I did a podcast last week with psychotherapist Terri Cole. Do you know her?

She’s the author of Boundary Boss (which I highly recommend) and a powerful and insightful voice on social media and the web. She’s also a good friend. Terri’s husband, Vic Juhasz, is a great illustrator who did all the visual work on The Daily Pressfield.

That, in fact, was the main thrust of our podcast conversation.

Psychotherapist Terri Cole

But I noticed in the prep materials that Terri said she always asked guests, at the program’s end, the same question:

“Personally, what has been your most challenging boundary struggle and how did you overcome it?”

It turned out Terri didn’t ask the question that particular day, but the subject got me thinking. How would I answer?

“Boundary Boss” by Terri Cole

When we think of boundary issues in the psychological sense, we’re usually referring to excessively intrusive words or actions between people—the boss who takes liberties with our time or our person, the spouse or lover whose comments always seem to undermine us, the loudmouth uncle who insists on ruining Thanksgiving.

But, I realized, my most challenging boundary issue isn’t with another person.

It’s with me.

It’s with that voice in my head that is constantly telling me I’m not good enough to tackle the project I’m about to begin, that it’s all been done before (and better than I’ll ever do it), that I’m too old/too young, overeducated/undereducated, etc., etc.

In other words, the voice of Resistance is the same in my head now as it was in 1974 (and no doubt the same in your head too.)

Thinking of this from Terri’s “boundary boss” perspective, I thought, “This is where DRAWING THE LINE is mandatory.”

This is where the real voice in my head has to say, “Listen, you! You do not have the right to say those things to me. You don’t have the right to use that tone. And you sure as hell don’t have the right to do it over and over … and never, never stop. Back off! Take your trash somewhere else, but don’t dump it on me!”

The struggle against our own self-sabotage, fear, self-doubt, tendency to procrastinate, perfectionism, etc, is really, I realized from Terri’s question, a boundary issue.

It’s a question of drawing the line. It’s about standing up for ourselves and protecting the best and most vulnerable parts of our psyches. “You, Voice in my Head, where do you get the nerve to say those things to me? And to say them in that arrogant, condescending tone of voice? Stop right now. I dismiss you. I am getting to work!”

P.S. Signed copies and Special Edition Gift Boxes of “The Daily Press” are still available here.

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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36 Comments

  1. Tolis on December 20, 2023 at 1:56 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve, and thank you so much dear Terri too, I really love that I have your book in my hands already. Steve reminded us a few weeks ago so off I sailed. I wanted to have ended it by the end of the year but I won’t be able, so it will be in my new year also, but it’s here with the page open. Can’t wait to investigate those depths and dynamics of my boundaries that you (she) will bring to the surface from within me.

    I can’t wait to reach the “destructors of Boundaries” theme too. I know them, I have them in my life somewhat weakened from me standing my ground and I fought them like a proud warrior of light but also simultaneously like a clever and dark pickpocketer. Nevertheless, the prize is too big to pay. Too big, gosh. I wouldn’t have payed if I’d known –or with better words to use, if I had the *skills* that I could also *implement* in real life. But I didn’t, even when I started and continued the Journey of development. But even from the dark angels have I given birth to great light up until now, and perhaps in the future. And I noticed something more: I became hard almost as Diomedes from the Iliad or as Hulk the fiction character, when he is transformed, from these experiences –and this is very important virtue to hold, hardness (Steve would say, tough skinned). So there is Good in these experiences… only not exactly: there is Good in the soul of the good (wo)men, and if that Good is energized they can benefit from those experiences –the very experiences and their holders (those difficult, destroyed souls) are no good at all when their weakness arises, and then there is Evil or failure of all kinds –I could argue that the same wars that happen today are only but a gathered force of such destructive people and cultures, man by man, woman by woman. One more thing I wonder about on all these in my life, is how I will honor myself for standing on such a strong ground and on having lost what I lost –in between a great dream too.

    You are absolutely right dear Steve, there is that force inside us too. There, you are our Boundary Boss’s writer and mentor. Ah! In so many actions I do deviate from your path. But still I’m here and I write this that Luther king said: If you can’t fly (absolutely not although I long for the day), then run. If you can’t run (I can’t I think), then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl (many times). But whatever you do you ‘ve got to keep going. So there, I’m the crawler.

  2. Joe Jansen on December 20, 2023 at 6:32 am

    I love little coincidences where they appear. Last week, I watched an exchange between two different friends, where one asked respectfully for a piece of the other’s time. The response was equally as cordial:

    “I salute your project, but I just don’t have the time. Here’s a couple other options for you.”

    I respected the way my first friend asked the question, and respected how my second friend was setting his boundaries in a straightforward way. I was in the process of telling my second friend that I admired how he handled the exchange, and then I saw this week’s WW on “boundaries.” Love the little coincidences.

    • Brian Nelson on December 20, 2023 at 7:39 am

      Joe,
      I love these ‘serendipitous winks’ but I no longer see them as coincidental. Struggle to name, but maybe they are clues of connections/truths we are still unable to sense or measure. The underlying order. The unity hidden from our conscious minds. Merry Christmas my friend.
      bsn

      • Joe on December 20, 2023 at 10:49 am

        Hey Brian! Yes, definitely an indicator of that underlying order! Good Christmas to you and yours out there!

  3. Jackie on December 20, 2023 at 7:24 am

    Once again, I am thankful for the mentorship and resources you provide. It’s surprising how what is needed can find its way to where it’s needed.

    • Linda McLyman on December 20, 2023 at 6:48 pm

      Check out the Internal Family Systems philosophy on working with the inner critic – very different from screaming at the critic(s) or fighting with the critic(s). I have coached many people through this process. IFS is an excellent evidenced based therapy.
      Thanks Stephen for recommending Terry Cole’s boundary work. I think her work is excellent.

  4. Mike on December 20, 2023 at 7:49 am

    Great stuff. And yes, Victor is a badass illustrator.

  5. Maureen Anderson on December 20, 2023 at 11:11 am

    Suddenly I realize nothing anyone says to me could be any worse than what I tell myself. Which is sobering, but good to know! An unexpected benefit will be going a little easier on the naysayers; maybe they’re just following my lead.

    Now for something unrelated.

    Do any of you remember the macaroni challenge I started here in December of 2022? Where we were using macaroni noodles to represent ten hours a week of work? I promised to weigh in after it had been a year.

    I’m still doing it, but I’ve tweaked it. I write ten pages a week, because “spending ten hours on something” makes it too easy to fudge. And I don’t need the macaroni because I can see the pages.

    What I’ve learned is that I wasn’t lacking time; I was lacking courage. I finally wrote what I was most afraid to write, and it was exhilarating.

    Whatever you’re going for, I hope you keep going for it.

    Happy Holidays!

    • Brian Nelson on December 20, 2023 at 1:26 pm

      Maureen! Great news. I think 10 pages is a more accurate & objective measurement as well. Merry Christmas.
      bsn

    • Jackie on December 20, 2023 at 1:41 pm

      High five Maureen! Don’t let fear of anything stop you, except maybe grizzly bears, tigers, or lions. They can eat you. Then I’d say proceed with a bit of caution.
      Merry Christmas and happy everything to all.

      • Maureen Anderson on December 20, 2023 at 3:24 pm

        Thanks, Jackie! Haven’t spotted any tigers or lions lately, but have had more than enough close encounters with bears in this lifetime 😮

  6. Mary on December 20, 2023 at 11:33 am

    Steven’s post came, as it always does, at the perfect time for me. Thank you, Steven, for this insight and all the others you’ve shared. ❤️

  7. Gerry DeLang on December 20, 2023 at 11:36 am

    Bravo Steven Only highest and best No pasturizing or futurizing. Do the work today, today, today. Now, now , now!!!! Peace and Plenty, Gerry

  8. jody pike on December 20, 2023 at 11:43 am

    Your best email ever!!! Thank you for sharing such an important topic/book/revelation

  9. Kenneth N Proudfoot on December 20, 2023 at 12:19 pm

    Right on, Steven! True. True. True!
    Though now I am wondering if the voice in my head has been plagiarizing the voice in YOUR head.
    Especially the part that goes, “I’m not good enough to tackle the project I’m about to begin, that it’s all been done before (and better than I’ll ever do it), that I’m too old/too young, overeducated/undereducated, etc., etc.”
    I’ve heard those lines screaming inside my brain pan for too many years. In launching new projects (books, film) over the years, they have been the hardest resistance I’ve faced. Of course, they can be overcome, not always, but enough of the time to produce good work. I have been wallowing in self-doubt on my biggest ever project (a musical). Now your timely observation has given me a new reason to re-visit it, that due to this deadly resistance of self-doubt about it, I have been avoiding completing.
    And yet, it NEEDS to be created and NEEDS to get staged. It bugs me daily.
    Okay, Steven!
    Yes, back to the script. Your timing is perfect. Thank you!
    And,
    MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours!

  10. Peter Adrian Defty on December 20, 2023 at 12:33 pm

    Just what I needed to hear and spot on.

  11. Tom Vandel on December 20, 2023 at 12:40 pm

    I can relate – I’ve been writing with a devil on my shoulder saying “Why are you doing this? What’s the point?” And I try to shrug it off and tune it out but it’s always there. I still don’t know what the point is but I think writing will help me figure it out!

  12. Victor Juhasz on December 20, 2023 at 12:43 pm

    As always, on point. Thank you.

  13. Jim Irons on December 20, 2023 at 12:51 pm

    It’s the vicious Super Ego you are describing so well. The Super Ego only finds fault with what we do or create. It’s a Greek Chorus of bad drunks, heckling us when we dare to get on stage and play our music.

    For those who doubt Freud, ask yourself about the tormenting voice in your head that prevents you from writing.

    It can only mock, the Super Ego; it never praises.

  14. Pete Miller on December 20, 2023 at 12:53 pm

    “Crush Résistance” is the war cry from the battlefields of our work.
    I’ve made a Dymo sticker for my screen.

  15. Helen on December 20, 2023 at 1:16 pm

    Spot on. My biggest abuser of boundaries is ME. Me and my ‘big ideas’ mean that my idea boundary breaker is not limited to ‘painting and writing projects’ where I am at my absolute best expressing my best potential. That same scattered madwoman genius who can come up with such unique ideas wants to splurge that creativity on everything she sees or comes across.

    It’s about taking anything, anything at all, a renovation, a person, an idea, a conspiracy, a garden, the study of the internal workings of the gut and engaging with it entirely. That ‘thing’ – (that me) that enthusiastic nut job, has no boundaries and has no sense of ‘time’ and how much of it we have on earth. It believes everything must be explored and played with. I know typology has much to do with this, and some of us are burdened and blessed with dominant extraverted intuition, which is like a monster scooping machine of life unless we temper it with focus and discipline in a set direction as far as output. It is free to scoop up the raw material, but then it must trust the inner willpower to ‘make something good’ from it.

    So yeah, I get it. We need to know what we can do that no one else can do and understand that is our real job to dive into. That is the unique shape of the tree we must grow into. There are plenty of builders, gardeners, and doctors (well, I’m not too sure I would trust them so much these days), and there is no reason we should not be ‘handy and caring’, but we don’t have to go all the way down those pipelines over everything that spikes our curiosity.

    We simply do not have enough time or life.

  16. Brian Nelson on December 20, 2023 at 1:43 pm

    I would be arrested if anyone could hear the language I have used to speak to myself over the years.

    I prefer the term ‘Bright Lines’ over boundaries. I first read that term in a book called Willpower by Roy Baumeister. He’s a Pysch prof at a school in Florida. The point is these lines – in fact, similar to the insight Maureen just shared about 10 pages over 10 hours – are CRYSTAL CLEAR. For alcoholics it is ZERO ALCOHOL. PERIOD.

    The bright lines approach is best suited to those binary creatures like myself who are either on/off. I love/hate, and I find it infinitely easier to fast 2 x a week than to eat moderately all the time. Read somewhere that we make 250ish food choices a day. Vast majority are below the surface, became habitual years previously. I know I will likely miss a lay up in 250 attempts. My mind will wander, I’ll lose the plot. So it is bright lines of NO FOOD for 36 hours. Much easier.

    There are times when I wish I could make these bright lines juiced with electricity…so I’m even less tempted to cross them.

    My latest technique is to stop swearing. Pretty hard as I’ve used profanity as punctuation all of my life. What I noticed though–is that when I’m truly angry, I use profanity like a weapon. If I remove that weapon from the arsenal, maybe I recognize the building anger quicker. The internal critic loves to use profanity laced insults at me. This is just one technique in an effort to neuter him.

    Merry Christmas.
    bsn

    • Richard Ritenbaugh on December 21, 2023 at 7:41 am

      Kudos to you, Brian, for getting profanity out of your life! This world is too full of crudeness and blasphemy, and I’m sure it undermines ourselves when we use it. If we would all pursue beauty and excellence, what a wonderful world it would be!

    • Nom de Plume on December 21, 2023 at 9:58 am

      That’s funny — I’m exactly the opposite. I rarely cuss. For that reason, when I do, it really gets people’s attention. I finally learned that, contrary to my mild-mannered normal impulse, there are some situations in this life where “F you” is not only an appropriate response, sometimes it is the only appropriate response. Even if you don’t say it, just thinking it will reframe the situation in your mind for suitable responses, even if expressed with more diplomacy. (Sometimes “F off” works nicely too, expressing irritation without the aggression of the “you”.) And, to return to the actual topic here, both are very useful to set firm boundaries!

      Having said that, I fully agree with Richard: there is too much crudeness and blasphemy, and it makes us coarse. Let’s focus on the better things in life!

      Like this: Merry Christmas, friends! Or whichever holiday you partake in. May our new year be blessed.

      Nom

  17. Judith F Ridgley on December 21, 2023 at 12:43 pm

    Oh that kind of boundry. Mine was a Marine drill sergent with a bad attitude who yelled in my ear constantly negative remarkes. “Who’s gonna rad that shit.” “Come on. You can’t write.” Seriously, that stupid.”
    One day, alone in the three story house with me in the basement, I YELLED, “SHUT THE FUCK UP. I’LL FIX IT!!!” iwas loud enough to be heard on all three floors. Kinda scared the ole boy and he did shut up. So I guess I set a boundry. But with reflection, it really was my insecurity talking . Yelling it, made me listen. And I do fix it. I know I am not the perfect writer. I know I still have lots to learn about this craft. And finally, I got it through my head, it’s kinda fun getting better.

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