Recently I was chatting with a new friend of mine, a teacher and leader in her field, about the fact that I help birth books for a living. She covered her face in her hands and said, in a muffled voice, “Oh dear. I’m supposed to be writing a book!”
She was embarrassed to admit it: a book had been asking for her attention for years, like a stray dog scratching at the back door. She wanted to let the pup in, to love it and feed it and nurture it, but somehow she just couldn’t get started.
I see this problem all the time. If there were a safe house for neglected book ideas, it would be fuller than the local Humane Society.
So what’s standing in the way of most of us—maybe even you—putting pen to paper?
The responses I hear are familiar. I don’t have enough time. I’m not sure my idea is good enough. I don’t know where to start.
But after almost 20 years of working with authors (and after a whole lot of study in the area of Neuro-Linguistic Programming) I feel obligated to tell you that these reasons are total bunk.
They’re the surface-level excuses that are covering up for the really, really, really GOOD reasons you’re not writing. The reasons I’m talking about are protection mechanisms. Deep and often hidden, many of us don’t even know they’re there.
These safety measures have been with us for a very long time, and they were put in place to ensure our survival. As annoying as our creative blocks may be, they deserve our respect.
So here are the top three really, really, really good reasons you’re not writing that book.
#1- It would feel disloyal to one or both of your parents.
It doesn’t matter if Mom and Dad are outwardly supportive, or if they passed on a very long time ago. Our parental loyalties are not rational or even relevant to our lives today. But they mattered a whole lot to our “little one,” the young version of us who first put them into place a long, long time ago.
Our loyalties to our parents got crystallized when we were less than four years old. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of experience making sense of our world—so we drew some conclusions that may not look entirely logical or reasonable to our adult selves.
As a child, Mom and Dad are the god and goddess of our universe. What we see in them is “how things are.” For example, say Dad was not successful at his chosen profession. The lesson the 2- or 3-year-old gets is, “Being safe and happy equals being unsuccessful.” So what would happen if suddenly you wrote and published your book to great acclaim? *Shivers down spine.*
Our loyalties to “the way things were at home” when we were growing up have created more of our world than most of us would like to admit. This is the first step for breaking the pattern of procrastination.
#2- It would feel unsafe to be seen.
As children, we are truly at the mercy of the outside world. Our parents are supposed to be our “exo-skeletons,” protecting us and keeping us safe while we grow skins thick enough to survive life’s difficulties.
Unfortunately, many of us were not afforded this kind of protection. (Often for reasons that were outside of our parents’ control.) We had to fend for ourselves when it came to self-protection.
Lacking more complex strategies, we took the easiest route: We learned how to hide.
Hiding from danger is a very, very intelligent adaptation on the part of our younger selves. In some cases, it saved our lives.
But today, it’s mostly keeping us from writing. Calling attention to ourselves in the form of a book can set off a survival-level panic for the little one inside. What a great reason to find absolutely anything else to do than sit down and write!
#3- We are afraid we are not good enough.
Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg tells a wonderful story about asking the Dalai Lama about self-hatred. “Self-hatred?” he responded. “What is that?”
He had never heard the phrase—and, as the discussion continued, it became clear that in Tibet low self-esteem is simply not a thing.
Well, I don’t think I need to tell you that in our culture, it is a thing—and then some. I hear some version of this “I’m not good enough” refrain from even the most accomplished and knowledgeable people I meet.
Who am I to tell others what to do?
How do I know if it’s good enough?
What if I fail?
It’s a cultural value not to value ourselves too highly. Those who are sure they can succeed are labeled vain, egotistical and self-important.
Is it any wonder we’d all develop a belief that we’re not good enough? It’s a deep, long-standing self-protection mechanism. Valiant, pure of heart, and—at one time—very important to our survival.
So that’s the bad news. The good news? These three really, really, really good reasons we don’t write, aren’t the end of the story.
The first step toward integrating and dissolving them is to see them. The second step is to thank them for their service.
The third step is to ask ourselves: What would I like instead?
To create is a human impulse. It’s the pulse of life. I recently read about a sign that hangs in the design school at Stanford University. It says: “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only MAKE.”
Discovering the really, really good intentions behind our resistance is the first step toward MAKE. Let us know if we can help.