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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Do the work

She didn’t give me a chance because I was an “insider” or because I had the fire of an “outsider.” She gave me a chance because I did the work. When she was in on the weekends, she saw me there too. When she asked me to read something, she got a report on her desk the next day. If she took the time to solicit ideas from the window seats, I spoke up. I made an ass out of myself more times than I’d like to admit but I watched, read, and learned.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2013/04/insideoutside/

In all my years I’ve never worked a “real” job; I never had one of those corporate wage-slave jobs you may have heard of from the 80’s and 90’s. I had two, generic-type, hourly-wage-type jobs; one involving insane physical labor as a grounds-keeper on a golf course. I worked while in college, but only for the extra spending money, so I had the luxury of working jobs I wanted. Lots of people at those jobs helped me out, and lots of people have given me breaks along the way. Why?

Because I did the work.

I cut the edging of sand traps in the blazing heat, by hand, with a machete. I mopped floors, loaded and drove a delivery truck. Mowed grass, mucked horse stalls, loaded tons of paper into laser printers, read a room full of manuals, typed and then edited an entire book chapter full of complex math. Some things I did for money, some for favors, and some for fun. I put my back into it, literally and figuratively.

So now—on a Wednesday morning, relaxing before a fire, deciding what I will do today—I’m also thinking: Who do I know that could use a tip? Who could do wonders with an opportunity? Who could accomplish a lot if I just helped them get in motion?

Yes, each of us should seize the day, chart our own course, and begin now under our own power. But those of us in positions where we are able, we should be helping, nudging, pushing and guiding wherever our efforts can have outsized benefit.

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Commitment

If someone were to ask me to identify the single primary quality that an artist or entrepreneur should cultivate in himself, I would say depth of commitment. Because depth of commitment either embodies all the other virtues or establishes the fertile field in which they can take root and grow. Depth of commitment presupposes courage, passion, recklessness, capacity for self-discipline, and the ability to have fun. It implies perseverance.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2012/12/a-pro-recognizes-another-pro/

Commitment doesn’t increase in a smooth fashion. One moment things are as they are, and then you catch a glimpse of how they could be. A glimpse of how they should be… how they must be! When it happens, it’s like cresting a hill after a long walk up a tedious slope. In a flash you forget the thousand gnats and brambles you endured on the climb. There’s nothing for it but to charge down the hill into the valley. This is the valley. This is the solution. This is the way the work should have been done from the beginning. You ignore the shadow which you can clearly see lies at the very bottom of the valley. You ignore the far slope certain you won’t have to climb that hill. Surely nothing better could be found beyond. Surely all the work of all those previous hills was worth the effort to reach this valley.

Right?

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Herky-jerky breakthroughs

The trajectory is not a smoothly-ascending curve, but a herky-jerky spasm-fest marked by seeming dead-ends, plateaus, dark nights of the soul, intervals of boredom and stasis, not to mention bouts of terror, despair and self-doubt, which are followed, if we’re lucky, by quantum leaps to the next level.

In other words, we advance by breakthroughs.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2012/07/how-we-get-better-part-two/

The key is to turn around and look back at how far you’ve progressed. Set goals, plan, and take aim by looking ahead. But when you want to assess your progress, do not look at the goal. I spent far too much time looking at my goals and invariably saying, “I surpassed the goal… I should have set a bigger goal. I could have done more.” …or saying, “I fell short of the goal. I suck.” Both of which are dangerously negative.

Instead, leave markers along your journey—you can look at your earlier writing, look at your earlier paintings, reminisce with a friend, etc. Look at the markers you’ve left along the way and think, “look how far I’ve come!”

This is the only way I’ve found to maintain a positive outlook.

Think of a goal you currently have; something you’ve been working on for a while. When was the last time you looked back to assess your progress?

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Bashing against the resistance

… Resistance is natural, just a sensation in the body that is a response to change, discomfort, uncertainty. Our minds have a hard time dealing with these things, because we like routine, comfort, certainty.

Here’s the thing: the resistance isn’t always at a constant, full-on intensity. Resistance ebbs and flows. 

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/resistances/

Steven Pressfield also writes a lot about resistance. (For example, see his book, The War of Art.) The approach he advocates is one of showing up and doing the work. He has a lot of good advice around preparing for the inevitable arrival of resistance, and even goes so far as to consider it a necessary evil; it’s a thing within each of us that cannot be avoided and which must be faced in the process of heading the call of the work.

Maybe.

Me? I’m just exhausted from should’ing on myself.

These days, I’m definitely in a Leo-zen phase where I’d like the path of least resistance. My personal challenge is not that I’m going to get sucked into video games and sit around all day. My personal challenge is that I’m going to bash myself on the task-of-the-day one time too many… or a thousand times too many. For me, the path of least resistance is obviously still a path towards the goal; I still have goals and I cannot help but choose paths towards those goals. I’ve permanently ingrained the habit: Here’s an idea. Here’s the goal. Here’re the first 10 next-actions. I’ve got that. Can’t avoid it. I could never not do that.

But do I take those next-actions now… like, right now? Perhaps it would better to relax doing nothing for a bit, and take those next-actions tomorrow? …or maybe even next week?

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