Sticking

There’s something simultaneously inspiring and incredibly disheartening about following the tweets of a professional writer like @nkjemison. Here’s a well-respected author with a half dozen books in print, and you’d like to believe that she just sits down whenever she likes, bangs out a couple of perfect pages, then goes off to whatever larger-than-life stuff authors do when they’re off camera (like, I don’t know, jetting off to Paris, or feeding the cat or something). Instead, it’s like watching an epic struggle in time management. She’s just like the rest of us – a full-time job, other passionate interests, bills to be paid – and every day just trying to find the space to write a good 500 words.

The difference is that she’s decided that this is going to be a non-negotiable part of every day, and she’s stuck with it.

As part of my monetizing failure series, I’ve been slowly cutting out different unhealthy habits, and trying to add new, healthy ones. And the surprising thing I’ve found is that it isn’t the hard things that are hard. I thought it would be tough to keep up a regular workout schedule, and my wife and I had serious discussions about whether it was reasonable to promise to donate money each time I blew off a workout. But I’ve only missed one in six months, and that for a pretty good reason.

No, the hardest thing has been the daily sit-ups. Not a big deal, but somehow I keep forgetting. The problem is that I haven’t found a regular time to do them. I frequently only remember to do them right before I go to bed… Or I don’t. This is incredibly frustrating, but even knowing that this is an ongoing problem hasn’t been enough for me to buckle down and reserve a time to do them every day.

But of course, this isn’t really about sit-ups. This is about the thing that I’m not doing. The thing that you aren’t doing. The thing about which we’ll look back in five years and feel a sense of quiet desperation that we didn’t do. Maybe you want to learn a new language, or how to play classical guitar, or practice jiujutsu, or write a screenplay, or publish an app. Maybe you want to get really good at yoga, or chess, or train for a marathon. I suppose I’m assuming that what’s true for me is true for you, but don’t you have something that immediately jumps to the front of your mind?

This isn’t about throwing everything away and rebuilding your life from scratch. This is about setting aside one hour every day when you turn everything off, close all unrelated windows on your computer (or just put the computer to sleep), and focus on the same one thing. Every day.

This is why having a trainer is a motivating factor at the gym. You know that you need to be there at a specific time. It’s scheduled. There aren’t distractions. You’ve paid for it.

If this thing is really important to you, to me, then we’re each going to have to come up with a time. What time would you choose, if you had to schedule one hour, five days a week (six? seven?), every week, to work at this thing that you want to accomplish? What if this were the only way?

One last note – one of my friends recently mentioned that reading this blog can feel a bit demotivating, with its focus on “relentless self-improvement.” As the person on the inside, this is a bit hilarious – the only way I can get myself to do just about anything is to trick myself into it, or to arrange things so I don’t have any other choice. They key isn’t being smarter, or wittier, or devilishly good looking – the only way to get something done in this world is to stick with it, and the best way to do that is to take the need for decision-making and willpower out of it.

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