Lately I’ve been in kind of a “maker frenzy”; for some reason, I’ll see something online like “Build your own screen printing press out of scraps” and the next thing you know I’m raiding my girlfriend’s basement for lumber and buying springs…and that leads down a rabbit hole of finding squeegees and ink and transparencies on CraigsList and eventually to selling bandanas and notebooks and t-shirts that I printed.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. When I was printing the covers of the moleskine notebooks, I was thinking “Hmm, I wonder how hard it would be to make my own notebooks…” Which leads to learning stab-binding and then poof, I’m making an orange glittery cover for my friends’ daughter because she saw mine and wanted her own.
And then the thought came…”Y’know, this is cool and all, but wouldn’t it be cooler to screen print my own logo on a stab-bound book I made out of paper that I also made…”
Which is a long way to explain why last night I was in my girlfriend’s basement again, making a deckle. (Side note: one of the fun things about making is all the new words you learn. “Majuscule”, “deckle”, and “dottle” are all words! Scrabble will never be the same).
How do you find time for it all?
That’s the question, right? This is where, as a good upstanding Personal Development Blogger, I’m supposed to tell you that you need to give up your favorite TV show, or get up an hour earlier, or somehow adopt some fancy scheduling system guaranteed to put 43 more minutes into your day!
Another person very dear to me pointed out what my “secret” is, in a text message (profanity warning: she is delightfully verbose, including swear words):
Can I tell you something I like about you?
I’ve been meaning to do screen printing for over a decade. Probably 15 years. I love it!! Want to do it!! So cool!!
You? You’re all like “hey!” This is cool. Let’s do it.”
And you’re printing.
That’s fucking awesome.
No excuses. Just done.
Now, I don’t want to pretend this is really a secret; that’s why I put it in quotes above. But there is a kind of philosophy behind it – one that Nike put into an ad campaign, but which I like to reframe by improving a classic Star Wars adage.
“Try Not!Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back
Do. Or do not.
There is no try.”
And this is where I look back at the kid and even young adult that I was, who loved this saying, and want to shake some sense into him:
Of course there is “try!” You don’t have to be assured of success in any endeavor before you benefit from it. Life is nothing but trying, and failing, and trying again. If you’re lucky, one of those “tries” succeeds – but the ratio of attempts-to-successes will always be skewed to the former.
No, what Yoda meant to say was that you can’t really hesitate. You can’t let the uncertainty of the outcome keep you from trying, nor can you let the failures of the past discourage you from trying something different.
Most of all, to me, this was a battle cry against procrastination, against the idea that “someday, I’m gonna try this thing.” That’s where there is motivation. You’re either doing the thing – and yes, preparing and researching and learning counts – or you’re still keeping it in the future, and therefore not doing it.
Ready, Fire, Aim
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Currently I’m drowning in projects, and there are some that are going to need to be moved from the “do” to the “do not” pile. And both of those piles are fine.
But what I wish Yoda had said was this: “Do. Or do not. There ain’t no ‘gonna.” It’s not “I’m gonna try this.” It’s “Yep, I’m trying this.” which really is the same as “I’m doing this!” right up until the point where it’s “I’ve done this.” Remember, time is what keeps everything from happening at once, and sometimes the reason we’re not “trying” is simply because the time has not yet come.
But often the thing that holds you back is the fear of the “try”. Whether that’s for fear of comparison to others, or to some idealized version of yourself, or simply the unknown…we hold back. We “do not.” And we try to make ourselves feel better by saying “I’m gonna do this…later.”
That’s where the characteristic in me seems to come to the fore: Sure, why not? Let’s do it! And I’m scrounging and adapting and usually finding myself in over my head. My first attempt at screen printing, which I decided should be a silly little pin-up because I was sure it would be pretty bad? Turned out perfectly. My second try? Not perfect at all. Not horrible – but that’s the one where I learned all the lessons, and I’m still learning.
Why? Because I’m trying. I simply start my hands and body and brain moving in a direction, and I continue until something makes me stop.
It’s not a secret technique. It’s not even that hard; any idiot can say “Ok, let’s just do it.” And it does mean shutting down that abstract part of your brain that wants to put things into the future. “I’m gonna do it…later.“
Nope. You either do it, or you don’t. There ain’t no “gonna”.
Today was supposed to be a much simpler post.
It was going to be a simple layout of how I do my notebook…ahem how I aspire to do my notebook, both for the monthly layout and the daily one.
However, I think I need to own up to a different issue, one that ties in pretty nicely with the last Life post that I put up, Your Schedule is Not Your Life. Because shortly after putting up that post, I clicked into my Editorial Calendar (a great plug-in for WordPress) and planned out the next two weeks of posts here. Three times a week, writing prompts about love, about life, about practice.
And then Thursday we got on the road, and drove to Cleveland to visit our friend the author Ferrett Steinmetz (yes, I’m name dropping, but only because I want you to do a search on Amazon for him and buy all his books) and somehow in spite of being in the car for hours I neglected to write a post for Friday.
And on Friday, when we were again in the car for many hours on our way to Gettysburg (where I was presenting on The Defining Moment among other things) I again Completely Forgot to write any post at all, much less the post about Love I had planned.
(That one had the working title of “Yelp Yourself” and was supposed to be about the joy of making lists of things you loved. For example, I recently started a list of cigars I enjoy. Guess what I didn’t update when I had a lovely Diesel cigar Saturday afternoon?)
As I mentioned, I can’t pretend that I didn’t have time to write that post. What I failed to do was set aside the time to write it. Time was spent on Twitter, reading the Star Wars comic series (a much better way to prep for the next movie than trying to watch Episodes 1-3), and driving and teaching. My partner Natasha and I took a tango class that was great – but that was ninety minutes that I wasn’t writing.
The good news, though, is that I can see where the way I spend my time can be changed. I don’t even have to “give up” anything, and I can leverage things to be rewards for habits. For example, I can set a boundary for myself: No twitter on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday unless the blog post is up.
I still get my dose of dopamedia, but I have a motivating factor to get it done proactively. In fact, that motivates me to do it the day before, scheduling things so they release at 8am on each of those days.
Becoming The Me-Whisperer
Any good dance lead will tell you they don’t really “lead” their partner — they create a space for their partner to be and then “invite” them to occupy that space. It’s similar to the idea of the horse-whisperer (caveat: I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the book so I may have a false idea of what that word means). Basically, instead of berating yourself for not sticking to habits, calling yourself a failure, or trying to muscle through things…create a space for yourself to do the thing you want to do, and make it inviting. Make it as joyously inevitable as your soft bed at the end of a hard day, or a warm shower after coming in from a cold one.
It’ll be easy to see if this works: just come back on Wednesday and Friday and see if the post is up! Meanwhile: what are you going to whisper yourself into doing?
“Man plans, the Gods laugh.” There are many variations on this theme, but it feels especially relevant today. I had planned on doing a “NaNoWriMo Booster” webinar to help people mid-month super-charge their writing. Unfortunately my body decided “nope, time to get the flu, instead!” My energy levels have depreciated to where I’m basically able to do one thing: be sick. I can tell you, it tends to focus your to-do list.
However, it turns out I had a secret weapon: one of my patrons had suggested a “movie list for writers” – a way to productively procrastinate by watching a show about writing in lieu of the actual act. Her list was as follows:
Stranger than Fiction
Shakespeare in Love
…to which I would add some of my own favorites like Prince of Tides, The NeverEnding Story, and the one I just watched today: The Words. It had been on my to-watch list for a while, but today being a sick day it seemed the perfect opportunity to put her suggestion to the test.
Writing Lessons from the Words
I’ll say right now: I hated the way the movie ended. On the other hand, I loved the way it was told – like another favorite, Cloud Atlas, there are stories nested in stories and many characters to relate to. Most of all, though, it’s about three writers, all of whom come to their craft in different ways, with different results. Here’s some of the takeaways, though:
- Writing can be scary. At one point a writer who has stopped writing muses that it may have been because he didn’t want go as “deep” as he’d gone in his first work. It’s true; to get the real words out of your authentic self, you have to dig in past the external defenses we all have as functioning adults and pull out the raw story.
- We Do Not Create; We Are Conduits of Story. In some sense the job of the writer is to get their selves out of the way of the story that is trying to be told through their fingers. This is what NaNoWriMo tries to do for you: by putting the pressure of lots of words every day you (hopefully) get past your blocks to where some of the words are actually pure gold.
- “At some point, you have to choose between life and fiction. The two are very close, but they never actually touch.” This is why writers have craft – because while you can make a great book about a true experience, the way that you tell it makes all the difference. When you’re NaNoWriMing, you can certainly make it autobiographical (I did, in large swatches). But at a certain point you have to separate the reality from the truth. The latter is what you tell in fiction.
- “I’m not who I thought I was, okay? I’m not. And I’m terrified that I never will be.” – One of the things that a successful NaNoWriMo will do to you is take away your identity of “not-author.” It’s already taken away the identity of “not-writer.” And that takes away the security of being able to say Oh, I can’t do that. Because you know you can. You just have to decide whether or not you will.
What’s your favorite writerly movie? What have you learned from it? I would love to know!
One of the bloggers that I faithfully read is Mark Manson. While he might use a little too much profanity for some tastes, I really enjoy (and, let’s be honest, emulate) his style of writing and I almost always take away something useful (or at least insightful) from his posts.
When his newsletter announced that his new blog was about procrastination, my Personal Development Senses tingled: that is a subject I can talk about forever. In fact, a great deal of my posting about “practice” has to do with the idea of how to get past putting things off and into getting things done – whups, I mean “getting things accomplished” since I don’t want to infringe on any GTD copyrights.
Wait, GTA is already taken as well…I’ll have to figure out a better acronym for productivity. Someday. First I have to finish this post, right? And right there is my own tragic flaw: I have so many ideas that they are like squirrels running around the tree of my brain, and every one of them could be the one! so I have to keep chasing them. As a result, my back burners have back burners and my “someday” file is stuffed to overflowing.
Or it will be, whenever I get around to creating it. What were we talking about? Oh, yes! Procrastination! As I was saying before the squirrels invaded, most of my writings about overcoming procrastination are rooted in tactics – as Mark Manson called them, band-aids – that treated the symptom well enough, but not the root cause.
Mark Manson’s Law of Avoidance
I’m not quite as confident as Mark; I’ve only coined a Miller’s Corollary to Murphy’s Law, Everything that can possibly go wrong already has. You just don’t know it yet. However, while he stipulates that it comes out of self-verification theory, he makes no apology for turning it into a law:
The more something threatens your identity,
the more you will avoid doing it.
Simple as that. It’s all about how the story you can write for yourself can threaten the story you have written for yourself. Maybe “fear of jumping the shark” would be an appropriate way to do it. The sneaky thing about the human psyche is that it likes the status quo, right up until the point where it doesn’t. So whether things are good or bad, if they’re relatively comfortable, your subconscious will invent reasons not to change. Hence, procrastination. It’s not about laziness, it’s not lack of ambition – it’s fear.
Mark talks about a lot more in the post – I’m deliberately keeping this one short so that you will be motivated to go off and read it for yourself. There’s even some great stuff in there that corroborates my own dislike of affirmations. You should make some time to read it. And hey, let him know Gray sent you (not that he knows me from Adam, but I enjoy sowing confusion where I can).
Don’t put it off, ok?
Writing…is a sordid beast that feeds on your pride and vomits only exhaustion and self-loathing. – Alex Vance, found via the most excellent Brain Pickings
It’s kind of amusing when you choose to procrastinate by reading twitter, which leads you to an essay by a writer on the two basic species of that particular craft. Specifically:
The difference between a Not Writer and a Writer is the difference between someone who could write and someone who does. A Not Writer is someone who experiences blocks and obstacles and timing issues and lets them prevent him or her from actually writing. A Not Writer may certainly be creative, insightful and capable of writing lyrical prose, but most of the time they’re too busy Not Writing to get any Writing done. That’s such a shame, such a waste, and that’s the reason I so often deploy Tough Love upon those who ask for advice.
It’s like all of Steven Pressfield’s advice pressed into a nutshell, and if you have any aspirations towards being a writer, I do not suggest you read the multi-part essay that Mr. Vance has written. If you have any aspirations towards being a writer, in fact, what I suggest you do is STOP SURFING THE INTERNET AND WRITE.
On the other hand, if you just want to read about writing, they’re very entertaining, insightful, and even funny. But the question is: why limit it to writing?
Overworked and Underdone
To misquote a fun game from Comedy Sportz, what are you Not Doing right now? What is that thing that you keep saying you’re going to do, that you think about doing, but that you keep being busy Not Doing? It’s another way of saying: What’s your excuse? It’s not a pleasant thought, either, because you basically have to face a cold equation:
If I’m Not Doing that thing I want to Do, than is what I am Doing more important?
It’s entirely possible that it is! Raising children, feeding the dog, caring for your family, watching the next Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., these are things that definitely can be a priority over that thing you’re Not Doing. And it’s also quite true that just because you’re Not Doing it now, you won’t Do it later. Procrastination is not a sin, it is a productivity strategy.
However, allow me to suggest that if you are Doing something that is so important that it makes you Not Do something else – make sure you Do it well. Make sure you Do it with your complete attention, so that you can get it Done as soon as possible.
Because you need to stop Not Doing that thing you want to Do before time gets Done with you.
You could also do worse than to check out some of the articles of Mr. Money Mustache, as long as your Not Doing anything else.
Gotta Have a Reeses
If there’s one thing I miss in the world of advertising, it’s the good old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials. They would create absurdly complex scenarios whereby someone’s chocolate would end up in someone else’s peanut butter, for a happy union of seemingly disparate elements.
They were hilarious.
And it was something like that which led to this entry. I was skimming through my newsfeed and came across an article called Jump-Start Your Productivity with the “Path of Highest Enjoyment”. Highest enjoyment? I thought. Sounds like fun!
It wasn’t, really. It was basically saying that you should look at your task list for the day and do the things you want to do first. As if most of us don’t already do that? Maybe it’s just me. So, back to reading articles.
“The Science Behind Why We Procrastinate.” Aha! Procrastination, always a bugaboo of mine. In fact, my stepmother insisted I memorize a little poem about it:
Procrastination is my sin,
It brings me endless sorrow.
I really must stop doing it.
In fact – I’ll stop.
I can’t say that the poem helped me any, but the article had some interesting insights. Among other things, it explained that there were two kinds of procrastinators: those who couldn’t make up their minds what to do, and those who knew exactly what to do, but couldn’t bring themselves to take action.
And suddenly the joy got stuck in the procrastination, and I had an epiphany!
Procrastinate Whatever, But Why Procrastinate Joy?
It’s a simple idea, really: we know what we want. With all the personal-development blogs out there, it’s not too hard to figure out how to get it. In fact, if you’re reading this blog, you have more control over your life and your path than most other people throughout history. And you’ve got more information to guide you on that path, as well, at your fingertips – heck, in your phone. People have been killed for wanting access to just the bible; you have access to, like, a zillion times more information on how to find your joy.
And instead, if you’re like me, you spend a lot of time shooting little birds out of slingshots at snuffling pigs.
That’s ok. It’s totally better than a lot of other habits people have used to calm their mind. But, at a certain point after the last pig has gone *poof*, maybe it’s worth asking: what is it that makes you procrastinate your joy?
I’ve got some guesses:
- “We’re not worthy!” – You haven’t earned the right to your joy yet. It’ll come when you retire, when you’ve lost those pounds, when you’ve made the world secure for your children.
- “It’s not realistic!” – Sure, other people can be happy. Other people have accomplished or acquired or benefited from that thing you want. But that’s them. What are you, some kind of special snowflake?
- “It’s too hard.” – Sure, we could be happy. But that requires change, and change requires work, and I’m tired. It’s much easier to just watch another episode.
- “It’s too scary.” – Somebody told me that even if I get what I want, it probably won’t be as good as I think. In fact, it might even be worse than what I have now! Why risk change?
Now is where most personal-development blogs would tackle each of those reasons and demolish them with rational, step-by-step logic. But we’re more practical here at Love Life Practice, and besides, we have faith in the intellect of our readers.
Whichever of those reasons applies to you – or whichever reason you thought of that I didn’t think of – you know it’s bullshit. You know, when you look in the mirror, that there’s a part of you whispering: Put off whatever you want, my friend, but why procrastinate joy?
The question is: when are you going to do something about it?
Whoa There, Tiger
“But Gray, I thought you were going to practice the habit of posting pictures of everything you eat, in order to help follow along with the 4-Hour Body Slow-Carb diet?!? I signed up to follow you on twitter and everything – even liked your Facebook page! How could you let me down like that?”
Well, first of all, if the only reason you signed up to Twitter was to watch what I was eating…well, I think I can safely say there are better uses of the medium.
Second of all, one of the key ideas that Leo Babauta talks about with habits is that it’s a bad idea to start too many at once.
Cascading Habits, Cascading Failures
Why not start several new habits at once? Isn’t that the way that people go through transformative processes? After all, the Marine Drill Instructors didn’t say “Hey, Gray, this week we’re going to have you cut your hair, next week you’ll wear this uniform, the following week you’ll start saying “sir” before and after every sentence.”
This is true. And in some cases, such as boot camps and rehab clinics and Disneyland, they do want you to change a whole bunch of habits at once. But they also set up an environment that will support the habits that are changed. The environment may make it difficult not to maintain the habit. You can’t really sleep in very easily when there’s a loudmouthed sergeant beating a garbage can near your head screaming “GETOUTTATHERACKGETOUTTATHERACKGETOUTTATHERACK!” So the habit of rising early is pretty effectively supported, along with other things.