For years, I’ve sung ‘I Have Confidence’ from The Sound of Music in the face of daunting tasks or scary situations. Maybe this song is not actually imbued with magical powers, but it has been the soundtrack for many a confidence-depleting challenge: grad school, publication, and moving from the US to Switzerland, to name a few.
The motivational lyric that has had the greatest impact on me, though, comes from a different Sound of Music song altogether (and no, it’s not ‘The Lonely Goatherd’). “Nothing comes from nothing/nothing ever could” is my half-a-stanza self-starter for life. And thank goodness I have one, because I am terrible at getting started, and a champion at talking myself out of taking risks.
My husband has done a fair amount of reading on the psychology of procrastination, which I admire. The extent of my knowledge on the subject is that I do it, and it’s annoying. I would surely benefit from understanding the scientific whys of my actions. Instead I sing some Julie Andrews to remind myself that if I don’t get going (cleaning, writing, bill-paying, exercising, or just … going), then there’s no way I will ever get anywhere but here. It seems obvious, I know, but the threat of nothingness, coupled with the knowledge that I could create somethingness, is a powerful incitation.
As much credit as I give the Von Trapp family and all their musical life-coaching, this notion, “Nothing comes from nothing”, was around long before Maria and the Captain were serenading each other on the subject.
In De Rerum Natura (or On the Nature of Things), the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius wrote:
“Nothing can be made from nothing—once we see that’s so,
Already we are on the way to what we want to know.
For if things were created out of nothing, any breed
Could be born from any other; nothing would require a seed.”
It is this seed—a desire, need, or idea—that requires action, and which procrastination or neglect will kill. I don’t know how your ideas work, but mine only stay fertile for so long before dying quick, irreversible deaths in the minefield of my mom-brain. If I don’t get my thought down (somewhere, anywhere! the back of a receipt will do) it’s gone forever.
Another brilliant poet, one Lewis Carroll, wrote:
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
I don’t pretend that fending off the nothingness with action (especially running!) is easy, even if you are fending in sing-song. You can whistle while you work, but it’s still work in the end. To begin anything takes bravery, time, inspiration, and determination. These things aren’t always (or often) readily available, but with a bit of effort and a touch of whimsy, you can conjure some, if not all, of the components required for creation. There’s actually a recipe for this:
- Take pure bull-headed will (to be found in the far reaches of the soul);
- Ignore all unfolded or unwashed laundry, unanswered email, filthy or inquiring (but otherwise safe, healthy, and reasonably content) children, ringing phones, burned somethings and broken anythings;
- Envision your quarry;
- Grunt about it (the louder the better);
- Let out a barbaric yawp (get creative! Try yawping in an accent, or while pinching your nose); and
- Take the resulting spark and love it into the catalyst of your choosing.
If it’s motivation you lack, or fear that’s keeping you immobilized, and the above recipe for inspiration is a flop, then I urge you to try the following:
- Imagine your project or goal as a seed. Water it with your efforts and warm it with your intentions, however insufficient you may feel they are. There in your mind’s eye, watch your seed start to change and grow.
- Now imagine the vast quietude of nothingness, a wasteland of creativity-thwarting self-doubt and recrimination, if you let inaction win and don’t begin.
I guarantee something will come of it, and I have confidence it will be something good.