I was on a productivity tear.
I started using Google Calendar recently to schedule and monitor my writing-related actions, including content creation and social media posts.
I wrote blog posts, upped my posting and engagement on Twitter and Medium, and set up a business Pinterest account which I hope will eventually drive more traffic to this website.
I brainstormed ideas for a content calendar to start batch writing posts and systematize my writing process.
I set up a spreadsheet in Google Drive to keep track of publications to pitch, ideas, writers to follow, inspirational articles, and any tools, tips and resources that I may not need now but don’t want to forget.
I set monthly income goals and plans for how to reach them.
I mapped out possible ways to diversify my services, even if I wasn’t sure yet how to make them happen.
I even set stretch goals — you know, the goals you dare not say out loud but secretly long to make come true.
Then, I hit a wall.
Sometimes when you hit a wall, you feel guilt or shame about not doing the things you know you need to do.
Other times, you don’t feel anything, like nothing. And that’s right where I found myself recently.
What is apathy?
Merriam-Webster defines someone who is apathetic as:
1: having or showing little or no feeling or emotion : SPIRITLESS
2: having little or no interest or concern : INDIFFERENT
Of all the unpleasant feelings, I am most afraid of apathy. It’s an insidious, dangerous emotion that often leads directly to mediocrity.
Brooke Castillo calls apathy one of the biggest stealers of dreams.
I know this to be true because I’ve seen it time and again in my own life.
What does apathy look like?
Apathy looks like laziness
Let me try to explain, although even as I write this I’m aware it looks like a bunch of excuses:
- The goals I’ve been working toward? So what.
- The relationships I’ve been nurturing? No one cares.
- The step-by-step plan on my calendar? Big deal.
To the outside person, it looks like you’ve given up, again, on yet another dream — that you’re all talk and no substance.
And if you’re not careful, they’d be right.
But this time, you catch yourself. You know you’re not lazy. You’re not giving up on your dreams. This is not the end all be all.
You’re just feeling a feeling.
Apathy is a temporary feeling, not a life sentence
Humans are complex, emotional beings. As such, we get to experience a wide range of feelings: happiness, sadness, anger, regret, elation, fear, compassion, apathy.
Brooke Castillo calls this the privilege of being human. There are pleasant emotions and not-so-pleasant emotions, and the ability to feel them all is the beauty of the human experience.
I’ll admit it took a bit for me to see the beauty in fear, anxiety, depression, self-doubt.
But with privilege of experience comes the privilege of choice.
We get to choose our feelings. Most people take this to mean if you don’t want to be sad, you just choose to be happy.
While that might work temporarily, the feeling doesn’t last. Why? Because everything we feel is caused by a thought.
Remember the self-coaching model from this post?
Your thoughts create your feelings, your feelings create your actions, and your actions create your results. — Brooke Castillo
If what we’d like to feel is at odds with the thoughts we’re thinking, our brains will catch on and put the kibosh on the whole thing and we’re right back to our original, unpleasant feelings.
The good news is, although it may seem our feelings happen to us and are outside our control, the opposite is true.
Our thoughts, feelings, actions, results — these are the things that we can control.
But if we want to feel differently, we have to first notice what we’re feeling, and then look backward to find the thought causing our feeling (in my case, apathy).
Uncovering the thought behind the feeling is everything
The title of this post is very similar to the title of the podcast episode that blew my mind.
This is the podcast that exposed me to a new way of thinking.
In this episode, Brooke Castillo shared the story of a client who desperately wanted to exercise so she could lose weight and start living a healthier life.
The client planned everything out, wrote the workout days on her calendar and knew what she had to do, but when the time came to work out, she just couldn’t bring herself to go. She had started off so motivated, but when it came down to actually doing the workout, it was like a physical resistance. She could not get herself to take the action she wanted, even though she knew it was the path to her ultimate goal of losing weight.
This client couldn’t understand why she would do this to herself, and she turned to Brooke Castillo for help.
Brooke asked her to remember the self-coaching model:
All of our thoughts drive of all of our feelings which drive all of our action, reaction or inaction.
In her client’s case, she was struggling with inaction (not exercising).
And this is where my listener ears perked up, as I could so relate to struggling with inaction as well.
Brooke then asked her client to describe what she felt immediately before deciding not to exercise. Her client said, “Right before I decide that I’m not going to exercise, I just feel apathetic. I feel no drive at all.”
Brooke then asked her client what she was thinking that caused her to feel apathetic (remember, what we think creates a feeling (in this case, apathy), and it’s the feeling (again, apathy) that drives an action, inaction or reaction (in her case, not exercising).
It turns out the client was thinking exercising wouldn’t matter anyway. She had exercised before, she hadn’t seen results, she was telling herself she had to exercise to get results but deep down she didn’t believe it would work.
It wouldn’t matter anyway created a feeling of overwhelming apathy toward her own goals.
The feelings of apathy and indifference drove her inaction, the result of which meant she was no closer to her dream of losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle.
When she uncovered the thoughts behind what she was feeling, she could see clearly why she wasn’t taking action.
Examining your thoughts with compassion and curiosity
Like me, this client had been stuck at apathy and inaction. Like me, she had been completely unaware of her subconscious thoughts or their devastating ripple effect on her life.
When you realize that you’ve caused your own pain, your first instinct might be to beat yourself up.
But that’s not what we want to do here.
In order to access our deepest, innermost thoughts, or explore the feelings we’re too scared or ashamed to admit, we need to trust that once we lay ourselves bare we’ll treat ourselves with compassion and grace.
We want to develop the skill of detached curiosity.
We want to understand, without judgment, why we do the things we do so we can see which part of the model we need to work on. Almost always, it will be our thoughts that we need to tweak.
In my last post, I talked about trusting our ability to do hard things.
As we get better at noticing and working through our feelings, we’ll gain confidence in our ability to feel hard things.
Thinking new thoughts to get new results
Though my issue wasn’t weight loss, I could relate to every other aspect of Brooke’s client’s story: the inaction, the apathy, the belief that my actions wouldn’t matter anyway, the lack of hope.
In the past, apathy was pretty much my last line of defense before giving up on a goal or dream altogether. Apathy always led to inaction, and inaction always led to nothing changing, except maybe added shame at yet another goal unrealized.
With the self-coaching model, I’m learning how to get to the root of my inaction.
Our thoughts create our feelings, and our feelings are responsible for our actions/inaction/reactions, and our actions/inaction/reactions are what create our results (or lack of results).
Let’s take a look at my old model:
Old thought: Nothing I do matters anyway.
Old feelings: Apathy, Indifference
Old action: Inaction
Old results: No new content, no pitches, no new brainstorming, buffering with excessive social media (mistaking it for ‘action’), no income generation.
Now let’s take a look at my new model:
I’ve replaced my old thoughts with more positive thoughts that I believe (this is important) which create new feelings that spur action instead of inaction which will lead to results that are in alignment with my goals.
New thought: I’m in it for the long game. Each step I take on my calendar will get me closer to my goals. The strength is in the process.
New feelings: Excited, Determined, Disciplined, Proud
New action: Writing new content, brainstorming new ideas to pitch, setting dates on Google calendar when to pitch what to whom, along with dates to follow-up.
New results: Momentum, new connections, new opportunities, confidence in myself.
* * * * *
When I learned I could reverse engineer the results I so desperately wanted by being super intentional with my thinking, it was like being given a magic formula.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the work is challenging. It requires enormous discipline.
And, frankly, half the battle is remembering to use the model.
Our brains are so quick to go into default mode (negative thinking, reactive feelings) that, when left unsupervised, we’re often led astray and we forget the very tools that can help us.
Am I doing the steps exactly right? Maybe not. But that’s okay.
One of my goals is to invest in a life coach to further develop these skills. I’ve done the math and decided I can do this once I reach a specific monthly income goal three months in a row.
Thinking with intention is a life-long practice, but so important. I write about it so often because I’m working hard to learn the process and develop this skill.
With the the model, I can see possibilities I never let myself see before.
To some, I know this may all sound crazy.
But to those of you who can relate, who’ve been where I’ve been, who’ve longed for something more and, like me, could never get out of your own way—
Use whatever concept or tool works for you. The important thing is that you and I keep moving forward.
But if you’ve tried other things and nothing’s worked, give the self-coaching model a shot.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Until next time,
Resources for this post:
Brooke Castillo’s The Life Coach School Podcast (hover to click link):