One of the biggest problems you need to solve if you work for yourself is how to make yourself do work.
The best entrepreneurs have figured it out and just pound out the work they need to do.
But many others put off their dream careers, or stay in jobs they like, because they’re afraid to figure this out. Being in a job, or staying in college, means that you have someone else imposing work and deadlines on you, and you’ll get fired (or dropped from school) if you don’t do the work. So you put off doing the work until you can’t anymore because of the fear of being fired.
What does this say about us? It’s saying that we can’t trust ourselves enough to figure out how to motivate ourselves. I know, because I was in this boat for many years. It wasn’t until I started to learn to solve this problem that I found the courage to work for myself.
It’s solvable. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. And you can do it just as much as I can—I’m no superman, trust me. I feel lazy, I procrastinate, I fear failure, just like anyone else. But I’ve learned a few things that work for me.
What works for you will be different, but here are some ideas I use that might help:
If you need to write, the main thing you need to do is just to sit down in front of your text editor. If you start cleaning the house, or watch some videos, or read stuff online, to put off the moment when you have to start to write, then you’re never going to write. Instead, show up. The rest will come.
Sure, there’s a lot of fear involved in doing hard work. But when you look at the fear you’re only looking at the downside. What about the upside? By showing up and working, you’re going to help someone. I think about readers who might need what I have learned. But sometimes you’re just helping yourself, building a new career or business. And that’s okay—you’re a person deserving of that help, and that’s a worthy endeavor.
You’re too busy? Bullshit. Make the time if it’s important. Stop watching TV, reading news, browsing things online, looking at social media, saying yes to other people’s requests, going to lunches, get out of being the head of those committees, whatever. Carve out the time. Put it on your calendar daily and make it happen. Make that time sacred, and don’t let anything interfere. You have to be incredibly ruthless to make this happen, but you can do it.
Yes, I mean smallest possible. That doesn’t mean, "Write the first section of that report" … it means, "Go to your computer and open a document." Or "Get up off the couch." Or "Write one word." Call that a success. Trust me, if you can take that first tiny step, the next step is a little easier. Get over the initial hurdle by making that hurdle as low as possible, and then keep clearing really easy hurdles until you’re an unstoppable force of nature.
We tend to not want to be afraid, and so we think about anything else. We don’t admit the fear to ourselves until we have to. Well, it’s time—you have to. Admit that you’re afraid, and see that that’s okay. We’re all afraid. I certainly am, all the time. It’s perfectly okay to be afraid—let yourself feel it. Be open to the feeling of fear, be present with it, really experience it. See where it’s coming from. What scenarios have you imagined that cause you to be afraid? Are those scenarios real? What would you do if they happened? Could you survive? I bet you could.
Social motivation is probably the most powerful motivation there is. If you’re having trouble, ask a friend for help. Ask for some accountability. Give yourself a consequence if you fail. Don’t fail. You can do this.
You can make yourself work even if you’re afraid.
You can ruthlessly make the time, take the smallest step, feel the fear and overcome it, find inspiration in the people you’re going to help. You can show up.
This article originally appeared in Zen Habits and is reprinted with permission.