Quitting at quitting time

The best thing you and I can do at the end of the writing day is to stash our work gloves in our locker, hang our leather apron on a hook, and head for the workshop door. If we’ve truly put in our hours today, we know it. We have done enough. It won’t help to keep at it like a dog worrying a bone.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/08/the-office-is-closed/

…and similarly: https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2012/07/24/perfectionism-is-a-losers-strategy/

I’ve recently learned that “inertia” as a word, was first applied to the cosmos during a fairly recent philosophical shift in thinking. People like Copernicus were looking at the cosmos and used “inertia” to point out the universe’s inherent, not-alive property; as in, the cosmos possesses inertia, the property of being inert. Newton’s idea of inertia, in the sense that slow moving dump trucks have a lot of inertia, aligns with the idea that the inert cosmos resists. It resists starting and it resists stopping. Newton’s equation, “F=ma” is a result of inertia; If (F)orce is zero on the left, then (a)cceleration is zero on the right. If acceleration is zero, then velocity remains constant.

Aside: “velocity” is speed, “how fast?” and direction, together as one property. Turning a corner in a car, at the same speed, is a change in velocity. To do so requires force from the steering tires of the car. The steering wheel is simply a well designed control for applying lateral force to the front of your car to control your velocity without changing your speed.

Where was I? …oh, right! Inertia. The cosmos. Back to it…

The inert cosmos resists starting and stopping. But I am not inert! I long ago recognized that when I was not moving—figuratively speaking, moving by being engaged making progress toward some goal… When I was not moving, then I needed to do something to get moving. I needed to start, and realizing that I was bad at starting, I needed to practice starting. Okay, did that.

Unfortunately, I have created a new problem: I don’t know how to stop. It turns out one really needs to also be able to start and to stop. Now that I’ve mastered starting, I can finally begin to learn to stop.

<sarcasm>And surprise!</sarcasm> F=ma. Starting and stopping are equally difficult.

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Redefining our mission

Our assignment, like that of any new boss or coach, is to overhaul the organization (i.e., ourselves), strip it down to its basics, redefine its mission, its goals, its virtues and its vices. We have to fire every part of ourselves that can’t or won’t get onboard the new mission and we have to achieve buy-in from all the other parts that we have allowed to remain with the franchise.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/10/why-the-raiders-suck/

This exercise always proves beneficial for me; systematically going through everything that I’m doing, my habits, my friends—everything. Take the time to assess, and in particular to consider: Knowing what I know today, if today I was offered this “opportunity” to allocate my time or resources, on this thing, would I take it? It’s a powerful way to work around our inherent tendency to fall for the sunk cost fallacy.

Here I have 500 books on my “read this” bookcase. Picking up one book, knowing all that I know today, would I read this book? Considering all that I know today, would I buy a TV, subscribe to Netflix, and arrange my living room in this fashion? …would I call it my sedentary entertainment room instead? Knowing what I know today, would I agree to have dinner or drinks with this person who I currently have labeled [in my mind] as a friend? How does each of these things move me forward?

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Willful ignorance

Now when I pass the sign, I try and think of at least one thing I do myself that willfully ignores truths I’d rather not accept. Things I know I should change about myself that I choose not to.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2015/01/willful-ignorance/

On one hand, I disagree: The sign’s purpose is to save ducks; it was not created “for everyone.” In that sense, the bad grammar of the sign makes it work better. But, the ducks sign is simply an example. Pressfield’s point about willful ignorance is clear and—at least for me—on target.

A question I like to reflect on periodically in my journalling is: What habit did I curb [today or yesterday]? Also, reflecting on what parts of my behavior I dislike—which was a huge part of my initial journey rediscovering movement 10 years ago—gives me specific things to work on. I think it’s a deeply useful practice to ask oneself difficult questions and to reflect on the answers, (or lack of answers as the case may be.)

Are there any questions you ask yourself on a regular basis?

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It’s really hard to see from another’s perspective

In such a simple situation, I placed a message in what I thought was the best position: The door knocker.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/10/stick-it-to-the-doorknob/

It used to be that when someone asked me to look at something, or for feedback, I took it very seriously. Not “gravely” serious, but appropriately serious. I allocated what I felt would be sufficient time to give the task my undivided attention. I gave the whatever-it-was a deep thinking-through and tried to melt my mind into all the nooks and crannies(*).

No more!

Why? Because what do I desperately want when I ask someone for feedback? I want their fresh perspective.

I’ve already thought about it six ways to Sunday—I don’t even know what that means. I’ve a reason for every minuscule feature, every character, every color, … I don’t want you to ask me what sort of feedback I want… I don’t want you to get a pencil and pad out to write an outline… I don’t want you to think about what would be he best feedback to make the thing better… And these days I’m figuring that’s what everyone else wants too.

Just my first reaction. If I’m on my game, maybe my first few reactions; bonus points if I can muster a few positives and negatives. But either way, just *pow*, no holds barred. RFN (right now). As Pressfield said, hang the note right on the doorknob: “Your baby is ugly.” “That’s the most elegant Rube-Goldberg device I’ve ever seen.”

And then maybe ask a question or three once I’ve done the hard work of doing what I was asked.

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* Anyone else always associate that phrase with butter and Thomas’s English muffins?

Intentional complications

In search of escalation, McPhee complicated the formula. If the standard profile focuses on one subject, why not, he thought, try to profile two subjects who shared some peripheral connections? That is, go from A to A + B.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2011/11/16/complicate-the-formula-john-mcphees-deliberate-practice-strategy/

Also, a “complication” has an interesting meaning in the world of mechanical clocks.

I complicate things quite often. I clearly see the value in pursuing complexity; it requires increased skill and attention to detail. But—and you saw this coming, right?—every complication is an invitation to dive into a rabbit-hole.

The challenge for me is two-fold. First, to always keep the number of simultaneous rabbit-hole dives restricted. Rabbit-holes seem to multiple, well, like rabbits! One, two, or three at the absolute most, is all I can truly pay deep attention to. This is hard for me to stick to. Second, to learn to exit when the passion has subsided. By definition, (my definition that is,) a rabbit-hole is a non-esssential journey. Each of the journeys improves my life and some number of them are essential, but no one rabbit-hole in particular is essential. I must always remember to exit when I’m no longer interested.

To wit: Recording 60-seconds of practice (in the context of podcasting) every day is supremely useful as it enables exploring complications. There are countless opportunities to explore with each 60-second recording session. I fell madly in lust with the practice. I worked on a few different ideas, and made improvements. …and then the Spring romance subsided, and in a rare instance of following my second self-admonishment above, I walked away from the practice. …after not even two weeks! #winning

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Start before you are ready

It’s Einstein’s principle of relativity: all points in the universe are created equal. “There’s no need,” Patricia teaches, “to find the right starting place.”

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2014/06/principles-of-improv/

After considerable consideration, I remain unsure what to think of, “start before you are ready.” I agree with it, in the sense of one’s needing to avoid the opposite behavior: Never actually starting because one is busy preparing procrastinating. If Pressfield’s admonishment to, “start before you are ready,” gets you around procrastination, terrific!

However, I have a different problem: Taking on too much. At this point in my insanity, I’m desperately trying to insert an emphatic “wait, no, don’t!” in front of any urge to start any project. But my thinking becomes circular. What if all the things I’m doing—which I’m trying to avoid starting… What if all the things I’m doing are actually just me procrastinating. What if there’s some other thing that I do need to “start before I am ready,” but I just don’t see what that is yet?

Are you starting? Are you procrastinating? …how do you tell the difference?

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Nothing fancy

That’s what you and I need right now.

We need the Kiwi virtues.

Nothing fancy. Nothing heroic. Just do our part and be there for our mates in trouble.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2020/03/kiwi-virtues-in-a-time-of-trouble/

I still cannot imagine what the English experienced during the second world war. I’ve long known what, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” was about. But even now that there is a real danger, I still feel zero urge to panic.

Things to do, or not do. Places to go, or not go. Sure. Decisions to be made. People to be helped. Lessons to be learned. Work to be done. Priorities to be reality-checked. Sure.

But, panic? Hoarding? Stigmatizing people? …no thanks.

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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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Put a price tag on it

Yet that insidious voice keeps whispering. “But this is an opportunity, man! You gotta network. Get out there! Everybody promotes their stuff. Be a pro. Seize the moment, dude!”

One way to look at it is through the prism of money. If someone wants you to do something and the remuneration is “exposure” or “opportunity” … you have answered your own question.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2013/01/opportunities-are-bullshit/

It’s important to learn to avoid the siren-call of such “opportunities.” I’m scare-quoting because, as Pressfield points out, they’re not actually opportunities. They are in fact a siren-call attempting to lure your ship onto the rocks. They’re a siren call because the message is exactly what you want to hear: “Your work is good. Your work is valuable. We want you to succeed.”

Actual opportunity sounds different. The message is just off to the side from what you wanted to hear: “What you’re doing is interesting. It makes me think of this thing I’m doing over here. It occurs to me that we might work together on it.” You’re left thinking about some interesting tangential idea. Instead of thinking, (as with the siren-call,) “is this going to be worth it,” you’re thinking, “that’s interesting, I’d like to be involved in that.” Certainly, true opportunities may come with money, but in your own thinking that’s an interesting nice-to-have; but it’s secondary. Take opportunities where the opportunity itself interests you. Don’t take “opportunities” where the potential, down-the-road benefit interests you.

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Banish distraction

You and I impose order onto our days not to make ourselves stiff or rigid or wooden but in order render impotent the pull of the superficial and the random and the current. We fix our attention not on the petty opportunities and emergencies of the day but on our inner Polaris, even if it’s something as humble as a kiosk business we’re trying to launch or a free app we’re aiming to design. We banish distraction so that we can address our call, our Unconscious, the summons of our Muse.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2013/03/a-natural-life/

Some days the call—the summons of the Muse—is pleasant and I skip through my tasks. Some days it is not. No matter how many times I study the lesson, it’s still hard for me to believe in what can be accomplished through small daily advances.

Increasingly, (compared to, say, 20 years ago,) my body doesn’t cooperate, and some days my mind doesn’t cooperate. But on balance, I can say I’m making progress on the things which are important to me. I don’t expect to finish anything—you should see the book collection, for example—and that’s fine by me.

Chop wood; carry water. (Read a book. Watch a great movie. Jump on stuff. Go for a walk. Mix and season to taste…)

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