Friday, November 23, 2007

Goal Setting Workshop Lesson 2

Session Two: The good, the bad and the Ugly: Motivation isn't always a positive, happy thing.

After reading the first session and writing out a list of what you want and what you need, you probably realize that there's a big difference between what you WANT and what you NEED. Wants are typically positive things. They are a way to gain pleasure. Needs are usually things you must have in order to avoid pain. (Like pay your mortgage so the bank doesn't foreclose on your house!)

Needs drive us more, farther and faster, because most of us will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. Let's face it, fear of busting the button on our slacks --

in front of a group to which we are giving a workshop --
at a writer's conference where we are well-known --
and at which our greatest competition is also giving a workshop --

will get us away from a second piece of fresh apple pie a lot quicker than the ambiguous, vague desire to 'look good'.

Why? Because we can feel that fear. That fear is very real. The embarrassment would be very real. We cannot feel the accolades of looking good -- Well, granted, we can envision a few people walking up to us saying, "Hey, you look great!" and for some of us that really is enough to motivate. But when it's Susan versus the apple pie, the fear always motivates better.

Or here's a simpler example. When it's a choice between using our mortgage money for a trip or paying the mortgage so the bank doesn't foreclose, most of us wouldn't go on the trip. We'd pay the mortgage. The fear of losing our house is much stronger than the desire for the pleasure of going on the trip.

But all of our choices aren't that clear. Particularly not when it comes to writing. So let's go back to the story of Lucia asking to see my manuscript.

I'm not the first writer to be asked to submit a manuscript to a specific editor. I'm not the only one who has been published because of this kind of encounter at a writer's conference. In fact, I would be willing to bet that fifty percent of the published authors I know got published because of an editor appointment at a conference that resulted in a requested manuscript. Unfortunately, and sadly, I would also be willing to bet that fifty percent of the unpublished writers I know have also been asked to submit a manuscript and never submitted.

These people had the same kind of motivation that I had. An interested editor. A once-in-a-lifetime shot. Yet they never submitted. Why? Because their fear of failure was stronger than their belief that they would succeed. Or their fear of success was stronger than their desire for success.

Ah, now we're getting down to the good stuff! Fear of success and fear of failure.

Think this through. Why was I able to go home, write a book in a short amount of time and submit it to Lucia? Because I was on my last chance. This was do or die for me. Fear of failure propelled me to do what I had been unable to do for the five years prior to that.

But, Susan! You just said fear of failure kept the others from submitting! Now you're telling us fear of failure caused you to submit! That doesn’t make sense!

Sure it does! I used my fear. I didn't succumb to it. I used it. Most people buckle under to fear of failure when they should be turning it to their advantage!

And that's the bottom line. Fear either makes or breaks you. For some of us fear creates paralysis. For others of us, fear motivates. And for still others, it's a combination of the two. These people live their own brand of confusion because what works in one instance does not work in another.

So what do you do if you're dogged by fear of failure and paralyzed by fear of success?

The simple thing to do is figure out what you are afraid of and figure out if it motivates you or paralyzes you. If it motives you use it. If it paralyzes you, get rid of it.

That's right. If you have a fear that paralyzes you, you not only can get rid of it, you HAVE TO get rid of it. And right now I'm going to show you how.

We've said there are two major fears. Fear of success and fear of failure. So first let's get rid of fear of success.

If you're one of those people who is afraid of succeeding, I want you to stop reading and make a list of why you are afraid to succeed. In fact, if you're not sure if you're afraid of success but you've been experiencing procrastination or a bad attitude or one failure after another, I want you to make this list too.

For me, on my list of why I was afraid to succeed, one of the biggies was that I wasn't very good in crowds. I was an introvert. I didn't want people to know me. (I'm not like this anymore, btw.) I feared that if I became successful I would be inundated with phone calls and visits and swamped at conferences.

If this is one of your fears, take heart. Not only can writers remain totally anonymous if they use a pseudonym, but you don't have to go to conferences. Even better however, unless you're Nora Roberts or Sandra Brown, or one of the absolute writing greats, you don't get inundated at conferences. A few well wishers and fans may approach you, but these are usually wonderful people whom you will be very, very glad you met.

So there's no reason to fear becoming a "famous" writer. I just blasted that fear to heck and back. And that's what you need to do with everything you put on your list.

You need to write out all the reasons you are afraid of succeeding and then write the counter argument.

If you're afraid your husband won't love you anymore if you are more successful than he is, write out a paragraph or two about why he will love you MORE if you succeed. If you're afraid that your mother will be embarrassed by sex scenes in your books, write out a paragraph or two about why she will be proud of you. Or, if you can't make an argument for that, write out a paragraph or two that talks about accepting that you may have to use a pseudonym and not tell your mother about your books! (And add in there somewhere how much fun it will be to have this delicious secret!)

Destroy every fear you have about becoming successful by making the case against it. Nine chances out of ten, when you put your fears on paper they will immediately look stupid. Because most fears are. They are consequences or possibilities we've decided will happen. Which means they are also consequences and possibilities we can DECIDE will not happen. Either by realizing they are totally ludicrous, or by writing out the reasons we won't let them happen.

You may have to "prevent" them by making accommodations like a pseudonym but you can do it because for every fear there is a response that obliterates it, and once you find it, you will free yourself to succeed.

Now, what if you're afraid of failing?

That's a whole different track. To handle that fear you must make a list of all the good things that will happen if you succeed. You must make this list of "things you will get when you succeed" big enough to keep you working and keep you trying when your desire to quit is strongest!

Here is where the difference between NEED and WANT really comes into play. If you only WANT the things that drive you, they will only drive you so far. But when you NEED something that need will frequently supersede fear.

One of my big motivators was (and continues to be) that I cannot make as much money in any other job as I make as a romance novelist. I live in a very small city with a high unemployment rate. If I am going to succeed financially, romance writing is my only option.

My ONLY option.

That'll motivate ya!

So every time a deadline seems hard or impossible, when I feel the fear that I am wasting my time or going to fail, I tell myself, "You don't have the option -- or luxury -- of quitting."

That means that after you make your list of things you hope to get from reaching your goal, the next step is to see if you can turn those wants into needs. That might sound stupid but it's not. Very often some very motivational NEEDS come disguised as WANTS. You need to take a good look at your list of what you need and what you want and see if some of your items shouldn't be switching sides!

For instance, before I was published, on my list of all the things I could do with the extra money that being published would provide I had things like send the kids to college. Get new living room furniture. Pay off mortgage. (Back when I had a smaller, cheaper house!) Get a bigger house. (Which has given me a larger, more expensive mortgage but also a better house!)

I pretty much thought they were all wants. But each of them turned into a need before they came to fruition. When your living room furniture falls apart beneath a guest it quickly goes from a want to a need. So it's probably smarter to turn it into a need before it turns itself into a disaster!

Can you turn sending the kids to college from a want to a need? Sure you can. On the surface helping your kids with college looks like a nice thing to do, but trust me when college time comes around even if your kids get every loan and grant available, they will still need money from you. So having that money isn't a want. It's a need. Recognize it while your kids are still toddlers so you don't find yourself penniless and doing without things like vacations, nice anniversary gifts, a new car, and even necessary home improvements when your daughter leaves for Penn State!

That's the simple formula for handling fear of failure. You put yourself in a position where there are so many things you NEED that you feel absolutely driven to accomplish the goal that will get these things for you. So that when you have a bad day, get a rejection or are just plain too tired to work, you won't say, "It’s no use." You’ll say, "I have no choice." Or, like me, "I have no other option. I have to make this one work!"

Okay, if you've done the two exercises, you've handled your fear of success and/or your fear of failure, or, at the very least, you're beginning to understand them!

And that's the key. That's actually how you learn to use fear to motivate you. Once you understand your fears and decide if they motivate or paralyze, you can obliterate the ones that paralyze and use the ones that motivate.

Trips, money, prestige (of a sort), a good signature line will all motivate you, but you should never underestimate the power of negative consequences. They are as real in each of our lives as "good things".

And sometimes fearing a bad result will get you going a lot faster than wishing for some ambiguous 'good' thing!

You need to look at yourself and understand what drives you!

That's actually what I want you to do for your assignment. If you didn't do the fear of failure, fear of success exercises, I want you to do them now. But I also want you to take a look at your life.

Are you motivated more by fear of loss or hope of gain? Do you have some genuine fears that drive you? Like a fear of looking awful in jeans that keeps you from dessert, or a fear that you're not keeping up with your peers that drives you to quickly write five pages before your critique group meeting?

Write 'em down. Get to know them. Snuggle with them. They will become your best friends. Because when the chips are down, these are the things that are going to save you!

susan meier


Anonymous said...

Hi Susan! Great post. I'm very "fear" motivated. I just never realized fear was such a positive tool. Yet, every time I've lost weight, it's because I've inevitably seen a picture of myself looking a way I don't want to look. Or if I get really motivated to write, it's because the fear of a non-creative life is worse than the fear of failing. The problem is, once I attain a goal (like losing weight), my fear dissipates, and then I get careless. Next thing I know, it's six months later and I'm looking at another picture thinking, "Dear God, what happened? Now I've got to start all over again! :)

Susan said...

I was actually thinking about this the other day...with regard to losing weight.

Every time I quit smoking, I really had a lot of negatives to remember. Being sick. Coughing. Smelling bad etc.

But a year or two after I'd quit, I would go back.

The last time I quit smoking, I said to myself, if you ever smoke another cigarette, you'll be hooked again. So you can't even have one.

That worked really, really well.

So I thought of that with regard to keeping off weight, maybe, the trick to keeping the weight off is saying...You can't! This is how you got into trouble the last time.

I'm still pondering this, though.