I can’t put my finger on it, but through a confluence of events, I’ve found more discipline to write lately. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lazy streak, but I’m getting better. I started dissecting what happened but I couldn’t settle on any concrete reasons. Then I came across two posts this morning. One was by Chris Brogan titled Discipline and the other was by Mindy Holahan over at the Accidental Creative entitled Cultivating Deliberate Focus. These posts summarize what has been transpiring in my life. But first, let’s look at what has helped get me to this point.
One thing I started doing recently was listening to the Back to Work podcast by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin. Merlin is all over the map during their talks but he comes up with some nuggets of truth. Sometimes he turns into the Merlin that yells at people, nicknamed “Mean Merlin.” That’s the Merlin that resonates with me most often. “Mean Merlin” will often tell you to shut up and do the thing you’re scared of. Don’t think about all the ways things might go wrong. Shut off the TV and Facebook. Stop with all the productivity hacks. Stop complaining about how you wish you had time to do the thing you want to do. Shut up and do something. Another great Merlin quote is “No one’s going to eat you.” We can think of so many things that could go wrong. All these doomsday scenarios keep us from doing what we want to do. What’s the worst that could happen. I’m not going to die if I try and write a book. I just need to shut up and do something.
I’ve also made changes in my environment. I cancelled my NetFlix subscription. I would come home from work and before I knew it, I had killed 3+ hours. I have also started getting out of the house to do my writing. Putting myself in different environments seems to help currently. I can do all those things, but once I sit down to write, I have to do the work. I have to make the clackity noise. I have to put pen to paper or make my fingers push the keys. I have noticed that the more I write, the easier it is to write the next time. “Success breeds success,” as Chris put it in his post. He went on to say that, “Discipline is a routine, not a single goal.” I have lost sight of this principle with my running as of late. My initial goals with running were to lose weight and then to run a half-marathon. While I was working toward these goals, I had my routine. But once I reached my goals, my discipline waned and the justifications for slacking off began. So I’m working on my discipline to get up and put on my running shoes in the morning. Once I get the shoes on, the battle is half over. (Another one of Merlin’s concepts.)
As I read Mindy’s post, I could identify with so much of it.
“I was working without thinking: speeding through my day like a worker bee flying from flower to flower, collecting pollen-always moving, never resting.”
I have a few long term projects to work on but most of the time I just wait for some task to hit my inbox. I get a task and then I run off and complete it. Then I come back and clear my inbox, because Inbox Zero is my friend. And then I wait for the next task. I’m like a mouse ringing a bell trying to get another piece of cheese.
And like Mindy, most days I would get home mentally exhausted. Because I justified not running, I have nothing to help me relax and re-energize. So I would sit down on the couch and watch a few episodes of some tv show. I’m still working out how to change things at work. Mindy mentions that she reminds herself during the day that her frantic activity will affect her energy levels at night. She also discusses how the things she wasn’t getting done were either boring or caused her fear.
I don’t have any projects at work that I’m fearful of, but I have quite a few that don’t challenge me. I was listening to Episode 12 of Back to Work and Merlin was talking about expertise versus challenge. He was referring to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. To summarize, if you have high challenge and low expertise, you’ll be fearful. If you have low challenge and high expertise you’ll have boredom. But when you have high expertise and high challenge, you have flow. Flow for m,e is when I look up and realize I’ve been coding for 3-4 hours and have lost track of time. Or an example from last week. I had the afternoon off last Wednesday, so I went to Panera to do some writing. I got up a few times to get coffee but at some point I got into the flow and when I looked up it was 6pm. I had written for about an hour and a half without taking a break.
So I guess the best way to keep this going is to work out how to finish my day with creative energy left in the tank. One step I have implemented is just slowing down. When I leave the attic on a break, I try and find a coworker to talk to. I can also try and find new approaches to dealing with those “boring” tasks. As I work out these things, I need to keep putting pen to paper and shoe to pavement to increase my discipline. And who knows, maybe someday soon I’ll have a book.