I’ve wanted to be an author for as long as I could remember. In July 1983, at the tender age of four, I took pieces of construction paper, made a book cover, and filled it with loose-leaf paper. On the cover, I carefully inscribed “The Book of Life,” and in the pages I documented all of the wisdom I had developed in my four years on this earth. (It was a short book.)
After struggling for years with the question, “What should I write?” I finally had a clear concept for a nonfiction book. I would combine my background as a psychotherapist with my experience as an entrepreneur and business coach, and write about how to use the principles of meaning, mindset, and mindfulness to create a successful business and fulfilling life.
I had my idea. I was ready to write.
I started the year off strong, and after five weeks I had written over 18,000 words, almost a third of my book. I was on fire, meeting every self-imposed deadline, hitting every milestone, and confident I’d wrap up my first draft ahead of schedule. What could go wrong?
On February 8th, I completed the first section. On February 9th, I took a day off. And then on February 10th, I wrote one word. One. I don’t know for sure what that one word was – perhaps “help,” or “damn,” or more likely an even stronger four-letter word. But one thing I knew for sure – I was stuck.
I was incredulous. How could this happen? Things were going so well! And yet I was terrified to continue. I was bombarded by fear, doubt, and uncertainty, and my internal critical voice – I call it my inner troll – came out to play, and play hard.
Who are YOU to write a book? You don’t have anything original to say. Your writing is derivative and you don’t have what it takes. Everything you’ve written has already been done before. You think you’re an original? Ha!
You’re nothing but a fraud.
My confidence in myself and my writing vanished. I started to wonder if my goal was too big and if I had the talent and stamina to write a book.
And for four weeks, I felt disconnected, unhappy, and deeply ashamed. Here I was, writing a book all about mindset, and yet I was allowing my own mind, my inner troll, to stand in my way of success.
What a hypocrite you are. See, I knew you were a fraud.
For those of you unfamiliar with Teen Titans Go!, it’s a smart, quirky animated show on The Cartoon Network, one of those rare kid cartoons that adults actually enjoy, despite being a bit frenetic and goofy.
The morning of the miracle, my children were watching Teen Titans Go! while I got ready. I wasn’t paying attention; it was merely background noise to my own incessant inner soundtrack of self-doubt and failure. (It was a rough four weeks.) But then, the young voice of Robin encouraging Cyborg cut through my mental chatter:
In that moment, time froze. I repeated those words to myself out loud, adopting them as my mantra. They reminded me – and still remind me – that there are things worth doing even when we’re scared, the things that are anchored in who we are and what matters most. We can battle any inner troll when we know what we’re fighting for.
The miracle was the first step in regaining my confidence – connecting my actions with my values. Writing a book is more than just putting words on a page. It is an act of service, sharing my knowledge and beliefs to help others improve their lives. It matters to me and it’s worth doing, even if I’m scared.
That first step got me writing again, but it didn’t do much to diminish my inner troll and its horrible chatter. If anything, its voice got louder, chastising me with every sentence and desperately trying to convince me that what I had to say was worthless and unoriginal.
It was time for step two. Armed with a renewed sense of confidence, I prepared to confront my troll using the exact strategies I outlined in my book.
Then, I gave it a name: Fred the Fraud. This might seem silly or juvenile, but trust me, it’s important. Acknowledging and naming reminded me that my troll isn’t me and what it says isn’t true. Just because my mind is generating all sorts of horrible, self-loathing garbage doesn’t mean I have to buy into it. By acknowledging the troll as something separate and giving it a name, I create distance between myself and my troll, and that reduces its power.
Then I asked Fred, “Why are you here? What’s your purpose?” Because here’s the thing – on some level, I benefit from having a troll or else it wouldn’t exist. So what’s the benefit of Fred the Fraud? What do I get from having him torture me this way?
Ideally, I publish it and then people read it. And when people read it, they form opinions about it. Some of those opinions might be positive, but some might be negative. Some people might think it’s awful, it’s boring, it’s the worst thing ever written. And those people might say those things to me or to others, and then I look stupid and feel embarrassed.
But… if I don’t write the book, then I don’t run the risk of embarrassing myself publicly and looking stupid, and the threat disappears. Enter Fred the Fraud, whose main goal is to keep me from writing a book. Problem solved.
In a twisted way, Fred the Fraud was protecting me and keeping me safe. By belittling me and destroying my confidence, he got me to stop writing, which meant I wouldn’t be in a position to embarrass myself and I’d be safe. Unhappy, but safe. Isn’t he thoughtful?
But the problem is that I didn’t want to play it safe. I wanted to be an author. I wanted to share my message with the world in order to help others. Since safety wasn’t the goal, Fred’s efforts weren’t helpful, they were an obstacle.
It was time to thank Fred for his service and relieve him of duty. I congratulated his efforts at keeping me safe, and informed him his services were no longer required. I told him he was welcome to come along for the ride if he wanted, but not as a safety monitor, only as a cheerleader. Instead of destroying my confidence, I asked him to build it up.
That’s not how the mind works – the more we try to avoid or eliminate an unwanted thought or feeling, the stronger it becomes. Instead, the purpose is to make room for that thought or feeling and address it head on. When we do, we regain our sense of control and empowerment. We decide how much power we give that thought or feeling.
So Fred’s still around – in fact, he’s with me right now as I write this. He’s piping up with his unhelpful comments about how this is boring and too long and no one is going to read it. But now, instead of running away from the page, I simply say, “Fred, I don’t need a safety monitor. I need a cheerleader.” And that quiets him down for a bit.
It starts with knowing what’s important and aligning your actions accordingly. And when your own inner troll comes out to play, you can see it for the overactive safety monitor it is and give it a role that boosts your confidence rather than drains it.
When you connect with your meaning and cultivate your mindset, your confidence will grow and you can accomplish anything. And then, my friend, you are unstoppable.
Lee Chaix McDonough is a business coach, clinical social worker, and author who lives in New Bern, North Carolina with her husband, two sons, and adorably mischievous pug. She is obsessed with podcasts and enjoys good food, good music, good wine, and a good run. Download a free chapter of her forthcoming book ACT On Your Business: Braving the storms of entrepreneurship and creating success through meaning, mindset and mindfulness at https://www.caravelcoaching.com/chapter.
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