blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, productivity

The Hidden Benefits of Doing Work You Really Don’t Want To Do

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

I do not always know what I want, but I do know what I don’t want.
Stanley Kubrick

How much time do you spend doing things you don’t want to do? I’m betting quite a bit.

As a child, you race towards adulthood in search of a mythical time when you’ll cast off the powerlessness of childhood and start doing exactly what you want.

And yet, the older you get, the more you realise adulthood is more about what you don’t want. The shine wears off a job and lifestyle you thought you wanted. And to maintain them you’re bound to a whole series of actions you’d rather skip.

Maybe, as Thoreau said, most of us are leading lives of quiet desperation. From that position, the only act of power left is to say no. If you can’t get what you want, you can still avoid what you don’t want.

Is it that simple?

What Came Out In The Wash

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
George Bernard Shaw

We all know that communication is the key to good relationships. Despite that, we carry deep-seated assumptions and prejudices into our closest interactions without thinking to question or even acknowledge them.

In the early years, doctors in training work long, long hours. I recall when my partner was pulling a heavy on-call burden of two nights per week and two out of five weekends, plus commuting to the hospital. He moved in with me; I did our combined laundry and housework.

Things went along fine until I came home one night after my own stressful weekend on call, while he had been at home resting. My house looked like a bomb had gone off.

“Why haven’t you cleaned up or done laundry?”

“I’m tired and I just didn’t want to do it.”

His response gave me an insight into his mind. It was a rare moment of truth, though I was too mad to appreciate that right then.

Much later, I was able to break it down as follows.

  • I realised that he relied on emotion to guide his actions.
  • He assumed that I did the same.
  • He observed me doing housework without complaint.
  • Therefore he inferred that I did it because I liked it.

This isn’t so much about gender roles as emotional styles. His was if it feels good do it but more importantly if it feels bad don’t do it.

The problem is, that commonly held attitude won’t get you ahead in life.

Sweat The Small Stuff

You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.
Alvin Toffler

You want to feel good and you don’t want to feel bad. That’s a basic instinct for every living creature. But the really good stuff lies on the far side of “bad” stuff. Any success is built on many hours of routine, boring effort. A great performance is an iceberg; one-tenth visible brilliance and nine-tenths hidden trial, error, and reiteration.

A painter cleans brushes, a gardener picks weeds, and a singer practises scales because these menial jobs build the foundations of their craft. Without a solid foundation, the most astonishing building will topple and eventually fail.

Without perseverance and the discipline to do what has to be done repeatedly, you’ll never develop the grit you need to succeed.

When you’re stuck with stuff that feels bad in the moment but still needs doing for various reasons, you need ways to take care of the things you really don’t want to do.

Feelings Don’t Work

Boxing is not about your feelings. It’s about performance.
Manny Pacquiao

Perhaps you think my story about laundry was just a silly domestic spat. We should have agreed a rota at the outset or something like that. You’d just get stuff done without fuss.

But I bet there is something that you haven’t done.
Something you should do, but you can’t bring yourself to start. A conversation, a letter, an action. Every time you think of it, your mind makes excuses and shies away.

You know this action will ultimately lead to a real benefit. You still don’t do it.

You’re trapped in an endless loop of feelings. No matter how trivial or important the task appears, it conjures up anxiety and avoidance that are usually symptoms of something deeper; fear of rejection, fear of failure, or shame. Those unnamed emotions lead to procrastination, which only amplifies them.

There are ways to escape this trap without therapy or suffering.

  1. Name your feelings and set them aside. This is the “just do it” school of thought. It is what it is. Push through your boredom or fatigue, load the washer, and get it done.
  2. Put a reward on the other side. Made a difficult phone call? Have a cookie.
  3. Focus on the outcome and not the process. You want clean clothes, doing laundry is the way to get them.
  4. Feel the fear. Perhaps there are bad consequences to leaving your task undone. You’ll get fired for coming to work in ripped jeans, or laughed at for wearing a formal gown to your retail job because your work clothes were dirty. Rather than avoiding the task itself, avoid feeling even worse by doing your laundry.
  5. Ask “Super Me” to do it. Super Me is you, but stronger. Super Me doesn’t agonise over a phone call or email, scared to make a fool of herself. Super Me knows that even if she stumbles a little, the world will not end. But she won’t stumble because she’s prepared and ready. Super Me knows how to deal with rejection and in that case, she’ll find another way.
  6. Review the need for the task. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be done by you. If you can reasonably delegate, do so. Pay for a laundry service. Teach your older children to do their own laundry, which is a basic life skill. If it’s a precious clothing item, maybe it would be safer if dry-cleaned.
  7. Drop it. This is only after careful thought that concludes this task demands much more input than the result deserves. Many “shoulds and oughts” drop into this category. It may be a friend who never listens and constantly demands your time; a relative you see out of duty; or drinks after work you don’t enjoy with people you don’t like. If the mere thought of dropping it fills you with relief, and you’ve been honest in your cost/benefit assessment, you’re on the right track. Go ahead and make a positive decision to decline gracefully.

Do It Now

If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.
Mark Twain

Research tells us that willpower is a limited resource. Since procrastination is almost inevitable when it comes to doing the thing you don’t want to do, it follows that willpower needs careful management.

So when you’ve found the right strategy to do the thing, do it now. And if you can’t do it now, do it as early in the day as possible, before your willpower is depleted by forcing yourself to be civil rather than cursing at your co-worker or relative.

In other words, decide how you’re going to eat that frog and then, without hesitation, swallow it whole. It won’t taste as bad as you feared. As a bonus, everything else will taste much better, now that’s out of the way.

As for me and my partner, I explained that I subscribed to the “get it done” school and he needed to get with the programme. I despise domestic work to this day, but tolerate it in order to enjoy a tidy living space. We got on the same page, eventually. You can too if you can ask the right questions and listen to the answers.

You’re avoiding something. Get it done and off your plate. Get on with the next thing.

blog, creativity, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Done is Better Than Perfect: How to Move Past the Perfectionist Trap

cosmic-flower-fractal-blue_dp792
dp792 via pixabay

The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt.

Sylvia Plath

They say that everyone has a novel inside them. Maybe you know someone who is hard at work on theirs. You read their comments online or chat with them at an event. They tell you they’ve been working on it for a while. “How long?” you ask. They tell you it’s been several years so far. These perfectionists have laboured over this one piece for five, seven, ten years. And they don’t know when it will be finished.

Or maybe it’s your work that has limped on forever. You’re stuck because you can’t figure out the right style of the gowns in your Imperial court, or your research on spring weather patterns in Kansas has led down increasingly arcane corridors.

You’ll publish or submit, someday. But it’s not perfect yet. And so your great work sits on your hard drive and the world never sees it.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Perfectionists are often procrastinators. You believe if a thing’s worth doing, it must be done properly and nothing less will do. So you either rework and edit endlessly, or you don’t even start because you can never get it absolutely right. And you can’t edit an empty page.

You conceal these feelings behind strong psychological defences and sublimate them into pointless activity. But research isn’t writing. At some level, you know that and you’re disappointed with yourself.

At the heart of perfectionism is fear.

Fear of failure.

Fear of success, because then you have to do it again, leading back to fear of failure.

To overcome perfectionism, you need to understand your fear and master it. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is action despite feeling fear. Courage is taking a deep breath and doing it anyway because your desire for something is greater than the fear of what might happen.

If you never challenge yourself to move past fear, you cannot improve or grow. Everything you really want is outside of your comfort zone.

In order to step out there and thrive, you’ll need to let some ideas go and embrace new thinking. We’ll look at how to do this next.

via BrainyQuote

Everybody sucks and nobody cares

Fear is a basic emotion that we all understand. You fear humiliation and ridicule for getting something wrong. Perhaps you replay some old memory of being laughed at for a minor error, and that underlies your current avoidant behaviour.

Here are two reasons why you should leave that in the past where it belongs.

  1. Everybody sucks in the beginning. Every author, actor, artist, or sports person you admire now was once terrible at their chosen discipline. They wrote awful prose, missed more shots than they scored, and forgot their lines on stage. But they carried on and used those early failures to improve over time. Nobody has a perfect score overall.
  2. People aren’t actually watching that closely. They are as consumed by their inner lives as you are by yours. Even if they look your way, they forget you the next moment as their own drama takes over. Though you might feel as though everyone is looking at you, they’re really not. In psychology, this is known as the spotlight effect. Knowing about the spotlight effect is liberating. It frees you to do whatever you need to do without the pressure of a supposed audience.

Act like a baby

Babies are the world’s fastest learners. From zero, they learn to feed, walk, talk, and live in a social unit, all within two years. They achieve this not by being perfect, but the opposite. They stumble, fall, stand up again.

They babble nonsense and parrot speech without understanding at first. Eventually, they achieve a level of competence that allows them to run, jump, and sing a nursery rhyme.

They do not beat themselves up because they can’t yet recite Shakespeare. They simply chatter and listen to adults when corrected. Each time they repeat, they’re closer to the goal of intelligible speech.

You learned to speak, walk, and countless other complex skills in the same way. If you had waited to speak until you were perfect, you would not have uttered a word for years.

Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Understand that supposed errors are signposts back to the right path, and you’re much less fearful of your results. Judge not against some unattainable level of perfection, but against where you were last time you tried.

You already know how to learn and improve. Adjust your aim, and try again.

Less is not more

While you’re slaving over one meticulously crafted blog post, searching tirelessly for exactly the right image and quote, I’m ramping up my output. One post every Friday was my first goal. Having reached that goal and with over 200 posts under my belt, now I’m aiming to post two or three articles every week. I don’t have time to agonise endlessly over a picture.

Oh, you say, but you prefer quality over quantity. People repeat this justification for low output as if it were gospel truth. It’s completely wrong.

Quantity leads to quality

In an experiment, students in a ceramics class were split into two groups. One group was told that they could get an A by turning in one perfect piece. The other group was told that they would be graded solely on the total weight of pieces produced, of any quality.

The results were surprising. The second group produced a large number of extremely good pieces. They were freed from the constraints of perfection and given free rein to experiment without being penalised. I’d bet money they were happier with their work too.

Repeated practice increased their skills and confidence. They weren’t paralysed by over-analysis or worried about criticism. They did not fear the impossibility of lightning striking twice, because they knew how to create a storm. They were able to replicate good work because they understood what went into making it.

The more you make, the better you get.

David-head_paclomartinezclavel
paclomartinezclavel via pixabay

Let it go

Real artists ship.
Steve Jobs

Imagine if Dali had refused to let anyone see his paintings, or if Michelangelo had obsessively chipped away at and repolished his David. How much poorer we would be! Remember also that an artist’s most famous works comprise only a fraction of their total output.

Writers learn more from finishing one story than from starting and abandoning ten. You’ll learn where you wrote yourself into a corner, and how to figure your way out. You’ll learn how many plots you can juggle. You’ll learn what makes a good ending. And eventually, you’ll join up all those skills and move from conscious competence to unconscious competence.

In other words, you will master your craft and spend more effort on deciding where to put the ball than how to kick it.

At some point, you have to declare a thing finished and let it go. The more refined your skill, the harder it is. You always feel there is just one more thing you could improve upon.

Let it go. Ship it. Publish, submit, and move on to the next thing. That’s the secret; always have a next thing. Each piece becomes a little less precious when it forms a smaller part of your portfolio. You may still have your favourites and the ones you shrug over, but the totality is what matters.

Confidence comes from improvement. You know that you can make another piece, and it might be even better than the last. And if it’s not, that’s okay too.

That is true creative freedom.

via BrainyQuote

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blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

When baking isn’t Zen

but you still get to eat a cookie

home made oat and raisin cookies
actual cookies baked by me

I wrote a piece recently about overcoming writer’s block by immersing yourself in the Zen of simple things. In this case, baking cookies.

It was all there; soothing repetitive tasks, making something tangible, a dash of creativity in the ingredients (these are oat, mixed fruit and ginger cookies, in fact.)

I thought I had done a Good Thing.™

Then this dropped into my inbox from Austin Kleon. You know, the Steal like an Artist guy.

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 12.51.54

Procrastibaking is a thing?

My world tilted. Was it possible that I had procrastinated without knowing — I had in fact procrastibaked?

No, no, say it ain’t so.

Okay, it might be so, sometimes, but I stand by my original article. And I learned something after the cookies (and my story) were baked.

  • creativity is a remix, combining existing elements in a new way
  • procrastination+baking = procrastibaking — love that word
  • inspiration is everywhere
  • productive procrastination still produces something worthwhile
  • whatever, I got to eat cookies and they were delicious

Now, go read his article and the book, which is fabulous. I’m off to make tea and raid the cookie jar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

NaNot today

impala_MonikaP
MonikaP via pixabay

In my writing groups, it’s all about NaNo; daily word counts and writing yourself into a corner and plot holes you could drive a bus through. Maybe that’s the answer to the plot problem. Have the protagonist drive a bus through – never mind…

Things I’m doing instead of NaNoWriMo

  1. Wondering if I should have done NaNo, then reaffirming my decision to pass.
  2. Lunch with friends, bonding with one over the recent loss of her mother.
  3. Sitting at my desk, watching a pheasant walk across the lawn.
  4. Wondering why the pheasant is in my garden.
  5. Chatting with the delivery guy and comparing weekend plans (me: not much.)
  6. Writing a fragment of a poem.
  7. Making a new iTunes playlist, even though I find it hard to write to music with voices.
  8. Pouring away my third half-drunk cup of tea.
  9. Making fresh tea and deciding I do deserve a biscuit. (see point 6)
  10. Gathering the last few chillies from the garden before the frost gets them.
  11. Downloading another book to my Kindle. If not writing, should be reading, right?
  12. Looking at the TBR pile of actual books and sighing.
  13. Wondering again about NaNo.
  14. Concluding that I just don’t have time.
  15. More tea.
  16. Staring.

Where did the day go? Time to make dinner…