My best hack to start writing (or anything else)
Word > Excel
Welcome to the 15th issue of Inward Ventures, my weekly share of what I’m working on and fiddling around with. I share thoughts and ideas I come across in my continuing quest for self-improvement, productivity, and education for myself and my coaching clients. I strive to excel in my writing, creativity, and, well… LIFE. Thanks for being here. Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks.
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TF is Fear-Setting?
Around New Year’s, I published a piece about my late mother and the swimming lessons she never took; you can read that here. I mentioned Tim Ferriss’s fear-setting exercises. I explained how I worked through some of these exercises with my mother to shine a light on her hesitation around swimming lessons and get to the bottom of the BIG reasons holding her back.
I’ve used this tool over the years, but generally as an informal thought practice, meaning it would crop up on a long walk or a training run, maybe as I unplugged during a sauna session. I would dialog with myself and think things through. Maybe, later on, I’d share my insights with a friend, but not usually.
This practice became more valuable when I took the time to write down my fears and the solutions I worked out for them. There is substantial evidence to back up the claim that writing things down creates deeper connections in the brain for learning and goal achievement.
Knowing it worked for goal setting, why not do it for the fear setting? #duh
Like everyone else, I’ve written “pros and cons” lists, a superficial version of this exercise. With fear-setting, I’m barely working through the pros; what are the benefits? After all, that’s not what’s stopping me. Fear is.
Facing off the Dragon
That’s what this exercise addresses: what could go wrong, how that would affect me, why that would affect me, and what I could (if at all) do about it. I call this Facing the Dragon (I only started calling it that this week, but that’s between us.) For me, it was Fear.
We all have a Dragon, or three, that are coiled up in our subconscious minds, rearing their heads and lashing out when disturbed. Fear is always reliable there, as is Grief. You can probably think of another one or two that you’ve got nestled way back in your primitive brain.
When I sat to write my book before I even brainstormed ideas or started positioning, all the other work that I didn’t even know existed and needs to be established before you can even start writing your book (!) I spent an entire afternoon facing and slaying my Fear Dragon, all of the fears and resistance I had regarding writing my book, in an Excel spreadsheet.
OK, get to the hack already.
Why in Excel? Because I KNOW myself. Writing in Word felt too close to “writing” whatever that means, but ykwim! I didn’t want to write about writing; I wasn’t journaling and dreaming. I had serious concerns to examine and untangle.
Fears, real and imagined, were preventing me from following through on a lifelong dream. I was not okay with that. I wanted to end the bullshit story I was telling myself.
Stories are written in Word. I wanted to look at these fears objectively, realistically, as data points. And where do I compile data? Excel.
A spreadsheet is a piece of paper or a computer program used for accounting and recording data using rows and columns into which information can be entered.
Listing my fears individually, looking at them rationally helped to increase the distance between us. I worked down the first column, purging all sorts of what-if questions, from the reasonable to the ridiculous. What if this happens? What if THAT happens? What if mother-of-god-please-no, this happens?!
Next column, I considered how likely each event was.
NO ONE WILL READ MY BOOK.
Ok, well, it’s unlikely that NO ONE will read it. At least 4 people will read it (D, J, M, and K), but for the sake of the exercise, let’s say this does happen, and absolutely no one reads my book.
Then what? Will it all have been for nothing? Why did I even bother spending a year of my life on this endeavor then? What’s the point if no one reads it?
Working through this fear made me realize that I’m not writing this book to reach a massive audience. Would I love that, of course! It’d be fantastic to know my book was helpful to many.
I’m not even writing this for my daughter. I hope that I inspire her with my efforts, but really, god’s truth, I am writing this for me.
I’ve dreamt of this for so long yet felt unworthy of the effort. I am writing this for ME to prove to myself that I can. That I AM worth it and capable of being an author.
WELL. With that kind of insight, realizing who cares if only 4 people read it, and that’s only because they’re my best friends, that an audience isn't what I’m after, it’s the personal accomplishment I seek… HEY NOW! Talk about feeling free. 😎
I went through ALL of the fears, some legit, some ridic. All given cells of their own, with rows and rows filled of actions I could take to minimize their effects, or even prevent them from happening.
For good measure, because I am annoyingly optimistic, I will wear that insult as a badge of honor forever 😂 I put in some POSITIVE what-ifs:
What if my message really helps someone? This is kinda cool to imagine: having someone say, you really broke it down for me, thank you!
Who might I inspire with my efforts? also cool, who knows who I might reach?
What if I decide to write another book? spoiler alert, I already have the next one lined up
How will I see myself differently when I finish this? 😍
I like to share things happening in my life and then turn it over to have YOU work it out in your own situation. There’s something you’re hesitating, hemming and hawing about… what is it?
Starting a new diet
quitting an addiction
beginning a new career path
ending a relationship
We’ve all got something that we’re just not facing.
Here are some prompts to get started:
List your fears, ALL of them.
What are the consequences of each?
What is the likelihood of this happening?
What can you plan to prevent it from happening?
What can you plan to minimize the negative projected outcome you fear?
Lastly, ask yourself this:
If I don’t begin/end this project/action/habit, what will happen? What’s the cost?
I asked my mom this when I reminded her that she could give up on her dream of learning how to swim. She didn’t HAVE to take swimming lessons. “Oh, I couldn’t bear to live with myself. I’d have to at least try. ”
That’s me too. I don’t want any deathbed regrets, mourning a life I could have had, should have had, but was too afraid to put myself out there.
It’s about time.
So put it all down, list those fears no matter how trivial they seem, get ‘em outta your brain and onto that sheet. Look ‘em stone cold in the face, and do the work to deal with them. This will silence them as it gives you confidence and aligns you with your true motives. Slay that dragon already; it’s time.
Whatcha got for me? Let me know!
If you need help with this, please email me or comment below, and I’ll gladly go over this in more detail with you. As always, I promise I will do whatever I can to be there for you and support you. That’s part of the agenda of my soul, really.