Creative Hacks to Defeat the Dread

5 Creative Hacks to Defeat the Dread

By Sheryl Tullis

I am world class at procrastination and justification. I can think of a good reason not to get started on a lot of things I should, including workouts, project proposals, and this blog post.

Sometimes I dread getting up for a run in the dark/cold/rain. Other times I resist the legwork I’ll need to put into a project. Occasionally I’m hesitant to have a tough conversation. Or I just avoid staring at a blank screen trying to come up with the right words. What I need are hacks to break the inertia that holds me.

I used to think I was pretty good at “just in time” delivery, but as my career progressed, more people relied on me or had dependencies on my milestones. I was a speechwriter to a C-Level executive, and was struggling to get moving on my first major multimedia presentation. I had a scheduled review set and creative resources at the ready, but I couldn’t get the ideas down on paper. My boss called me in and asked why she hadn’t seen a draft. Nervously, I admitted I was stuck, and she probed: “Who have you asked for help?” 

Feeling sheepish, I realized I had been stewing alone instead of reaching out to the treasure trove of ideas and experience around me. I called a quick brainstorm and had an outline within the hour. Now when I need  a push, I remind myself that people around me are a great source of inspiration and help defeat the dread of writer’s block. 

Creative hack #1: Rally your network. Reach out to 5 different people and ask them for 2 crazy ideas each. Voila: 10 ideas!

Communicating also becomes difficult when faced with conflict – and most of us don’t look forward to these difficult conversations. My natural response is to defend my point of view and hopefully win a war of words (or maybe attrition!). But this usually leaves me thinking of what I’ll say next instead of listening, and dreading the whole conversation. This is especially touchy in business situations when there’s conflict on a team or with a client. I learned something from a Lean In module a few years ago that I’ve never forgotten – that when each side is pushing on the other, they can’t turn around and see what the other is seeing. To visualize this, imagine both parties pressing a raised hand against each other’s hand. If one yields and allows his shoulder to turn, he can better see the viewpoint of the opponent. I’ve found if I enter the conversation willing to learn what the other sees, it’s an easier challenge. 

Creative hack #2: Make conflict a chance for curiosity. What can you learn?

Ever been hesitant to make a decision for fear it’s the wrong one? Here’s a hack on best and worst case analysis I learned from a book by Dr. Ben Carson. Before his political career, Dr. Carson was a preeminent surgeon who separated conjoined twins. This delicate operation required a lot of risk analysis, and he devised a simple framework that works for any important decision:

  1. What is the best thing that can happen if I do this?
  2. What is the worst thing that can happen if I do this?
  3. What is the best thing that can happen if I don’t do it?
  4. What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do it?

Creative hack #3: Answer these 4 questions from the viewpoint of the stakeholders involved in the decision. By the time you’re done, you’ll have considered the possible outcomes, which will defeat the dread of the unknown.

Do you dread getting up for a workout in the dark/cold/rain? This struggle never ends for me! I try everything: pre-staging my gear to eliminate excuses, a friend that won’t let me cancel, no TV before exercise, competition on a fitness app,….but nothing works quite as well as grounding myself in the reasons I work out in the first place (that beach vacation in six weeks is a big motivator). 

Creative hack #4:  Create support systems and accountability for goals that are important — but remember your WHY to sustain motivation.

My WHY is living a life of adventure and creative experiences — and this means facing fears with regularity. I believe defeating dread is like building muscle. Strength training stresses the muscle fibers and creates microtears that repair into stronger bonds. Pushing out of my comfort zone does the same thing, increasing my capacity for new situations. I recall quite a few moments when I’ve felt anxious:

  • Standing in the door of a C-130 plane with a parachute strapped to my back
  • Suspended at the edge of the Jungle Bungie Jump platform in Thailand
  • Staring down the AstroTurf ramp off a mountain ledge with my paraglider pilot counting down
  • Roped in and waiting to rappel down a waterfall in Mexico
  • Perched on the edge of a wildly rocking boat for a SCUBA dive with sharks in Grand Cayman
  • Gripping the trapeze bar before leaping into space to complete a successful catch in mid-air.
  • Poised for a cliff jump into the ocean in Hawaii.
  • Gazing up at the 14’411 summit of Mt. Rainier through glacier glasses as I began my climb.
  • Hovering above the keyboard ready to press “Publish” on a new piece

The scariest moment about each of these of these events? 

Standing. Suspended. Perched. Staring. Waiting. Perched. Gripping. Poised. Gazing. Hovering. 

In each case, the butterflies stopped once I was in motion. And it was epic! Thinking about something new before doing it usually is the hardest part. But once I’m doing it, it inspires confidence to keep going. This has fueled a fundamental philosophy that the antidote to fear is action

Creative hack #5: Stop thinking and get moving!

Remember, this isn’t about being fearless. It’s about powering through despite fears. So use these hacks, be bold and defeat the dread!     [Andddd…. PUBLISH!]


How do YOU defeat the dread? I’d love to get your thoughts and comments.

Sheryl Tullis leads the Department of Why for TA Group and is a Partner at Direct Technology. She and other TA Group leaders are sharing their experiences each week for 12 weeks in the Growth Never Stops  series.

About the Series

Growth and learning have been at the core of TA Group’s success. Academic learning certainly, but more importantly the kind of learning that comes from trial and error, from bumps and bruises. Otherwise known as experience. We’d like to share that experience with you!

Each Wednesday over the next 12 weeks we will share a high-level topic related to personal or professional growth, leadership or management. We’ll share the stories and the steps that lead to the learning and we’ll ask you to share with us. Let’s grow together in 2018.

Read last week’s post here: On the Trail to Success, You Have to Get Your Feet Wet