Doubt sets in. It takes work to realize this vision. Time and energy, especially when you’ve got many other things to do, are hard to find. You become frustrated, struggling, and perhaps even ashamed.
A vicious cycle begins, where what was initially energizing is now burdensome. You find reasons to postpone—many of them legitimate, but it’s hard to tell. Of course, the more you delay, the bigger the burden. Pretty soon, you’re more aware of what you aren’t doing than what you are. Those dreams recede to distant memory, as you become filled with more “ought to do’s” than “want to do’s.” And you're not making much progress, either.
Presto: entrepreneur’s block.
It’s a similar mechanism for anyone stuck innovating, be it a new product or service, reaching a new audience, finding a new way to market, or a new manufacturing strategy/ exploring outsourcing…whatever. Examples? A CEO whose company lost funding, fearing the next step. A therapist blocked in extending his business into training. Or a coach stalled in asking clients for money her new services warranted. Or (ahem!) it taking a year to post this blog after drafting it...more on that below.
Does it feel a little bit better to name this syndrome—entrepreneur’s block? And know that it can happen at some point to everyone trying to realize something creative? You’re not alone. Actually, writers experience this block frequently--it's the territory of any innovative endeavor that takes time to execute.
Better still, there are ways you can dissolve entrepreneur’s block, even beyond allowing yourself breathing room from knowing that it’s normal. You’ve probably run through the usual remedies (like taking small steps to build success, or giving yourself breaks to recharge your batteries). Here are more tools that work well, but aren’t as common:
- Practice prevention! One way is to be thoughtful about getting support. For example, I'm embarrassed to say I wrote this blog over a year ago. Why are you reading it only now? Because I asked for feedback without realizing I actually needed encouragement as much as editing. Don't get me wrong; I put all the ideas in the draft you're reading now, because they were good ideas from smart, caring friends...but then lost the energy to publish it. I needed to take my own advice about advice, be more specific about the support I needed, and be selective in taking it on board.
- More prevention: develop rituals that energize you, and help you "do something" when action feels more like work than fun. Andy Nathan has a practice of 15 minutes "working on the project without thinking about it" to get you over the hump. Trust guru Charlie Green cited Jame's Clear's resource on how to get and stay motivated. Charlie comments "I procrastinate a lot (most of us do); and I find not only does procrastination end when I finally sit down to do something (usually at the last minute), but also, and more importantly, when I finally sit down to do something, procrastination ends." And also, take heart that procrastination is an important trait for innovators to have (per research from Wharton prof Adam Grant, who's now taught himself to procrastinate). So don't make yourself bad when something wants to take more time than you'd like it to.
- Focus on getting into action with something "good enough." As Eric Ries advocates in Lean Startup, it's a better strategy to get into action with a skeletal version of your idea than to try to perfect it on paper. You won't know what's important...and what isn't...until you're in the marketplace. And it's more fun to be in action, so long as you give your inner critics license to see this as the better strategy. (One example, going back to this blog, is the practice I have now of posting blogs in draft format and inviting comments via Facebook...and, after waiting a week or two, only then sending my MailChimp blast out.)
- Spend time recommitting yourself to what excited you in the first place. That’s a link easily broken, and important to re-forge. One way: find someone who really gets what you’re up to and listens well, and have them keep asking you what got you started on this journey in the first place, and what about it comes from the heart. Deep, open inquiry can restore your energy about what you’re up to and rebuild genuine commitment to it. That can range from exploring your core intention--how this endeavor relates to why you're on the planet and your "why." Or simply reminding yourself about who you want to serve and what about that excites you--especially outcomes that generate mojo.
- Let yourself explore what’s holding you back…and do this exploration with compassion. Are you particularly aware of self-perceived faults, and feeling guilty about them? Paradoxically, if you allow that there might be purpose behind these faults and open yourself to agenda-free learning about them, this curiosity can de-energize vicious cycles. In other words, because you’re not beating yourself up nearly so much, it’s easier to sit down and work. And you’re beginning a virtuous cycle, now. (This idea comes from Internal Family Systems, which many of you know. It's a tool I, other coaches, and therapists use a lot.)
- It can also help to journal about what's keeping you stuck, if you do it in an open-minded way. See this warm-up exercise, for example.
Got another idea? Or, what seemed like a good idea but was actually harmful? Comment below!
Just in the process of exploring the outcomes you want, you’ll often find new energy or insight. Even if that insight is to give you permission to let go of what you were working on, or at least set it aside. There are times a dream isn’t ours, and in those cases, it’s best and kindest to find that out early.