Your one job when enthusiasm takes a rain check

This past week, I've gotten to thinking about enthusiasm and what can be done when it seemingly disappears.

It’s a theme I began noticing in Summer 2017, when I started writing in earnest about some of folks’ more common struggles to actually do the things they were saying they wanted to do in and with their lives. This particular struggle around waning enthusiasm emerged as a top contender.

More than a handful of readers and clients have reached out to me since then, all wondering where their eagerness runs off to so soon after embarking on a new project.

“How do I keep going after the newness and excitement has worn off?”

Lately, folks are wondering where their motivation has gone after just four weeks into the new year. They think something's broken; they did it wrong; why are they flagging in their go-get-'em-ness so early on in 2019?

They feel an absence of enthusiasm and it sends them into a panic.

What if their low enthusiasm means something—about the success of their goals, their overall tenacity, their ability to commit to something and see it through to the end? What if it means they’re flakey or flighty or generally impossible to please for longer than a week at a time?

Enthusiasm can be a hard thing to maintain, especially when it's January 29th and your planner doesn't seem so shiny and encouraging anymore and your habit tracker is already missing a bunch of check marks and the one thing you were certain you'd accomplish by now has been back-burnered and this month just doesn't feel like the start of a new anything.

Enthusiasm can be a hard thing to maintain because it's a feeling, and feelings are notoriously hard to maintain.

They're changing all the time. Much like thoughts.

I'll let you in on a secret: Feeling enthusiastic is the result of a thought; not feeling enthusiastic is also the result of a thought.

The status of your enthusiasm has nothing—NOTHING—to do with what's happening or not happening around you. Not objectively, at least.

It has everything to do with whatever thought you've attached to and keep thinking, again and again.

So, what can be done when your enthusiasm has left the building?

You have one job, and it’s to cultivate the following gentle awareness:

Those thoughts that are swirling in your head? The ones that are creating the feeling that January is doomed, ergo your 2019 is doomed, and so on and so forth?

Let them pass through your mind.

Do not try to replace them with positive thoughts, do not try to reason with them, do not pass go and collect two hundred dollars.

Trust me when I say, you're going to have to resist the urge to DO SOMETHING about your thoughts, because that's the autopilot response when we don't like what's happening inside our heads. Let your swirling thoughts settle, like the snow in a shaken-up snow globe.

“BUT HOW DO I EVEN DO THAT, HELEN?” you're asking. (Do I know you, or do I know you? 😉) Here’s how: You don't engage with your thoughts. You refuse to follow them down their rabbit holes. And the best way to do this is to put yourself into motion (e.g. put your shoes on and go for a walk, empty and reload the dishwasher, take a ten-minute shower and then rub lotion all over your body, water your plants, make a batch of granola). Putting yourself into motion will look and feel a whole lot like DOING SOMETHING—however, you’ll notice that the particular SOMETHING here has nothing at all to do with messing with the thoughts in your head.

Once your thoughts have settled and your brain is no longer a hostile place to hang out in, then—and only then—can we reasonably begin to answer the question, “How do I keep going after the newness and excitement has worn off?”

The short answer: You take the very next step.

You don’t need to be enthusiastic or even particularly motivated to keep going at the thing you started. You just have to be willing to take the very next step toward it.

Without a drop of enthusiasm, it might not feel great—but we all do plenty of things we don’t adore every single day of our lives (I’m looking at you, flossing)—and that absence of enthusiasm doesn’t stop us.

So, why is this thing different?

(Hint: It isn’t. You’re just caught up in a thought that you’re supposed to feel a certain—positive—way about your project or new year ambition. Let that go. Seriously. Scroll back up to my directive to let those thoughts pass through your mind and work their way out organically. Don’t engage with them. Put yourself into motion. Let your snowy mind settle, etc.)

This approach works for any and all troublesome thoughts, but stay tuned for future blog posts where we’ll plug in various other specific examples to give you a full-color understanding of how to apply the technique.

As always, share your story with me below. I love hearing from you.

Ditching your January superstitions in favor of WHAT IS

Here we are, smack dab in the middle of January.

How are you feeling?

Are you finding yourself drawing any conclusions about how the rest of 2019 will go, based on the past two weeks?

You know something—when the new year is off to a rocky start (or let's just say a humanstart), superstition tends to creep up even for folks who say they don't believe in it. They get to thinking that a couple weeks of feeling kind of meh or blah in the new year means something.

Let me tell you what: It doesn't mean anything beyond a couple weeks of feeling kind of meh or blah. I promise.

(And besides, it's January. Who doesn't occasionally feel meh or blah about January? Or about any random month, for that matter. Our emotional landscape is changing constantly, so there's a good chance if you live a decently long life that you'll feel crummy at some point during each and every single month. This is okay! This is what it is to be a human being.)

Are you falling into any of that superstitious thinking?

Have you decided that what's happened so far this month (bad or good—watch out for both) means something about what will happen the rest of the month...or the rest of the year?

If this feels familiar, try not to shame yourself. Go gently. Smile for the fact of this new awareness. Remember to stay present to what is, to recognize the good- or bad-feeling moment for what it is—a single moment.

"How do I choose my ONE GOAL to work on?"

Which idea (of the many ideas I have) do I act on first?

Where should I begin when I’ve got a list of things I’d like to start doing or areas in which I’d like to start improving?

Over the past year, I’ve received messages from many of you that pose some variation of the same question. Although I love sharing my thoughts with each of you on a case-by-case basis (and I’ll always do so), I figure it’s time I answer this question here on the blog—for future folks to discover and hopefully find some resonance.

This question is such a good one! It really speaks to a universal and pervasive desire to Do All The Things Now, and it also tells me that one of the biggest, most common obstacles to starting is a feeling of having too many worthwhile options. Naturally, if you can’t suss out which thing on your list is The Right Thing to attack first (because everything seems important and deserving of immediate attention), it’s easiest to do nothing at all—and to hope that one day, you’ll revisit the list and some clarity will emerge on its own; you’ll know what you need to do.

To be fair, I do think that happens; I’ve seen it firsthand, the setting aside of the list, then the later revisiting of the list, and BAM! Clarity (usually because circumstances have changed and priorities have been revealed) and forward movement.

That being said, what an utterly passive way to live. I suspect what most of us really want is to stretch and challenge ourselves to create momentum and possibility in our lives, rather than sit around waiting for it to whack us over the head.

Another thing: Time is of the essence. I’m not implying we need to rush, but I am saying that we’ve got no control over how much time we get on this earth...and we’ve got a lot more control over how we spend what time we do have than this passive approach would suggest.

So, then: how to proactively choose a starting place when the list is long, worthwhile, and perhaps a bit daunting.

You’re going to hate me for this answer, but here it is:


I mean it. Pick one of the projects or endeavors on your list, and begin.

Why such an unscientific/un-coach-y approach? Why no pro/con lists? Why no weighing of priorities?

Because it doesn’t really matter.

How do I know it doesn’t matter?

Well, you’ve already proven this by the fact that you’re unable to decipher which thing is more important than the other things.

Obviously, none is more important—because if it was, you’d know.

You’d know that getting your body back to a healthy and fit place is the most essential thing you can do right now.

Or finally beginning your memoir.

Or decluttering your closets and dressers.

Or socializing more.

You’d know—without having to deliberate.

As for your deliberation—this constant hemming and hawing over your list—and your subsequent lack of action because The Right Answer feels too inconspicuous? It tells me a few things:

  1. Unfortunately and probably unknowingly, you’ve already made your choice (and it’s not a great one, to be honest). You’ve chosen fear over action. Fear of everything on your list, fear of picking the wrong thing, fear of failing at whichever thing you do finally pick to begin, fear even of the possibly wonderful changes that will come about once you commit and take the first step forward.

  2. You don’t actually want any of the things on your list. Not truly. Not enough. Or if you do want them, it’s because you want the outcome only; you want to have done them or achieved them—but you don’t necessarily want to put in the elbow grease that’s required to make them happen for yourself. In this sense, your wants are a bit more like fairy godmother wishes.

  3. No right answer exists...and on some level, you already know this. So, really, you can’t go wrong just picking one (eeny, meeny, miny, moe style works) and diving in. In all seriousness, you see that you’ve got nothing to lose, right? The alternative to picking one and diving in is doing nothing at all...and continuing to hope that some magic will occur and you’ll finally get what feels like a more concrete plan for moving forward. I promise you this concrete plan will never come. Not without your intervention, that is. You’re the only one who can take the first step, and then, with that initial ACTION, summon the next step to materialize.

So, if none of your options is heads-and-shoulders more important than the others, there is no method, no prescription, no best practice for how to choose what to work on first.

Rather, the method is a verb, a one-word directive, that’s embedded in that sentence: CHOOSE.

If you’re feeling even a little bit galvanized by this post, go ahead and declare in the comments below what you’re choosing to start now that you’re clear there is no Right Thing to do first (and no particular approach—besides taking action—by which you’ll uncover it). I’ll engage with you to see if we can get your next first-step mapped out, so that by the time you click away from this post, you know exactly what you need to do to get moving.

What self-beliefs are you choosing? Wanna choose some different ones?

Over the past four years of coaching folks, I've lost track of how many times I've heard someone begin a sentence with the phrase, "I'm bad at."

It pains me to think of how quick these fantastically capable people are to draw negative and super limiting conclusions about their personalities and abilities. And then to think of how they carry those negative assessments forward into their lives, into their general beliefs about what is and isn't possible for them.

Lately I've worked with several folks who have, in their pasts, experienced some difficulty when it comes to finishing projects they've started. This is a sore subject for them; they've made their historical lack of finishing mean something about their current ability to see anything all the way through to completion.

When I ask more questions, I learn that they've been pretty committed to a practice of collecting evidence to support their claim that they're bad at finishing. With each bit of supposed proof, they've solidified their belief that there's a shortcoming, some indisputable personal flaw at play.

Here's what I've said to them, and what I'm saying to you, if you're also someone who's quick to declare yourself bad at something:

You’re not categorically “bad at finishing.”

It isn’t a fixed personality trait of yours.

You just haven’t gotten proficient at it yet; you haven’t allowed yourself enough opportunities to practice and cultivate a finishing mindset and skill set.

You’ve carried an old story forward into the present, so that the only thing that’s preventing you from being a finisher now is a belief you have about yourself.

That’s it! Just a belief. Not a fact or a condition, but something you’re playing over and over again in your mind.

You could just as easily choose to believe the opposite.

If what you believe doesn’t make something true or false (after all, that’s what your actions are for), why not believe something about yourself that feels better? Something that encourages you, something that’s uplifting, something that creates an energy of possibility and capability.

And then what if your actions followed suit? On their own? What if you became someone who finishes what she starts simply because you convinced yourself, via your chosen belief, of the possibility?

If that doesn't quite land with you, here are some cheeky alternatives:

Why not decide that what you believe, either way, doesn't actually matter as far as your behaviors are concerned?

What if you don't need to first believe that you're a strong finisher in order to become one?

What if what you believe as far as your finishing capability is irrelevant?

If you’re up to it, share one of your new chosen beliefs—or declare your decision to separate your beliefs from your actions—in the comments below.

What you don't know is waiting for you

Have you given any thought lately to how far you’ve come?

I’ve found that this can be a difficult exercise without photographic proof—so you might want to scroll through your camera roll or wherever you keep your pictures to see what was actually happening this time last year...or the year before...or even five years ago. Pictures tend to really jog our memories in ways that not much else (except maybe for music and smells?) can.

Sure, time goes by fast. There’s no doubt about it. Whether you’re having fun or not, the years that make up adulthood are smaller fractions of your whole existence, so they appear to pass with increasing speed. (Remember how summer stretched out like a lazy cat when you were eight years old?)

But, though it goes fast, so much more happens—we, and our life situations, change in such significant ways—from one year to the next.

So, if you feel stuck right now, if you fear that nothing much changes, or at least not with any real speed, rest assured: In 365 days, you might remember feeling this way (especially if you document it in some way today)...but the feeling itself will be mostly unfamiliar, very likely replaced by a new set of circumstances, challenges, excitements, accomplishments.

And you’ll have done it. You’ll have made that future life for yourself. Crafted it day by day, not knowing exactly how it would unfold, but taking each step forward anyway.

(#tbt to April 22, 2016, moments after we sold our motorhome and before we knew what was next for us. My husband had to help me stuff myself into the passenger seat of our Corolla, and then he drove us east. We had no idea that just two years later, we’d own a sweet little house in Wisconsin, both of us completely self-employed. Big stuff can happen over not big periods of time. Wherever you are in your journey, keep going.)

How's your patience/resolve ratio?

Taking small steps toward your “Impossible” Thing requires a healthy ratio of PATIENCE to RESOLVE.

All at once, you must be willing to hang in there for months or years at a time as your “Impossible” Thing slowly takes shape...and you must be tenacious in the day-to-day in order to drive your vision forward into reality.

Though it will feel like outside circumstances are your biggest challenge, I promise you that won’t ever be the case.

Consider this from William Somerset Maugham, British playwright, novelist, and short story writer from the 1930s:

“If you don’t change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?”

If you don’t change your beliefs, are you in a good place to actually achieve your “Impossible” Thing? Tell me in the comments how you’re handling your own PATIENCE/RESOLVE ratio these days, and if one or the other needs some attention.

When it's time to audit the beliefs you hold about yourself

As a human and as a coach, I stand for choice in all things—including our relationship with ourselves.

Recently, I worked with a client who was under the impression she had to believe everything she thought about herself. She reasoned that, because she thought it (and knows herself better than anyone), it followed the thought must be true. An indisputable fact.

For years she’d been operating within a long-held suspicion, a hunch, that she was deeply flawed. Like, flawed in a way that nothing could fix, that she couldn’t blame on anything external. Flawed in the sense of being defective. Of containing a manufacturing error. Not-good-enough all the way down to her core.

Mind you: This woman is remarkably intelligent and capable. She’s gifted, yes, but more than that, she’s tenacious and focused, highly creative, and visionary.

There are imperfections, because those exist within all of us. But she isn’t defective (nor are you, nor am I). Machinery can be defective; people cannot.

Anyway, the meat of our coaching conversation was uncovering where she was repeatedly buying into a belief system that not only failed to support and empower her, but was one she’d never consciously CHOOSE for herself.

So then, after locating where her autopilot thinking kicked it and kept her in a mindset of deficiency, our job together was to bring a level of CONSCIOUSNESS and CHOICE to her thoughts. THINKING them might be out of her control, but BELIEVING them is a decision.

Each of us gets to make choices all the livelong day about what we believe—even, and I daresay especially, when it comes to the self-beliefs that run through our brains.

Do you suspect you need an audit performed on your self-beliefs?

(Pssst! A different client of mine once said about me, “She's a really good and empathetic listener, but also skilled at synthesizing information and getting it back to you quickly so you can really see what you've been saying and thinking and believing about yourself.”)

Email me if you’re ready to examine some of those thoughts and question some of those beliefs (and then maybe choose some different, better beliefs). I’m here to help.

Small Steps, Tip #3

What about when everything seems to be going against you?

You lose your job, the weather doesn't cooperate, your buyer backs out at the last minute, the baby wakes up every hour on the hour so you're a zombie come sunrise.

What do you do when you feel as though you’re once again back to square one? How do you figure out your first, smallest possible step? I encourage my clients to ask themselves one simple question: "Given my current situation, what can I reasonably accomplish right now?"

The first key here is the word 'REASONABLY'—and it's often the place where folks require some help (because the kind of person I work with often overloads 'reasonably' until it isn't actually reasonable at all—sound familiar?).

The second key is the time component: RIGHT NOW. It's crucial to take action immediately, when the disappointment or stressor or misfortune is relatively fresh, because that small initiative reinforces the fact that all is not lost, that our agency hasn't gone anywhere, and that forward movement (even itty-bitty micro-movement) is possible even when we’re really tempted to burn it all down and sit in a steaming pile of wallow.

What are some examples of reasonable and immediate small steps you could take when the going gets tough?

Well, it all depends on your situation, of course—but one might be as simple and seemingly innocuous as writing a single email.

Another might be employing the Phone-A-Friend option, to welcome a new perspective.

What about taking ninety seconds to pen a madcap list of all that could possibly come next?

Sometimes a hot shower is the only thing that’ll do.

These options are small. They’re not world-rocking. Probably they won’t even appear to change anything at all.

But each offers you an opportunity for a mindset shift.

And once your mind is right, once you’ve shifted it from “WHY ME?” to “WHO CARES?” you’re back on track to create the outcome you’re after.

Certainly feel your feelings, but don’t let them stop you from going after and getting whatever you want.