“It’s Not Supposed to Feel Like This”: The Lie in the Way of Your Progress

There’s this thing I often do where I put off something (especially a long-contemplated task, or beginning a new habit) because “I’m not in the right mood.” If by some miracle I do convince myself to start, I can easily get disenchanted if the task doesn’t unfold with the frictionless ease, confidence, and grace that I was imagining.  Especially at the beginning.

Traditionally, at that point I’ve had an impulse to back off.  “I’m gonna wait till it feels right.” That thought is based on the assumption that the Right Time would feel different.  It would be easy and in flow.

But flow often doesn't happen right away. It comes after you get over the initial hump of resistance.  In fact, maybe that feeling of not-rightness is precisely how a thing often feels at the beginning.  It’s right for it to feel not-right.

Face it: you might be using muscles and skills and/or directing your energy in ways and contexts that you may not be used to.  It takes a lot more conscious effort than that easy-peasy picture in your head. The hinges are creaky. They need some oil. The door has to be opened and swung back and forth a few times.

Expecting it to be otherwise could be yet another mask for perfectionism (i.e., if it’s not perfect, it’s not worth doing).  Perfectionism in turn is often fueled by shame―the fear of being found out. The fear that you’re damaged goods and not as accomplished as you think you’re supposed to be, and everyone is going to see it.

Lately, I’ve committed to getting up super early (for me) every morning and exercising first thing, followed by meditation. And the implementation is a lot harder than the picture in my head.  The first thought I had the other morning in the pool was “I must be doing it wrong. This feels way more clunky than I imagined.” But then I stopped. How the heck did I think it was supposed to feel to my out-of-practice body?

One caveat: this sense of “not-rightness” I’m talking about here is primarily driven by unfamiliarity and lack of practice.  There’s also a kind of “not-rightness” that comes from an internal compass―like some sense that there are suspect motives/conditions in play or some other kind of bad juju afoot.  I’m not suggesting that you should ignore that kind of impulse. Or, if the thing you’re bumping up against is some kind of severe anxiety response or hyper-arousal, it may be a sign that you’ve got other work to tend to first.

A lot of ink has been spilled about the power of visualization.  I’m a fan. By all means, visualize getting it done. And include in that vision the possibility of it “not feeling right” at the beginning. Visualize it being crunchy and then getting easier over time.  But don’t create an expectation of effortlessness at the outset that you will then weaponize as a stick to beat yourself with.

Odds are, if it feels awkward, klunky, or plain wrong at the beginning, you’re right on track.