Intentional

About a month ago, I was lamenting the loss of some of my Movement mojo. After some soul-searching, we started with a simple change: Rather than waiting for movement to happen as a part of our day, we began asking a simple question, every day:

“What are we doing tomorrow?”

For fun, we set this chalkboard-wall up to encourage activity and to let us savor the decreasing number of days to American Rendezvous, a Parkour event held in Somerville, just across the Charles River from Boston.

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Starting

The tendency to put off difficult tasks that we don’t want to face is almost universal.

And it turns out, the moment of starting a task is often so much harder than actually doing the task.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/starting-task/

Tom Petty’s lyrics not withstanding, I agree with Leo. Starting is definitely the hardest part. Unfortunately, I don’t understand why it is so difficult for me.

Take this blog post. It’s 9pm. I go to sleep at 9:30. (Why, is an entirely different story, see, Sleep.) I’ve a long drive tomorrow, and I’ve a few things left to stuff in my overnight bag. I’ve waited all day to do this small task. Writing these blog posts is straightforward; I have a well-oiled process for dropping into the right mindset and dipping into a fertile sea of cached ideas to find one to inspire. Invariably, a few minutes into the process, I’ve found an interesting thread to pull on. This is so much fun, I could—quite literally—do this all day. So why then do I wait until 9pm?

Because you see, it’s not just writing this blog post. I feel all the things on my to-do lists—both literal and in my head—are like writing this blog post: Straightforward, self-chosen, in line with my priorities and goals, inherently interesting, generally worth doing, immediately rewarding in most cases. And yet, the proverbial 9pm rolls around before I feel enough pressure to start.

The only thing I can think of is that some part of my mind just knows that the list will never be done. No matter how many times the “let’s get stuff done” part of my brain were to rise to the occasion, there’s some other part of my brain that will roll Sisyphus’s rock back to the bottom. Maybe this is all there is to it? Is the problem, not the “doer” side, but the “setter upper of things to do” side? Is the problem that I don’t know how to simply be?

Have I, perhaps, only learned instead how to be a human doing?

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Discipline

Motivation will get you out the door, but it fades over time. A good book or podcast might give you the momentary impulse to take your first steps along a path, but when the road gets tough only discipline will keep you moving forward.

~ Dan Edwardes from, https://danedwardes.com/2020/11/17/motivation-is-temporary/

Edwardes is a well-known figure in the world of Parkour. He’s someone I’m proud to call a friend. A little over a year ago, I had a quiet, private, late-evening conversation about businesses and movement and Parkour and I’m pretty sure we touched on motivation. …or at least, I know motivation was something bouncing around in my head. Specifically: lack thereof. I’m not even sure that I realized that at the time, but it’s clear to me now.

At the time though, I definitely experienced a sort of ground-shifting sensation. I don’t generally fan-boy on Parkour people, and I’m pretty sure I never did that with respect to Edwardes. No, it was more like—something I’ve experienced on several occasions with Parkour luminaries—I was suddenly aware that I hadn’t been fawning [for years] over this person. No, here I was, once again, in a cool conversation with a fellow human. Being.

These days, I’m doubling-down on discipline and that quoted blog post and that conversation conspired to inspire me to make a fresh post.

Anyway. Dan Edwardes is someone you should hear of, and now you have. Check out his blog, or the best—call me biased—podcast interview of him, Dan Edwardes: Motivation, efficacy, and storytelling.

Oh— and no, that linked podcast is not the conversation I mentioned up top.

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If I had a clone

I only wish for more hours in the day and a clone to do adulting chores while I enjoy [insert speaker’s preferences here] without interruption.

Who hasn’t expressed such a sentiment at one time or another? I certainly have, and it’s a pleasant diversion to imagine being unloaded of all the small stuff that seems to weigh me down. There’s plenty that can be said—and which I and others have already said—about the importance of the smaller things and “adulting chores”. But today I’m going in a different direction.

When that sentiment comes to mind, I use it as a thought experiment: If I had a clone, that would then obviously be me. It would be literally this same me that I am today. This same me, who doesn’t want to do those small things and adulting-chores. How do I expect to be able to convince the clone to do all the stuff I don’t want to do? If I could convince the clone, I’d be able to convince myself. So I set about thinking about how to convince the clone.

Because then I’d be happy to get that stuff done, wouldn’t I?

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Nothing Fails Like Success

There are internet companies (like Basecamp, or like Automattic, makers of WordPress.com, where I work) that charge money for their products and services, and use that money to grow their business. I wish more internet companies could follow that model, but it’s hard to retrofit a legitimate business model to a product that started its life as free.

~ Jeffrey Zeldman from, https://alistapart.com/article/nothing-fails-like-success/

ahahahahahahahahhahaahahhaaa! Sometimes I like to share stuff just because it makes me happy. (The stuff; not the sharing of said stuff, I mean.) I regularly talk about how this web site is a vehicle for my reflection—I’m quite often literally thinking through things. Writing, (tappity-tap-tapping on the keyboard here,) and writing, (scratchity-scritch-skratching with a pen on paper,) are two of the ways I figure out if the dross I regularly find in my head actually corresponds to reality.

When I read sentences like the ones I quoted above, I leap (sometimes literally) to my feet knocking over my chair in the process. It does my weary—deeply deeply weary it be—heart good just to read sentences like this. And I hope—not in the sense that I little value your ability to think and “hope” you’ll finally get what I’m saying; no. I only hope that sometimes, some of the things I share make you happier.

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The best work

Somehow these less-than-ideal conditions raised his game, spurred him on to greatness. There’s a definite lesson here. Fair winds do not a great captain make. We dream of finding our own greatness one day, but we want it to happen when the sun is shining.

~ Hugh Macleod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2020/05/11/fair-winds-do-not-a-great-capitan-make/

One—particularly one named “Craig”—can also veer too far in the other direction. Continuously choosing the most arduous path towards each goal is exhausting.

Random weather metaphor for life: (Weather geeks: This is written for the Northern Hemisphere.) Large storms rotate. They always rotate in the same direction. Have you seen a stop-motion video made from satellite photos of a hurricane? If you are standing on the shore, facing an oncoming storm, you can try to avoid it by fleeing to your left, or to your right. (Presuming you ignored the warning yesterday to simply go inland.) If the center is coming directly towards you, and you have a car and just a few minutes… which way do you flee? Left, or right? To the left, the motion of the entire storm, coming at you, adds to the winds of the rotating storm. To the right, the motion of the storm, subtracts from the winds of the rotating storm. A storm with 100mph winds, coming at you at 30mph… Flee left and you get 130mph winds. Flee right and you get 70mph winds.

Seems to me that’s a good metaphor for life. “Oh shit, here comes a storm.” Maybe I should consider which way to go, rather than just fleeing like a rabbit in whatever direction I happen to be facing.

Hey also, while I’m doing weather: The Saffir-Simpson Scale has only 5 categories for a reason. It’s designed to be easy to understand when you hear the number. I sometimes hear talk that we should add a Category 6. Nononono. Category 5 already means, literally, that you should evacuate because nothing survives the 250kmh/160mph sustained winds of a Category 5 storm. So, what would having a Category 6 add? “srsly bro’, flee!”

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Honing your craft

We’ve created this fantasy world where everyone is just 30 days of courage boosting exercises and life hacks away from living an amazing life.

But when you study people like Martin, who really do live remarkable lives, you almost always encounter stretches of years and years dedicated to honing craft.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2012/01/29/closing-your-interests-opens-more-interesting-opportunities-the-power-of-diligence-in-creating-a-remarkable-life/

This is the eternal challenge of seeing the forest through the trees; of maintaining perspective.

I’m constantly reminded of the scenes in the Hobbit where they are trying to walk through 250 miles of a forest named, Mirkwood. “Do not leave the path,” is the only guidance they are given. After what seems like endless daily struggles, they eventually dispatch a party member to climb a singularly large tree to the uppermost branches. Unfortunately, even from that lofty perch all that could be seen was more forest forever and ever in every direction. In fact, they were in a low lying area, reasonably close to the forest edge. Crushed by the misleading perspective, their journey takes a turn for the worse.

I have so many projects where I start into the forest with the best intentions. I steel myself with, “I know this is going to turn into a slog at some point, and I’m going to remember why I went into the forest to give me the strength to carry on!” Yeah, that never works out. If the project is actually worth doing, then the forest is necessarily crushingly vast and the journey through must eventually become hopeless. Of course it’s hard; that’s what makes it worth it.

The secret? You have to love living in the forest, just for the sake of living in the forest. Then every morning is an adventure. Sure, some days are going to suck, but every morning will begin a new day of opportunity.

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Motivation versus validation

A great number of bits are dedicated to discussing motivation. In particular, it’s well-covered that my motivation should spring from within. I should do whatever-it-is because I value the work or the self-transformation. Far too many people are externally motivated and so those bits are well-deployed.

But validation? I don’t hear about that so much.

Engineering, (think bridges and airplanes,) we all agree should be validated. Implicitly we know that means externally validated. We know that engineering done in a filter-bubble is not truly validated, and that ends badly.

But eveyone seems to toss the baby with the bath water: “I’m not doing engineering or hard science, therefore, as a principle, I don’t need external validation.“

But, that’s right only as a corrective term in our lives. “Holy shit our society is too externally motivated, so let’s stop with the external motivation.” Yes, please.

But once you figure out how to do your work from a place of kindness and internal motivation, you next need to put it out there. Put a price tag on it… Ask for feedback… Does the book sell… Do the people who follow your advice go on to do nicer or better things… In short, are you efficacious?

Yes yes yes art for arts’ sake is not what I’m talking about. Paint just for yourself and die an undiscovered master—that’s internal motivation for the win. (not sarcasm)

But if, you know, what you’re doing is supposed to be True, (however that’s defined for whatever it is you’re doing,) then you better put yourself out there and get some external validation. Yes, you’re going to need thick skin, and certainly don’t go alone, but go you must.

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Digging deep

What was fascinating to me about what T.R. said was that he never mentioned athletic ability or strength or speed. The qualities he cited were all mental. They were deeper than mental. They were psychological, emotional, and spiritual. They were qualities of aspiration, of commitment, of intention, of will, of intensity, and of perseverance.

These are all qualities that you and I have control of in our writing and our artistic lives.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/01/hes-a-winner/

There was definitely a time, until very recently in fact, when I thought that bashing through the work was a predictor of success. I know see that my ability fetish for bashing through work was made possible by my ability to focus. It’s that focus which I’m still able to summon while the physical and mental strength to bash is gone—maybe not completely gone, sure, but certainly far reduced from the days of yore.

Should I spend time having a meaningful conversation, or should I spend that same amount of time working on this task? One requires bashing on work I don’t really feel like doing, while one is pleasantly challenging. I continuously come back to my touch-stone phrase for 2020: Get less done. Laser focus? Check. Laser focus on the right thing? Well, that’s what I’m trying to be more intentional about these days.

What are you up to?

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