, and motivation from the outside. Surround yourself with others who are also on their own journey. There’s not one way of doing things, so keep listening for those nuggets that can help guide you. Be vulnerable enough to know you’re always learning. Be open to possibilities and other ways of doing things. Sometimes a simple mindset shift can do wonders.
Feeling stuck and unmotivated today? I’m not going to give you pity. Instead I’ll ask you, “what’s the one TINY thing I can do today to help me take a step towards working on my project again?”. Forget going big, start small. Little changes add up over time, and are more sustainable for the long haul in setting yourself up for success.
If you’re looking for the easy answer or quick fix, I’m sorry I can’t wave a magic wand and fix everything. I can encourage you to invest in yourself, and self reflect. Figure out the couple key things you want to work on. For me it was good habits and building some structure. For you it may be something completely different.
Have that hard conversation with yourself. Write down some thoughts. If it helps, put a post-it on your computer or on the wall to remind you of those ideas. Don’t try to change over night. Keep thinking about the small changes you can try out to get you where you want to be. You’ve got this. 💪
I want to know! Did this resonate with you? What have you found yourself working on “on the inside”? What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome? What lessons from your experiences can you share? Please leave a note in the comments so we can all learn from each other!