Friday, March 4, 2011

Why You're Not Doing It

Sometimes I get a bit weary of being dismissed as a genius. It's not irritating; it's just frustrating.

I'll talk with someone who's struggling with how to do this or that, who's been repeatedly frustrated by her efforts, who's received advice ad nauseam, but to no avail. I'll suggest an approach that is simple and easy to implement, so simple in fact that "it can't be that easy." And then, to support that it can in fact be that easy, I'll say something on the order of, "Well, it works for me!"

And that's when it happens. I'll here something like, "Well, sure it works for you. You're some kind of friggin' genius who can just do whatever he wants to do."

And there I stand, a friggin' genius who apparently doesn't have a clue as to how to help someone satisfy his intentions.

Just Ten Minutes
Iris and I are blessed to be a part of an amazing group of people who come together every Thursday night as writers. We talk about writing, about process, about technique, about writers. Each of us shares a bit of what we wrote during the previous week and the others comment. Sometimes we do realtime writing jams; we're presented a theme or something to inspire us, we write for ten minutes or so, and then we share what we've written. Our little get-togethers have become two of the most satisfying hours of my week and on Thursday afternoons, I start to feel like a kid anticipating Christmas.

During the week, our inspired leader, teacher and facilitator, Jenny, sends us daily writing prompts: short phrases that serve as catalysts for writing. The idea is that we each set aside ten minutes each day to write and the prompts help us to avoid the pitfalls of blank-page paralysis. Yesterday, in her post Stolen Moments, Iris shared a bit about the challenges she's faced in allocating ten minutes per day to writing. Last night, others in our group shared that they too were experiencing similar challenges.

Now, here comes the clueless part. I haven't had any problem with writing daily. I have special mail box on my Mac designated to Jenny's prompts and I eagerly anticipate their arrival. Some days, I use the same prompt two or three times, exploring different ways to say the same thing, as narrative, as dialog, in the first person, in the third. I love it.

And besides, it's just ten minutes.

So, as I listened to why each person was finding it difficult to write daily, I would think, "Oh, I see why you're struggling. All you really need to do is..." and then I'd do my best not to say anything. (I've come to the conclusion that if people are sharing a common challenge, the last person they want to hear from is someone finds it easy.)

Of course, for me, keeping quiet is, umm, well, it isn't one of those skills that I've spent much time on. Even when I don't actually say anything, everything inside me seems to find it's way to the surface. And although everyone in the group is remarkably gracious and accommodating of my enthusiastic ramblings, I couldn't help but think to myself that they might be thinking, "Sure, that works for you..."

Afterwards, Iris and I talked about why it's so difficult to spend just ten minutes a day writing. This morning I woke up with a few conclusions, not just about writing, but why in general we often find it difficult to follow through on our intentions.

Do You Really Want It?
As we talked, Iris said, "What's really going on is that we say that we want something, when we really don't want it that much. We have other things that we want more."

It's hard to argue with the logic of this. Indeed, you can tell where people's priorities are by where they spend their time. However, it occurred to me that the thought process is incomplete. We don't make decisions purely on desire; we also consider the cost of obtaining what we want. Each time we choose between doing this and doing that, in just a fraction of a second, we perform a cost/benefit analysis. Sure, I want this, but what's it gonna cost me to get it?

In the case of writing for ten minutes, the cost isn't measured in dollars, it's measured in emotion. How much will this cost me emotionally? Am I going to end up frustrated? Am I gonna spend ten minutes beating myself up? What if what I write sucks? Is writing going to completely drain me?

At that point, the decision is not actually about spending ten minutes writing, it's about how I feel after writing for ten minutes? I want to write; I just don't want all the other stuff that comes with it. If I anticipate an emotionally draining and frustrating experience, is it any wonder that I don't make what I want a priority? Further, if I anticipate pain and challenge, is it any wonder that I experience pain and challenge?

So, yes, it's about wanting it; the question is what it are we talking about?

The Discipline Myth
I often hear that I'm extremely disciplined. I have no problem deciding to do something and then doing it. If it takes years to get there, I'll stick with it. If it's something that requires daily commitment, no problem. I work out every day. I juice every day. I write every day. I work every day. I don't eat sugar every day.

However, for me the idea that I'm disciplined is just silly. Discipline has nothing to do with it. In the end, it comes down to two very simple things: belief and pattern.

For example, if I believed that writing was a trying experience, one fraught with self-loathing and doubt, there's nothing you could do to get me to write short of making it a matter of life or death, or perhaps of prosperity or poverty. I write every day, not because I'm disciplined, but because I believe writing is fun and energizing, and naively or not, that I'm good at it.

The last part is important, believing you're good at something makes it much easier to do it and it doesn't actually matter whether or not you are good (whatever that means), it's the belief that works.

The second thing is pattern. The best way to do something daily, is to do it every day. Human behavior is more pattern-based than we like to admit. The challenge lies not in maintaining the pattern, but in establishing it. Once it's set, like hardened concrete, it's tough to break.

Go seven days without any sugar, and you won't miss it anymore. Go a month and you won't like it anymore. Work out every day for a month, and you'll start to feel a bit off on days that you don't. Work out every day for three month and you'd sooner miss a night's sleep than day's workout. Write every day for three or four weeks, and writing daily won't require a second thought. You'll just do it. When you don't it will feel like something is missing.

The important part is: do it every day. It doesn't matter if you do it well. It doesn't matter if you're as focused as you'd like to be. It doesn't matter if you accomplish anything. All that matters is that you pour a pattern and give it time harden. Once you've got that, you can begin to play with all sorts of nuancy things that improve how you do what you do and lead to "better" results. However, without the foundation of daily pattern, it's like trying to install the light fixtures in a new house before the foundation has been poured.

Just that Simple
OK, that's it. Nothing to it. Right?
  1. If you're finding it difficult to stick with something, to do it every day, the first thing is to resolve what it is. What are your beliefs about it that are making the costs so high? How are those beliefs serving you? How might you change them? Perhaps it's time to hit the reset button and define completely new ones.

    Transform it into something that you love, that you look forward to, that's good for you and leaves you energized.

  2. Establish a pattern and give it enough time to settle in. Don't worry about it being pretty or good. Get the pattern of daily doing etched so deeply in your mind that you can't not do it.
Yup, that's about it.

Happy Friday,


  1. DEFINING THE "IT"!!!!! Bingo.
    Love it. And love you :)

  2. Thank you, QuinnMama! Loving IT and loving YOU back.


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