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Dropping The “Make Or Break” Mentality

Here’s something that doesn’t make much logical sense.

I imagine that, at some point in your life, you worked on a task that felt really “make or break” to you.  Maybe it was a project for an important client at work, or perhaps you were a student and preparing to take a test worth a big share of your grade.  Whatever it was, your whole career seemed to depend on your success at it, and “failure was not an option.”

When Starting Is Not An Option

Have you ever noticed that these “make or break” projects are actually the ones you have the most trouble starting?  That, the more that seems to be “riding” on the outcome, the harder it is to make progress?

From a rational perspective, this is hard to understand.  You’d think we’d dive headfirst into a task we see as “mission critical.”  Isn’t that what all the motivational bestsellers tell us — that we need to “chase success as if our lives depend on it”?

But when we look at this issue from an emotional perspective, it starts to make sense.  After all, if I really believe that making a mistake in my project could “break” me or my career, that probably means I’m basing my sense of self-worth on how well I perform.

If my self-worth depends on how my work is received, of course I’m not going to start my project.  This is because, if I finish my task and present it to the world, I’ll run the risk that people will see what I’ve done as inadequate, and then I’ll have to feel inadequate.

I think this is one reason so many people seem to have a book they’ve been “meaning” to write, or a business they’ve been “planning” to start, for the last ten years.  They’re worried that, if they come out with a final product and others don’t appreciate it, they’ll stop appreciating themselves.

Being Okay With Our Non-Okayness

Now, it would be easy for me to say that “the solution is to be okay with yourself no matter what.”  But as I think you know, that’s not so easy in practice.  Building up our basic sense of “okayness,” in my experience, takes work, and there’s no “30-day miracle cure.”

One practice I’ve found simple and effective, though, is to watch carefully for moments when you’re basing your sense of self-worth on the results you get in your work.  When you notice yourself thinking this way, just acknowledge what’s going on, without trying to change it.  Simply admit to yourself:  “I’m worrying that, if people don’t approve of my work, I won’t approve of myself.”

When I do this, I often feel the sense of heaviness in my body dropping away, and find myself chuckling out loud.  When I look directly at the painful story I’m telling myself, rather than trying to push it aside or pretend it isn’t there, the light of my awareness tends to burn it away, like the sun burning off the clouds.

On a practical level, when I let go of the sense that a project can “make or break me,” and see it more as a chance to play and experiment, I find concentrating and finishing my work so much easier.

Inner Productivity (My New Book) Is Now Available

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I’m excited to announce that my new book, Inner Productivity: A Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your Work, is now available in both paperback and Kindle format.

The book is a compilation of the techniques and perspectives I’ve successfully used to help people find—you guessed it—efficiency and enjoyment in their work.   The book approaches productivity from a unique angle, using insights from psychology and mindfulness practice to help you stay focused and motivated.

I’ll say more about the book, and give you a taste of what others have said, in this post.  More information about the book, including videos and interviews, is also available on a separate site I’ve created.

About The Book

As I’m sure you know, it’s one thing to bone up on all the productivity “tips and tricks” out there—learning creative ways to make to-do lists, declutter your desk, hold shorter meetings, and so on.  It’s quite another to actually stick with those techniques and make them work for you.

A major reason for this is that productivity techniques usually don’t address the biggest obstacle to getting our work done:  our own minds.  If you find yourself mentally replaying an argument with your spouse, daydreaming about your next vacation, worrying about how big the bonus will be this year, and so on, simply knowing the latest “Top 100 PDA Hacks” won’t do much to keep you on task.

A Deeper Look At Procrastination

What’s really going on in moments when we find ourselves getting “off task”—becoming distracted or putting off your work?  In coaching individuals and groups on overcoming inner obstacles to productivity, what I’ve learned is that we often get off task because some inner experience—some thought or feeling—that we don’t want to be with is coming up.

Here’s a common example.  Suppose your boss assigns you a project, and you accept it but feel resentful that it wasn’t given to somebody else.  Naturally, as you do the project, you feel the resentment, which shows up as a tightness in your shoulders.  Because you don’t like that feeling, you distract yourself from it by checking e-mail, playing Minesweeper, or whatever your favorite procrastination technique happens to be.  Unfortunately, although you take your attention off the unwanted experience, you also get nothing done.

This is the “normal” reaction to uncomfortable inner experiences in our culture—procrastinate, take a drug to numb the feeling, go do something else, and so on.  In other words, we might say, we run away from ourselves.  The trouble is, of course, that we can’t get any work done while we’re fleeing from our inner experience.  And so we find ourselves spending large chunks of time accomplishing little, and feeling frustrated about it.

Accepting Your Inner Experience

Inner Productivity offers a different approach to dealing with these difficult inner experiences—allowing them to be, just as they are, without distracting yourself or pushing the experience away.  To understand what I mean, try this simple exercise.

The next time you’re working, and you start experiencing some uncomfortable thought or feeling, try breathing deeply, relaxing your body, and just letting the sensation move through you.  Where you would have run away from the sensation before, see if you can stay with it and welcome it for a little while.

What I think you’ll find is that the feeling actually passes away pretty quickly when you let it.  For instance, if you’re feeling resentful about working, and you breathe deeply and allow that tense sensation to simply move through you, it’s not like you’ll stay angry forever—the tension in your body will relax, leaving you in a calm and focused state.

The more you do this exercise, the more you’ll come to realize that the thought or sensation isn’t actually dangerous to you, and you don’t have to run away from it.  And when you understand, at a deep level, that you don’t have to flee from your inner experience, you become able to stay on task even in the face of intense sensations.  You become able to calmly respond “yes, I’m feeling angry or sad or afraid, and I’m going to continue with this project.”

The Yoga of Productivity

Yoga, one of the practices that inspired Inner Productivity, offers a good analogy.  People who are starting out doing yoga tend to assume that a pose is difficult because their bodies aren’t flexible enough to get into it.  But interestingly, surgeons have found that, under anesthesia, the human body can bend in all kinds of ways we’d usually see as impossible.

In other words, the problem often isn’t a lack of flexibility at all—it’s that we don’t want to be with the discomfort we feel while we’re doing the yoga pose.  But as we ease ourselves into the pose, and realize that the sensations we feel while doing it aren’t going to harm us, the pose starts to feel natural and even enjoyable.

We could think of the techniques in Inner Productivity like a form of yoga.  As with a difficult yoga pose, when we learn to accept, rather than flee from, the thoughts and sensations that come up as we work, working starts to feel more easy, natural and fun.  That’s what I want for you, and that’s why I wrote the book.

So, if you aren’t getting enough out of conventional productivity techniques, and you’re ready to take a deeper look at what’s really holding you back in your work, I think you’ll find Inner Productivity eye-opening and valuable.

What Others Have Said

I was amazed at the enthusiasm and generosity of the authors I asked to provide advance quotes for the book.  Here’s a sample:

“Chris Edgar has taken an exploratory dive into the procrastination pit and come up with a cogent explanation of this phenomenon as well as an elegant set of techniques to transcend it. It’s a great read and a useful guidebook for turning the daily grind into something much more interesting and engaging.”

David Allen, bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Inner Productivity will show you how to clear your inner clutter and create a pathway to success!”

Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Real productivity doesn’t come from forced behaviors. Inner Productivity can help you connect with the inner state of being that can empower you to act in new ways, choose new perspectives and have a different experience. There is no greater productivity than connecting with your true self.”

Tama J. Kieves, bestselling author of This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love (How One Harvard Lawyer Left It All to Have It All)

Inner Productivity is packed with practical examples of how to achieve greater results and peace of mind at work.”

Laura Stack, bestselling author of Leave the Office Earlier: The Productivity Pro Shows You How to Do More in Less Time . . . and Feel Great About It

“A wonderful guide for organizing both your physical and your head space.”

Peter Walsh, bestselling author of Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You

Order The Book

You can order the book in either paperback or Kindle format—I’ve posted the links below.  (Note:  If you see an “out of stock” notice on the Amazon page for the paperback, don’t worry, it’s still available — just click on the “2 new” link and order the book from “Cruzado Press.”)

Print Edition

Amazon Paperback

Kindle Edition

Amazon Kindle

I’ve also created a separate site with more information about the book, which you can view here.

Reviewers Wanted

I’m always interested in constructive feedback on my work.  If you’d be interested in reviewing my book on your blog, please let me know, and I can provide you a copy in paperback or electronic form.

Videos of My Recent “Transcending Procrastination” Talk

I’m excited to share six short excerpts from my recent “Transcending Procrastination” talk at EastWest Bookstore in Mountain View, California.

The talk was about how you can use mindfulness and spiritual practices, like meditation and yoga, to stay focused and motivated in your work.  The turnout was great, and EastWest is one of my favorite bookstores, so I was very pleased to do this engagement.  I’ll explain what each of the excerpts is about below:

In Part 1, I explain how I got into incorporating mindfulness practices into my job, and teaching that work to others:

In Part 2, I discuss why it’s important to develop motivation and focus on the inside, in addition to having an organized workspace:

In Part 3, I discuss how we normally deal with disruptive thoughts and feelings that come up in our work — pushing them away or running from them.  I offer a healthier, less stressful option:  allowing those inner experiences to be, just as they are, until they pass away:

In Part 4, I talk about how mindfulness practices can help us stimulate our creativity when we’re feeling mentally blocked:

In Part 5, I explain how getting accustomed to more silence in our lives can help our concentration and productivity in our work:

In Part 6, I explain how taking a step back and looking at the bigger reason why you’re doing the task you’re working on can be a great source of motivation and focus:

In Other News:  I Deleted My Last Post

For those of you who noticed the mysterious disappearance of my previous post, “A Meditation for Exercise Pain,” I deleted it because I decided, on further examination, that it did not meet the ruthless quality control standards of this site.  I hope this didn’t cause too much confusion or any international incidents.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the videos and I look forward to your feedback!

Best, Chris

How To Escape The “Chicken Or Egg” Mentality

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There’s a nasty mental trap we often fall into when we’re considering trying something new, whether in our business, our social lives, or somewhere else.  I’m talking about what’s often called “the chicken or egg problem.”  The way of thinking I mean goes like this:  “I can’t do A unless I do B, but I can’t do B unless I do A.  So I guess I won’t bother trying to do either A or B.”

I’ll give you a few examples from my own life.  When I first got interested in doing speaking engagements, I faced what I saw as a dilemma.  On one hand, I thought, I was unlikely to get many engagements unless I had a book to promote.  But on the other, if I sent a book idea to a publisher, they probably wouldn’t take it seriously unless I’d done a bunch of speaking engagements and built up a “platform.”

There’s a similar example from my teenage years.  When I started high school, I hadn’t gone to middle school with the other kids in my class, and so I didn’t have friends coming in.  However, that wasn’t the painful part.  What created suffering was my belief that no one would want to hang out with me unless I had other friends.  But of course, I couldn’t have “other friends” unless I made some in the first place.  (I’m noticing I feel a little embarrassed talking about my high school experiences, but I’ll leave it in here to expand my comfort zone.  :) )

In both examples, it took me a while to free myself from the mental rut I’d fallen into.  But in the end, I did, and I want to share some of the ideas I explored that helped me pursue what I wanted.

1. Realize That Others Have Been There. On the speaking issue, one realization that shifted my perspective was that every well-known author and speaker must have faced exactly the same problem.  There was a time when every aspiring writer confronted the stark reality of having no book, speaking engagements, or “platform” of any kind.  Yet somehow, they made do.

One example that immediately came to mind for me was Dr. Wayne Dyer, author of countless books offering what I’d call “self-help from a spiritual perspective,” and a role model of mine.  Dyer was a college professor when he wrote his first book, Your Erroneous Zones.  He offered the book to some publishers, but they rejected it.

I suspect many in Dyer’s situation would have either given up and slunk back into academia, or spent years publishing magazine articles to build up credentials that would impress a publisher.  But not Dyer—he self-published his book, quit his job, and toured the country in his station wagon selling his work to bookstores.  The book sold so well that a major publisher picked it up and it became a bestseller.

With Dyer’s inspiring example in mind, I decided to self-publish my audio program, and I’ll do the same shortly with my full-length book.  Obviously, they’ll soon be bestsellers too, right?  :)

2. What Would Happen If You Did? Like I said, one assumption behind the “chicken or egg” mindset is that we “can’t” do A unless we do B first.  When we’re stuck in this mentality, one question we don’t often think to ask is:  what do we really mean by “can’t”?

My isolated, unhappy first year of high school drove me to seriously consider this question.  What I realized was that my belief that I “couldn’t” make friends without already having them was wildly exaggerated.  After all, it’s not like it was physically impossible to ask someone to be my friend without already having a big social group—I wouldn’t need to defy gravity or travel back in time.

So I asked myself:  what am I actually afraid of?  The answer that came up was that what I really feared was others’ disapproval.  I was worried that, if I tried to be friends with someone, they might call me a “loser” or otherwise ridicule me for not having “enough” of a social life.  And when I understood this, I saw there was actually very little to be afraid of.  Getting put down might sting a little, but I strongly doubted it would kill me.

This simple shift in my way of thinking expanded my sense of freedom to meet people, and I started coming out of my shell (a process that’s still ongoing today :) ).

3. Focus On The Gifts You’re Giving. Somehow, this whole “chicken or egg problem” seems to magically disappear when we take our attention off all the suffering we’ll supposedly cause ourselves and others by doing what we want, and focus on what we’ll contribute to the world with our efforts.

Take my experience with giving talks.  When I took a close look at what I was really afraid of when it came to booking speaking engagements, what I discovered was that I was worried I’d be “bothering” the event planners I wanted to call.  My attention was entirely focused on the inconvenience I’d supposedly cause people by asking them to have me as a speaker, and none of it was on the gifts people would receive from my talk.

When I took a moment to remember the service I wanted to offer others with my workshops, suddenly the whole dilemma of “I need a book to be a speaker, but I need to be a speaker to have a book” disappeared, and booking engagements seemed like the obvious and natural thing to do.  It’s funny how our concerns can seem so “logical” in one moment, and then become trivial when we get into a better mood.

The Myth of “Toxic People”

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – C.G. Jung

There’s a lot of personal development writing about how it’s important to avoid “toxic people” and “energy vampires”—people who criticize us, make fun of us, tell us we can’t achieve our goals, and so on.  I actually have the opposite view:  that the “difficult people” in our lives offer us wonderful opportunities to grow as human beings.

My sense is that, whenever you find yourself getting annoyed, disturbed, or uncomfortable around someone, you’re always learning something about yourself.  In a nutshell, what you’re becoming aware of is a part of yourself you aren’t fully comfortable with.  When someone acts in a way you see as greedy, fearful, obnoxious, or something else, the discomfort you experience is actually your distaste for your own greed, fear or obnoxiousness.  The other person’s behavior is simply reminding you of this unwanted part.

What’s more, simply having this awareness can do much to help you reconcile with parts of yourself you shunned before—and free up all the energy you were using to repress those parts, so it can fuel you as you pursue what you want.

My Own Example

I’ll tell you a story that illustrates this idea well.  When I first started my own business, I had a friend who basically told me I was wasting my life, and that I had been brainwashed by self-help books I’d read about being an entrepreneur.  When he said these things, I felt angry, and initially I reacted the way I think most of us would.  I decided I was “justified” and “right” in feeling upset, and distanced myself from him to make sure he wouldn’t hold me back from reaching my goals.

However, around that time, I began reading Embracing Our Selves, by Hal and Sidra Stone.  One of the many valuable observations the Stones make is that, when we feel distressed by someone in our lives, that’s probably because they embody a part of us we tend to “disown” or push away.  On reading this, I realized the reason I felt so upset when my friend spoke pessimistically about my business was that there was actually part of me that felt the same way.

In starting my new venture, I’d been making a concerted effort to stay positive and directed, and never let doubt creep into my mind.  Labeling my friend as “toxic” and pushing him out of my life was a natural outgrowth of this mindset.  But by forcing myself to be perpetually upbeat and motivated, I was shoving aside a younger, less self-assured part of myself—a part that was scared that I would fail and that I was, in fact, wasting my life.  And by pushing that part away, I was doing violence to who I really was.

Making Peace With Our Fearful Parts

For a moment, instead of keeping this scared child part at bay, I tried allowing it to voice its concerns.  I acknowledged that, on some level, I was feeling fearful and pessimistic about my path, just like my friend.  When I admitted to myself how I really felt, some tense areas in my body suddenly relaxed, and I felt refreshed.  All the energy I’d been using to plaster a smile on my face and force away negativity was now freed up to help me achieve what I wanted, and I actually started feeling more excited and directed about my goals.

So, in an important sense, my friend’s pessimism was helpful to me.  By voicing his doubts about my course in life, he alerted me to a place where I wasn’t completely okay with myself.  I was repressing a childlike part of me that felt timid and unready, and straining against that part was actually physically tiring.  But when I fully accepted that part and listened to what it had to say, I felt more powerful than ever before.

What I learned from this experience was that the greatest power to pursue our goals and succeed comes from wholeness—from our acceptance of every aspect of who we are.  This may sound counterintuitive, because a lot of self-help literature advises us to simply tell our fearful inner voices to shut up, and avoid people who remind us of them.  But if you try on the accepting mindset I’m talking about, and simply let those voices be without judgment, I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

Interview With Tess Marshall, Author of “Flying By The Seat Of My Soul”

I’m excited to share with you my recent interview with life coach, author and speaker Tess Marshall.  Tess is the author of Flying By The Seat Of My Soul and the inspiring blog The Bold Life.

In this interview, you’ll learn:

* The amazing story of Tess’s journey from being a teenage mother selling dried flowers to working as an author, coach and speaker

* How Tess created a popular, high-traffic blog in just six months

* How to create routines to help you make regular progress toward your goals

* A powerful technique for deciding between all the options available to you in work and life, and overcoming “choice overload”

* How to enjoy the journey toward achieving your goals, even when things feel frustratingly slow

* And much more . . .

Download the Interview (20 mins.; MP3 file; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

Interview With Marelisa Fabrega, Author of “How To Be More Creative”

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I’m pleased to share my interview with Marelisa Fabrega, the author of “How To Be More Creative: A Handbook for Alchemists.”  Marelisa, whom I’m sure many of you know already, is an attorney and blogger living in Panama.  Her book is brimming with perspectives and techniques for stimulating your creative instincts.

In this interview, you’ll learn:

* How meditation can inspire your creativity;

* Why improving your creativity can benefit you, no matter how routine or mundane the task you’re doing might be;

* How writing down your nagging, repetitive thoughts can put them out of your mind;

* Why thinking about random words as you tackle a problem can help you come up with new ways to solve it;

* How setting a clear intention is a powerful tool for generating ideas;

* Why believing you’re a creative person (or not believing it) can be a self-fulfilling prophecy;

* And more . . .

Download the Interview (MP3 file; 19 mins.; right-click and select “Save As”)

Reframing “Why Am I Doing This?”

I suspect we all have moments when we gripe to ourselves, or others, “why am I doing this?”  Perhaps we’re thinking about our career, troublesome relationships in our lives, our exercise routines, or something else.  Usually, we aren’t really interested in the answer—it’s just something we say to ourselves when we hit a certain depth of frustration or despair.

Next time you find yourself complaining like this, I invite you to try an experiment.  Try asking yourself this question again, but see if you can ask it from a place of genuine curiosity.  What are your real reasons for doing what you’re doing right now?  In other words, change your emphasis so the question sounds more like “why am I doing this?” than “why am I doing this?”

If you think about it this way, this is a simple but powerful question that can reconnect you to a deep-seated sense of mission, in your career and elsewhere.

A Real-Life Illustration

In the example that inspired this article, I was giving a “Transcending Procrastination” workshop to some college students recently, and one of them said he had trouble staying motivated when doing work for one of his classes.  Each time he’d sit down to study, he’d start feeling irritated, and repeatedly wonder why he was doing this to himself.

So I asked him:  “well, why are you taking the class?”  As it turned out, when he took this question seriously, rather than treating it as a complaint, the answers came to his mind with ease.  He was a pre-med student, and he had to take the class to get into medical school.  On a broader level, he wanted to go to med school to be a pediatrician—to help children stay healthy and maybe even save their lives.

In short, if he wanted to fulfill his dream of helping children, he needed to study for his class.  When he thought about it this way, suddenly the class didn’t look so pointless or frustrating anymore.  By simply taking a peek at the “big picture,” he got back in touch with the compassion and purpose that set him on his present path in the first place.

A Warning Label

To be clear, asking this question won’t always leave you feeling inspired.  Sometimes, if you sincerely look at the reasons you’re doing something, you’ll recognize they aren’t the right reasons for you.  Maybe you’ll realize, for instance, that you’re doing your current job simply to impress your family or peers.  Or, perhaps you’ll come to see that you’re only in your current relationship because you’re afraid of being alone.

Although we may not like the answer that comes up when we ask this question, I think it’s essential to ask it regularly if we really want the best for ourselves.  If the job, relationship, living situation or whatever else we’re in isn’t serving us, ignoring that dissatisfaction won’t make it go away.  As I’ve written elsewhere, knowing what you want and where you’re headed is key to finding productivity and enjoyment in what you do.

Guest Article At Dumb Little Man: “How To Separate ‘Real’ Wants From ‘Should’ Wants”

I’ve just published a guest post at Dumb Little Man called “How To Separate ‘Real’ Wants From ‘Should’ Wants.”  The article is about learning to set goals based on what moves us on a deep, physical level, rather than what it sounds rational to want, or what our cultural influences say we should be chasing.  I look forward to your feedback.