I spoke recently of giving myself permission to work, to start rather than stay in the planning stage. Planning is comforting, nothing has gone wrong yet, no obstacles have slowed your work. Not only that but when you plan you have a version of the outcome of your project neatly in your mind. It can be a safe place to stay, one where nothing goes wrong. But it isn’t a real place and eventually all those beautiful plans begin to sour because a plan is just an idea, a hope, but it isn’t a concrete project or adventure. Slowly as time passes even the most carefully crafted plan fades in the sunshine of everyday life if it doesn’t get used.
But taking that first step outside of the plan is so easily derided by doubts, no matter what excuse you give (too much to do, not enough money, wrong tools) they really are there as masks for the reality of fear. When we actually commit to working on a project we are also offering ourselves up to the possibility of failure, and that is scary. We are carrying with us the voices of everyone who has ever said no to us, or assigned us a value (good or bad). Most people don’t step outside the parameters of their lives and create work without some sort of external motivation. Being a hard worker is an excellent trait but it shouldn’t get confused with being able to work independently towards a goal, especially when the goal is one you have created for yourself. It is in beginning that we really should feel like we have had our first success.
Except it doesn’t work that way. As soon as we start working those voices start whispering. These voices are part of our monkey mind, that scattered little monkey within us all who wants to sidetrack us, to derail us. No matter how confident you are the monkey will begin to chant its insults, remind us of doubts, and worst of all it sounds like us, not a monkey. Often the monkey mind is described as scattered offering up many other things to distract you from your task at hand. But I have always seen it as something more derisive, it isn’t there just to scatter you but to stop you from big things. The same way we call children monkeys this monkey is also child like, it wants to stay in the safe and familiar. So while it may be difficult to overcome, and may be disruptive to your work, it doesn’t mean you harm. In fact, you might say that your monkey mind is trying to protect you.
So how do you do battle with the monkey mind and what tools do you need? Every person is different in the details but I would say that you need three basic areas focusing, encouragement, and comfort.
For me I find that I need tangible representations of focus. My work space is mobile at the moment, hopefully our studio will have internet soon, so my focus has to be able to slip into my backpack without weighing me down. While I have a planner which includes everything I need to do over the week before I sit down I make a detailed list of everything I need to do. Because my current project involves a lot of small written pieces I list what each one is,. I love being able to check things off the list quickly. If I can see that I am being productive, meeting my bench marks then I am able to hush the monkey mind by showing it how I am having little successes. Another thing that I am using right now is a photo of my son, it is there to remind me that everything that I am doing is so that I can create the life that I want us to have as a family (he is also my biggest cheer leader).
Encouragement, don’t be stoic, your battle with your monkey mind maybe yours alone but sharing your excitement for your project is really important. I have a core group of people who know about my project who I can count on to ask me how its going. I try not to bore them or focus primarily on what I am doing when I talk with them, but comes up and often they have suggestions. Even if all they do is ask you how it is going it legitimizes it for me. Another passive form of encouragement for me is to be in an environment that is filled with other people working on independent projects. Like the coffee shop I am sitting in right now, most of the people who frequent it are either students or people working for themselves, either way they are focused on something and it rubs off on me.
For me to focus I need to have certain things together before I start working, otherwise the time I spend getting up and down lets in the monkey mind. Let’s face it being comfortable is really important for getting anything done.
My Personal Comfort List
1. My glasses case (I don’t always use my glasses but my ear buds are in there)
2. Music, either with no words or if it is singing it needs to be in a language I don’t speak.
3. A hair band or clip, if my hair is down I play with it.
4. My notebook (and a pen), even when I am using the computer I like to have my notebook there to write other ideas down o they don’t distract me.
5. The TO DO LIST, see above.
6. My charger, I have been known to run a few blocks home because I forgot it.
7. Something to drink.
I think of those as my armor, if I have them all together I am more able to win and work rather than struggle with my monkey mind. Of course so much of this depends on the day, the stars, the barometer, and eighty-five other things. In other words I may know how to battle the monkey but that doesn’t mean I am always successful. Everyday there seems to be new struggles that show themselves.