Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #149 Doing the Thing You Think You Cannot Do
About this episode

Listen to the full episode to find out how to recognize when it's love that wants you to do something that scares you—and how to work up the courage to run at it full speed. Martha also adapts her Silence, Space, and Stillness meditation to soothe your anxiety about the things you're scared to do.

Doing the Thing You Think You Cannot Do

Martha Beck:

So let’s get started. Today I nabbed a title from Eleanor Roosevelt. I don’t know, it’s attributed to everybody and their dog, called You Must Do the Thing You Think You Cannot Do, because recently I started getting some feedback on something I did that I thought I could not do. And that is that I wrote a book, I’m just going to hold this up. And those of you who’ve read the book will know what I mean. Most of my books are non-fiction, memoir and/or self-help or truth telling Maria Shriver, my publisher told me the other day, “It’s not self-help, it’s truth telling.” I like that, because it’s not self-help, you don’t have to help yourself. If you write a book to help people, that’s you trying to help them. It’s not saying, “You just have to help yourself,” it’s just trying to tell everybody the truth so we can all live in it.

But I’ve written my basic life philosophy in a hundred different ways. And one time I got tired of writing to typical nonfiction genre and I thought, “I’m just going to write everything I think right now as an allegory.” And at the time I was living at my enchanted ranch in California and tracking bears and mountain lions around the hills. And as some of you may know, I ended up tracking a wild boar. There are boars in California, they were brought from Russia to be hunted and they got away, being very clever animals. Also, it so happens that if an ordinary pig escapes from a farm, it reverts to a boar. Being wild turns it back into a boar in that one animal. Instead of pink, it becomes black, it grows long hair, it gets tusky and it just becomes a boar.

And I was tracking this wild animal around this area of California. And one day I tracked it for a long time and then I realized that the track I was following, I’d done a Winnie the Pooh. We’d gone in a circle and there was a place where I could tell from the track that as I was tracking the boar, it had been watching me track it. And then it went around and then it got behind me and I had the distinct impression that it was playing with me. And in a very metaphysical way, there was a twinkle in the air that was this very intelligent soul playing with my soul. And so I wrote this book, I called it Diana Herself. And it was about a woman who gets lost in the California woods and meets a pig. And that came out and some of you read it and some of you didn’t and that’s all good.

But about six months ago, somebody said, “You should do an audiobook.” And we finally had time and I’d done an audiobook with The Way of Integrity. So I knew a wonderful sound engineer here in Pennsylvania. He even shoveled the snow for me when I needed to get in there, the Pennsylvania winter. So we were like, “Okay, I’ll do a book. I’ll just go in, I’ll just read this book. I’ve done it before, you go in, you’ll open your book, you read it.” And I forgot that it’s not just a nonfiction book and there are actual characters in the book, including a talking pig. My piece of hair, it’s just like the end of my life. This piece, it doesn’t matter which side I part on. Okay, I’m going to write another fiction book about my piece of hair. Anyway, all of this, maybe it’s reverting back to wildness as I speak.

So I sit down and I realize that I’m going to have to read this book as if it were a cast of characters. There are multiple talking animals in this book. There’s a man, there’s a woman, there are ancillary men and women, there’s a boy, there are all these things, there’s an old man. And I’m like, “I don’t know how to do this.” And you’re sitting… When you read an audiobook, they need sound control. So you go into this tiny little black booth and the sound engineer’s in another part of the building and he says, “You’re fine to go.” And then you’re like, “Okay.” And then you start to read and it’s like a booth the size of a telephone booth and you’ve just got your little script in front of you. And nobody’s there to help.

I mean, I had a wonderful director listening on the other line, but it’s not like they could say to me, “This is how you should do it.” We had a brief conversation, but in the end I just had to take a lot of deep breaths and say, “I have never done anything like this and I’m just going to have to go for it. I’m just going to go all in.”. So I did and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was so nervous and I was so exhausted at the end of every day. And I was so afraid that it just sucked beyond unbelief. And every day I just had to keep going in there and doing it. And I felt like… And then I just tried to repress the entire experience.

Then they put it out on Audible and I’ve started getting people writing in and saying, “I like the way you voiced the characters, Martha.” And I’m like, “Wow, it is really true. If there is something in front of you and you do not know how to do it, run at it full speed.” Now I know this doesn’t always match with everybody’s personality, but I’m very anxious as you’ll read in my next book Beyond Anxiety, it’s all about books today. But I’m an extremely anxious self-conscious person and so for me to… I basically have to run full speed at it because I don’t have the courage to walk. I just have to close my eyes and run.

And then I realized almost everything I’ve done in my life… I mean, I didn’t mean to be a life coach and I didn’t mean to run a life coach training. I don’t know how to do that stuff, well, now I do. But at the time I did not know how to do any of these things. And my reaction was just to think, “Okay, now I have to do this,” and to close my eyes and run straight at it and what happens? Another thing I thought I might call this episode is Just Ship the Work. That comes from Seth Godin who just says, “Just get the work to the people it’s meant for and let them deal with whether or not they like you.” I also was thinking of putting out a phrase that I love from Liz Gilbert, which is, “Done is better than good.”

So let’s put these all together. If you are facing something in your life and who isn’t? That makes you anxious and you think, “I’m not sure I can do this one, I’m not sure I can be a parent. I just had a baby, I’m not sure I can be a parent.” “I’m switching genders and I’m not sure I know how to do this.” “I am trying to build a business,” or “I’m trying to get a job.” Or whatever it is you’re trying to do, “I’m make a relationship work. And love has brought me here and love asks me to move forward and I am afraid, I don’t think I can do this.” Just know that 99% of everything that gets done is done by people who don’t think they can do this. Let me amend that, 99% of every original thing that is done is done by people who don’t think they can do it.

And everything else is about… There are two kinds of… Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Everybody lives by selling something.” Well, there are two ways to make a living selling something. One is to be a content creator and the other one is to be a distributor. So some people make the peanut butter, some people get the peanut butter to the people. Some people voice the book or write the book or whatever. And then there are people working with me who get books to the world. So my thing is about content creation, but those are the only two things, content creation and delivery. So if you’re trying to make your mark on the world, know that there will be a place where you either have to make something original or deliver something in a way that has never been delivered and you will feel like you can’t.

And this is the time to take a lot of deep breaths. Imagine yourself in a soundproof booth saying, “Okay, I have the task before me and the fact that I am paralyzed and terrified does not matter. I’m going to ship the work, done is going to be better than good.” And then you start. And let me tell you, when you’re writing a book, when you’re voicing a book, when you’re raising a child, when you’re creating a relationship, it goes on for a while. And it’s not like the anxiety’s over once you start. You have to find the courage over and over and over again because even after taking a hundred steps or a thousand steps, you’re still afraid you can’t take the next step.

And you’ve got to… Because love has brought you there and because you’re in the situation, do the thing you think you cannot do. How? I can’t tell you that. You will get there and you will know how to close your eyes and run forward and it will be very, very terrifying. And because it’s so terrifying, having done it, it will give you courage. And as you accumulate courage, you’ll be able to do more and more things that you thought you could not do, not because you’ll be more skilled at them, but because courage is 99% of everything. As Tony Morrison said, “Courage is the only necessary virtue, because without it, none of the other virtues ever get practiced.”

So I’m going to go to my question thing, but before we do the questions, I want to do our meditation and I want you to think about this. Any newcomers out there, this is the meditation we do every week by request of the community. And we are going to get ourselves into a space of peace. But I really want all of you to think about something that you have to do, either create something or deliver something, get something done that you think you cannot do, that scares the living patooties out of you. And that you want to do, that you would love to have done it, let’s say that. Ernest Hemmingway said, somebody asked him, “Do you love writing?” He said, “I love having written.” Okay, so we’re going to think about something you will love having done. This is our symbol for the thing you will love having done. And bring it up in your mind, the child you think you cannot raise, the relationship you think you cannot create, the job you think you cannot do. But love has brought you here.

And I want you to hold it with all its terrifying spikes and barbs and fuzzy bits. Let it be the scariest monster in the room and we’re going to calm down in the presence of the scariest monster in the room, all right? So taking into your mind this thing that you’re afraid you cannot do, take a deep breath, get centered and ask yourself the odd question, “Can I imagine the distance between my eyes?” Repeat that a few times. “Is it possible for me to imagine the space inside my skull?” The whole bony skull is filled with atoms that are filled with emptiness. “Is it possible for me to imagine the space inside my arms? Can I imagine the pure clear space inside the atoms of my entire torso? Can I imagine the space inside my body? Can I imagine the stillness, the absolute stillness that exists around each activity of my body?”

Every mitochondria, every beat of your heart takes place in a field of stillness. “Can I hear the silence beneath all the sounds?” It’s a deep pure silence that’s holding all of us, whether you’re in New Zealand or Germany or Ontario or South America somewhere, Buenos Aires. “Can I imagine the stillness, the space, and the silence in which we are all swimming, floating, existing? And can I remember that that silence, space and stillness is alive and that it is love?” When it’s time to do the thing you think you cannot do, the stillness will be right there holding you up. It’ll be right there supporting you. It’s always there. So Clear Coaching says, “How did you decide how Herself would laugh?” I love that. In the book, okay, so there’s this wild boar and she talks and her name is Myself.

Because this is true. In Ireland, those of you in Ireland can tell me if this is wrong, but I read in a book that it was once considered bad luck to mention a pig to a fisherman, bad luck. And you never knew who was a fisherman in Ireland, so they just called pigs Themselves. So how are themselves? And I thought, this is amazing. They’ve given this animal the right to be itself. And so the pig’s name is Myself. And Myself, I described her as having this mellifluous alto voice and a laugh that was spelled H-O-I-N-K, hoink, hoink, hoink, hoink. And I remember with the director for the audiobook going, “How should I do that?” And I was like, “Hoink, hoink, hoink.” At one point I was thinking of breathing in on the hoink, “Hoink,” that doesn’t work. “Hoink, hoink, hoink.” Then I sounded like I was choking, coughing up a fur ball. It was nightmarish in there, people, it was horrifying. But I think I just ended up with, “Hoink, hoink, hoink.” See, it’s so stupid, I can’t do it, but I had a lot of, “Hoink, hoink, hoink.” I don’t know.

All right, I better go to the next question. City Lotus says, “Accumulating courage. What’s a way to cultivate courage?” Do this over and over, find a little thing that you’re afraid to do, sending an email that’s uncomfortable, clearing out something in your house when you have hoarder instincts and are afraid to throw things away. And set yourself a task every day. When I was 14, I decided that I would do something that scared me every day for the rest of my life, and I’ve pretty much kept that going. And what happens is your comfort zone goes out, out, out, out, out, because you become less afraid of the things that you now know you can do, because you did do. But the next thing always feels like the thing you cannot do. I’m a Patreon member of Anita Franco’s. She does a Patreon thing. She’s this brilliant singer and poet and she’s doing a part in a Broadway play for the first time.

And her Patreon this last couple of weeks ago was just like, “I can’t do this. I am terrified and I don’t know how to… Like the blocking and the…” She said, “Everybody thinks I’m going to kill this.” Because she’s a famous recording artist. She was terrified and I so deeply empathize with her. She has accumulated a lot of courage and that’s giving her just enough to step this one more step forward, but she’s scared spitless. We’re all going to be scared spitless. Could we all just agree right now in the space, stillness and silence that we’re going to be scared for almost our entire lives? This is why I just wrote a book on anxiety, right? There is nobody who doesn’t feel anxious about something sometime. And the way to accumulate courage is to target the very thing you think you cannot do, the scary thing that you love and do it anyway. Eyes closed, run straight ahead like a pig. All right. And I mean that in a very, very good way.

Okay, so Amanda says, “I’m wondering which way to go do the thing. I feel like I have a few directions to go in and I’m not sure which way to go. Any suggestions?” Do it all. Why? Because you can’t or at least you think you can’t. That’s me too, I’m like, “Oh, there’s so many things I want to do. Which do I choose?” I can’t choose, I have severe ADHD. Maybe I’ll do them all, but in very distracted little bits that leave people around me going, “Why? Why are you like this?” I have a brain thing, I can’t help it. So do it all Amanda, but do the thing you love most the first. Do the thing where the energy takes you and then you’re scared.

Raina says, “Hi, Martha, how do you focus on self-love?” Oh, this is good, we’ve done this before. The word kindness became very important to me as I wrote Beyond Anxiety, the book that I just finished writing, that I thought I could not write by the way. So the way I focus on self-love is to use the language of kindness always to myself. So I wake up in the morning… Oh, who was it amongst you folks who wrote to me the word beditation? Because I wake up now in bed and I do this… I don’t sit up to meditate, if I wake up in the night I just lie there and do a meditation and I love it. Because if you have a cold, “I’m just beditating.” So I was beditating the other day and instead of thinking, “Oh, how will this happen?” Or, “What am I?” Or any of the other mantras, sometimes I just do, “You’ll be okay sweetheart, it’ll be fine. Oh, you’re fine. Everything’s great.”

That’s basically what the pig says all the time in the book. Very comforting. Do you know actual pigs sing to their piglets in a specific rhythmic song? Which is in that book and nobody knows that it’s a real thing and I just had to say that. Anyway, I sing to myself like a mother pig would sing to her piglets. And it’s just a soft and kind way of saying, “You’ll be all right, honey, I’m right here. Do you remember all the things that we’ve gone through before together? It’ll be okay.” “Look, you can check what happened to… Pema Chödrön can tell you how to get through things if you don’t. Byron Katie can or Eckhart Tolle your favorite or Nisargadatta Maharaj or Jesus.” All these way finders out there who are helping you get by. And I tap into their kindness and then I use my own kindness for myself. And kindness is the magic, it really is.

All right, the Casey Act says, “How do you get started doing the thing when you don’t have connections to present it to the world once it’s completed?” I didn’t when I started writing. I did not have one connection. Tell you what I did, I got an agent because I wrote every agent in this agent book and I got turned down by every one of them. There was no internet at the time. So then I wrote another book and I queried every agent again. And this time I got one who wrote me an email. She said later she did not remember writing, that was like, “This is great, send it along.” So I sent her my book, never heard from her again, but I now had her letterhead and stuff. So I actually submitted my book myself by pretending I was… It’s probably illegal, but I never would’ve gotten published otherwise. Yeah, you have to do things. I don’t know how that goes with the integrity piece. I was very grateful to her. We had a great relationship after that. After all, I sold a book, so it was a win-win proposition.

What I’m saying is I did not have a single connection. And I wanted to be a writer and it was a thing I knew I could not do, but I love had taken me there and love would not let me let it go. So I closed my eyes and ran at it a thousand different ways. And most of the time I smashed right into a brick wall, but I couldn’t stop because the love wouldn’t let me, it wanted me to keep going. So actually, if you’re trying to write a book today, you are connected, because you have the internet and you can go on and you can find people. You can put bits of that book online as a blog and you can start posting them as memes. And you can start getting people who are on your wavelength, who will flow in with you.

Actually, I wrote a lot about this in this last book. There is a way for you to find your people. We are all over the world, y’all. We are everywhere in the world right now, and I am not for all as Shakespeare wrote once, “Sell when you can. You’re not for all markets.” That’s a woman telling another woman to get married. And I’m not for all markets, but here we are, right? Here we are. So yeah, you are connected. And the thing to do is do the thing you cannot do, write the book and then market the book, which is another thing you think you cannot do. Create it, distribute it. It’ll be great. Do it from your heart. It’ll go out into the world and it’ll find its people.

Suzanne says, “I have trouble visualizing a positive outcome to something hard for me. How important is that visualization of life after doing that hard thing? The other obstacles or fear of losing the comfort of my routine and regret, I just can’t seem to get past these obstacles.” Yeah. Okay, first, let me talk about regret that when they talk to people who are in their last, they’re declining days, people in a hospice, they never say they regret things they did as much as the things they didn’t do. So close your eyes and run at it is a good piece of advice if you don’t want to have any regrets. Now, if you want your routine to stay the same, you’re going to have a problem doing anything new. So you just have to say, “Oh, this will disrupt my routine and that’s the thing I cannot do.” Oh yeah, you can disrupt your routine.

You can disrupt it just by, I don’t know, everybody fold your arms and everybody fold your arms with the other arm on top. You just disrupted your routine. You just broke some neuron pathways and formed some new ones in your brain. And that’s what has to happen if something new and wonderful comes in. The first act of creation is a destruction of the status quo. Now for your first point, visualizing a positive outcome. I spend more time feeling what I want the impact I want. I don’t spend a lot of time visualizing celebrations and publication parties and everything, and that may just be me.

But I did that for a while way back when, when I was reading positive affirmation books and I found it just didn’t work for me as well as going into the meditation we just did, go into that stillness and silence and then feel for the impact love wants to have on the world, on your life. Feel it with your body, feel it emotionally, that’s my way of doing it. Some people can picture things, some people like to make vision boards or whatever. For me, the most powerful magic there is the feeling of what wants to happen. And it’s always something I think I cannot do, but it wants to happen and it won’t let me go. So I close my eyes and run straight ahead.

All right, Eve, I think it is, says, “What if you know what you don’t want, but you don’t know what to do instead?” Just keep edging toward whatever is a little warmer. It’s like the game, you’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder. When I was writing this last book Beyond Anxiety, I was so tired from writing every day for 105 straight days that I said, “I’m trying to imagine doing something fun.” And the only fun thing I could think of to do, because I was in my writer brain, was to write the sequel to this, to Diana Herself, which is called Maelstrom. And it was like, “That’s weird. Don’t you want to rest? Don’t you want to break? No.” Right then what felt warm was to keep writing but do fiction for a while. So just find the warmth, find whatever is one step warmer than now, and just keep going to the word warm, warm, warm.

All right, Olympia, Bespoke in Olympia says, “I find myself over focusing and concerned with judgment from others as I take the leap.” Hello, codependent empathy. “Do you ever get comfy with the discomfort of others’ lack of understanding?” No. I never ever do and I probably never will. But comfort is not why I’m here. Joy is why I’m here, meaning is why I’m here. And certainly times of comfort and the comfort of the grieving heart and all of that. But yeah, I think we’re on the wrong planet if what we are wanting is comfort all the time. I think we want meaning. I think we want truth. I think we want compassion. And I think we want growth, spiritual growth, and that’s available on the planet in buckets, always dressed as something you think you cannot do.

All right, and last Angie says, “how do we release regrets and shame, please?” Okay, this is a nice final sendoff. I don’t know if y’all remember I talked about Dante a lot while I was writing my last book. And there are three books in the Divine Comedy, Inferno, Purgatory and Paradiso. When he gets to the end of the second book, Dante has gone through all these adventures. He’s gone through hell. He’s divested himself of all his sins and bad habits and self-recrimination and everything. And he finds himself in the Garden of Eden. And to be fit for paradise he has to be dunked in both sides of a river. And on one side it makes him forget everything he’s ever done wrong. And on the other side it makes him remember everything he’s done right.

And once he’s been in both those places, he can remember. He’s not allowed to take any regrets, but he’s also not allowed to forget anything he’s done right. And I think that’s a really proactive, positive way to stop regretting. Everybody, if this is an issue for you, sit down and write down a list of all the things you’ve done. And then it pushes out the memory of all the things you’ve done wrong. And then someone writes a thing that says, “Hey, I kind of liked the way you read your audiobook.” And you’re like, “the thing where I did a horrible job and felt like I was clawing my way through brambles with my bare stubby fingers, you liked it?”

Oh, sorry. Rowie Joey, Rowan Mangan, the Gracious Badger is over here saying, “It has had rave reviews. Please stop talking about it like it’s a piece of poo-poo.” And I do apologize. And yes, it’s had rave reviews. Thank you. I try not to say anything negative. “I can’t do it. I can. I must do the thing I think I can’t do.” So I’m going to end this podcast without saying, “I don’t understand why.” No, it got rave reviews enough said. I love you all. Hoink, hoink, hoink, hoink, hoink, hoink, hoink. I will see you next week or sometime on the Gathering Room. Goodbye, I love-

Read more