Work and Torture

Sometimes I’d rather claw my own eyes out then sit down and start working. You might think this is because I have some faceless soulless factory job. Or that I’m merely a cog in the corporate machine but I’m not.

I run my own business. I set my own schedule. And I love what I do. Despite all this, just getting started is one of the hardest things I do all day.

My Start

This is what work morning looks like. I’m sitting at my house after breakfast or a run. I open my computer where I have a list of things I’d like to get done today, this week, this year, and this lifetime.

I look at the list and begin to formulate what I want to do first. Then all of a sudden, as if hordes of Mongols have invaded my brain, I think of some decadently lazy thing I could do.

I could play video games. I could watch the entire 3rd season of Star Trek TNG. I could putz around my house listening to podcasts and reorganizing my socks. This is when the pain begins.

What went from being a clear simple day has become a torturous choice between doing work and slacking off. It literally causes me physical pain. I feel an ache in my stomach, a longing in my chest, and a clear palpable sense of sadness.

But the last time this happened to me, I got curious. I started to wonder, why is this so painful?

I like working. And whenever I do sit in bed and watch TV, it’s never as satisfying as I had imagined. And yet, every time I face this dilemma I get this same tortured feeling.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad …

So the next time it happened I stopped and asked myself the question: Why is this so painful? Then I paid close attention to my thoughts and wrote each one down as it arose.

  • I love work, but if I get started, I won’t be able to stop.
  • I feel like I work so hard it’s exhausting.
  • Relaxing is so much easier.
  • But I know if I relax all the time I’ll fail.
  • Successful people are focused and driven
  • Well clearly I’m not focused and driven, if I want to play video games all day, I’m not focused and driven,
  • And if I’m not focused and driven, then I won’t be successful.
  • And if I won’t be successful, then why am I working so hard?
  • If I’m going to fail anyway, then it would be better if I didn’t try.
  • And if I’m not going to try, I might as well stay home and play video games.

When I looked back over this, I realized that my desire to slack was really fear.

I was afraid that no matter what I did I would fail. And if I was going to fail why try? After all slacking off is not only easier. It’s also less embarrassing and painful.

But then I wondered why am I so afraid of failing? I have faced many challenges in my life, but for some reason this was different.


Back when I was training for triathlons, there were times I didn’t want to work out. I felt tired and stressed. But I still did it. Why? Fear of failure.

I knew from experience that if I don’t train I won’t do very well. I was afraid of not doing well so I trained. Based on this experience and others fear of failure actually seems like a good motivator for me.

But when I looked at the fear that arose before starting my day, it wasn’t the same. The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to do. Instead of motivating me, it discouraged me.

How Work is Different?

I started to wonder what was different. Eventually I realized that with triathlon training, I believed in myself. I knew what needed to be done and I believed I could do it.

But the same was not true of work. I was still afraid of failing, but when it came to my professional goals, I didn’t have faith in myself. I wasn’t sure what to do and even more, I wasn’t sure I could do it.

I realized that if I was going to overcome this torture of work I had to find a way to believe in myself. If I didn’t then fear would get the best me.

From this realization that I developed five simple ways to overcome fear and develop deeper faith in my ability to change.

5 Ways to Build Belief in Yourself

1. Be Patient

There is a well known quote that says, “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what they can accomplish in five.” Belief in yourself takes time to build.

Don’t beat yourself up over one little mistake or even a whole year of mistakes. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to create change.

2. Make a List of Awesome

When I look at how I did last week, I might give myself a mediocre grade. But when I look at my life over the last five years I’m blown away with what I’ve done.

  • I quit smoking cigarettes and pot.
  • I lived at a Zen monastery for over two years.
  • I sat over twenty week long silent retreats.
  • I worked as a preschool teacher.
  • I did two Olympic length triathlons.
  • I ran a marathon.
  • I got my yoga teachers certification.
  • I started my own business and it’s paying my rent.
  • I met and developed an awesome relationship with a woman I love.
  • I improved my relationship with my parents.

And the list goes on and on.

So, make a list of everything you’ve accomplished in the last five years and don’t forget to include the little things you’ve done.

Include good vacations with your family. Include how you survived hard times. Include that nice hike you took last summer.

When you look at the long term often you find that instead of failure, you’re actually doing pretty well.

3. Connect to Your Values

When I start my day with my personal mission statement it’s easier to get started. I realize that my life isn’t about accomplishing any one thing. It’s about embodying the kind of person I want to be.

When I connect to why I’m doing something instead of the how I’m doing it, I find that success and failure become irrelevant. Some of the most admirable people in history have suffered great failure, but they did so in alignment with their values.

Take the time to discover your values. I used the method in the 2nd chapter of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but there are tons of other methods. Pick one, clarify your values, and reconnect to them every chance you get.

4. Be Grateful

There is no greater antidote to fear then gratitude. Gratitude is the practice of seeing success by appreciating how much we receive. Without a doubt, we rarely appreciate how good we have it.

Along with connecting to your values reflecting on what you have to be grateful for is a potent way to fight the fear of failure.

Everyday after you write down your values, write down three things you have to be grateful for. At the end of a month, you’ll have a list of over 90 things that make your life a success.

5. Be Audacious

We all have the voice of doubt and fear in us, but we also have the voice of audaciousness. When fear arises, it’s important for you to access your kick ass self.

Despite all the fear, your kick ass self believes in you. It knows you will fail, but it also knows that going for it, is the only way to win. True success is found not in having it all, but in giving it your all.

So the next time you find yourself staring at your computer screen deciding between Facebook and work remember that you may be choosing between faith and fear.

Ask yourself, who do you want to be today? Do you want to be the hero of the kick ass self, or the fear that holds you back?

Fear can slow us down, but if we believe in ourselves, nothing can stop the change we create in our lives and the world.

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