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On Inspiration

Day 2 wasn’t bad.  In between negotiations with my organization’s director, meeting an entrepreneur, cleaning my house with my cleaner (I always do that, more on that in another post), and connections with some key people in my industry who will be critical in helping us get funded, I mostly spent the day preparing for an upcoming trip dedicated to moving and shaking.  You could say I am training for my marathon next week.  You could say I am building momentum.

(And yes, I successfully practiced link and balance, but did mess up a little bit where I had more than 30g of carbs for dinner and immediately felt the difference.  Kaizen!)

One of the books I am reading, in lieu of not having ANY formal business training and starting a new venture, is the insanely insightful My Personal MBA.  I was shocked to find an entire section dedicated to “working with yourself”.  While I can go on and on about how amazing this book is and how brilliant this kid Josh Kaufman is, I will focus this post on one particular concept that hit home for me.  I have been overcome by Akrasia for quite some time, even though I was convinced that I am one of the most goal-driven people I know.  The Personal MBA Guru Josh Kaufman tells us that akrasia is the primary barrier to getting things done and here’s why:

 

There are seven primary causes of akrasia:

1. You can’t define what you want.

2. You feel the task will bring you closer to something you don’t want.

3. You can’t figure out how you’re going to get from where you are right now to where you want to be.

4. You idealize the desired End Result to the point your mind estimates a low probability of achievement, resulting in Loss Aversion.

5. The “should” was established by someone else, not you, prompting Persuasion Resistance.

6. A competing action in the current Environment promises immediate gratification, while the reward of the task in question will come much later.

7. The benefits of the action are abstract and distant, while other possible actions will provide concrete and immediate benefits.

By these standards, I experience akrasia…a lot.  You could say I lead an “akratic life.” And this is why a psychologist recently diagnosed me with ADHD.  I tend to experience akrasia when I have a large, looming project and I am unsure of the next steps (for example: become a prolific writer – should I be spending my time writing blogs or paid professional gigs?  do I have good ideas so that I can query editors?  Who are the editors?  Why isn’t my system/spreadsheet set up yet where I have everyone’s names and access information?  Should I spend my time building my systems and then querying?).  After five focused years of practicing the principles of self-development and achievement, I am convinced that even if I took a pill I wouldn’t be able to know these answers.  The right answer is a combination of all of these, and sometimes I have trouble prioritizing, for which this sabbatical has helped me tremendously in putting the systems in place, and a plan to do the rest.

I also experience akrasia when I have a deadline for a task that I have idealized and when I have idealized my own (awesome) input for that task (for example: My director asks me to write a one-page  proposal, I spend 6 days doing everything else to “prepare myself” and to “learn more” and to “learn how”, and then work on it at the last minute).  After enough experiences, I know that the best thing to do is to start the document right away, keep iterating, and learning by doing.

In order to combat akrasia, when I actually become conscious of an akratic situation, I still don’t always begin the task.  I simply spend time with something else on my list that I should be doing.

Here are some ways I avert being afflicted by akratic situations:

  • Establish Success, Goals, Tasks, Habits, and Routines.  This links to my principle of living a successful, intentional life. 
  • Use my Pomodoro Technique via my Chrome plugin or iPhone 25 minute timer to Get things done: Do 1 thing per session.  For example, when blogging: I write a blog post in 25 minutes or less, and then add links and images and publish in 25 minutes or less.  This links to my principle of doing one thing at a time, systematically.
  • If I’m stuck, I work on a different goal (a technique I learned from The Art of Procrastination) or do something completely different (techniques I learned from the seminal Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking toolkit).  Go to the gym or a farmer’s market (to meet my healthy, vibrant well-being goal), go for a coffee and read a book or visit a museum (to meet my self-development goal), call a friend, family member, or work on a family blog post (to meet my engaged social life goals), spend an evening or weekend doing something wildly different (to meet my adventure goals).  This links to my life principle of applying creative thinking and non-linear approaches to everyday problems.  
  • I allocate 100% extra time to a project, depending on how gnarly it is.  I measure my achievements by the difference between how long I thought it would take, how long I scheduled it to take, and how long it actually took.  This links to my principle of doing what I say, and saying what I do. 

What have I achieved in the past one month of my deliberate attempts to gain momentum in my life?  

  • Established a new daily routine with enough legroom and diversions built-in for akratic moments.  
  • Embarked on a new career journey.
  • Practiced extreme self-care: putting myself first, not overwhelming myself, regular exercise, acupuncture, linking-and-balancing (my new new thing).

Becoming a prolific writer permeates all of my central life goals.  

  1. Writing helps me clear my mind, which helps me meditate better.  
  2. Writing puts me in a flow state, giving me dopamine and making me less likely to eat mindlessly.
  3. Writing helps me feel more optimistic, actually – invincible, and this helps my performance when I am writing for reals and when I am in meetings.
  4. Writing helps me pay my bills: As I sharpen my skills, reduce the number of hours that go into akratic moments, and build my portfolio, there is no way to go but up.
  5. Writing makes me happy.

What are my prolific writing goals for today?

  1. Write my morning pages on Becoming Prolific (planned: 25 minutes; actual 2 hours)
  2. (want to do) Finish reading My Personal MBA (2 hours while working out, coffee, down time)
  3. (want to do) Write a blog post for my personal blog (1 hour, 2 hours with room)
  4. (need to do) Write up a draft of a content strategy document (3 hours, 6 hours with room)
  5. (need to do) Write the one-page paper (3 hours, 5 hours with room)
  6. Work on my habits + routines + systems (30 minutes)
  7. Review and reflect, plan for tomorrow (30 minutes)

Yes, I went through a bit of a jam.  A break with my everyday reality.  It was scary, but I jumped from my full-time job to pursue my passion wholeheartedly.  I’m in, you know.  But I’d been inert, comatose, and inexpressive for so long.  For so long, a part of me remained so silent.  And the other part of me, so creative, bubbly, and vibrant.

Here I am again.  Dedicating myself to the craft.  I can’t find my copy of Elements of Style.  I might have put it back in the boxes…again, as I await the perfect moment, for the perfect bookshelf, for the perfect room.  I’ve given up perfection for real.  Well, what do you know?  The universe does want me to succeed.  Amazon’s offering a free kindle copy of the book!

These past few months I’ve been reading a lot.  Reading books about self-development, international development and theory, literary journalism.  Less blogs and such.  I even started a book club!  I am coming up with a content strategy for a few of my new endeavors…to build momentum, you know?  To become prolific.

I am writing, you know, but just not here.  I’m writing proposals (to win support and money), content strategies (to earn value), correspondence, academic papers…

Why am I so hell-bent on writing here?  What is it?  I think I just want to have a space where I can practice the art of becoming a writer.  Test literary ideas.  Share stories of my endeavor. Commune with the literary soul of the world wide web…you know, with my tribe…of writers.

(c) Image by Mikolette

No matter what job I have, I can’t help but feel that I am not where I need to be.  I can’t help but feel insecure.  

This post is a meditation to uncover what jobs and roles help me feel the ground beneath my feet and accomplished.

 

I know.  That’s a gnarly image.  But it also evokes a solid state of accomplishment. Of declaration.  I’m here.  100% present tense HERE.

It may be the precarious nature of my current job, my desire for a doctorate education.  It may be that I was laid off, had one terrible experience in grad school.  It may be that the cat got my tongue.  It may be that I was always looking for something else.  That each class and job had been a past-time activity till I got to where I needed to go.  I tried to focus on the moment, and learned early on that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”.  But I want so much out of life.  A job that makes me feel stable.  A writing career.  A business start-up.  A PhD.  At the same time, the cat’s got my tongue.  I can’t write my statement of purpose with ease, start this business, send out a single query, or leave this job and find a new one.  From the outside, all’s not so bad.  I am a success.  Beautiful home, beautiful husband, great job.  But I feel like I was meant to be doing something else.  And yes, I am on my path to doing that… but…what’s holding me back from standing tall and being out there?  Why am I wasting hours and hours of precious time, amounting to a decade and then some.

I’m following some tools out there to do this exercise.

What I want:

To be able to wake up and not feel compelled to sit down and start writing only to stare at the screen and get up 3 hours later rushing to get the actual day started.  In the back of my mind thinking about other possibilities throughout the day, daydreaming through life.  To truly enjoy homemaking, making time for friends.  I am so in my mind – that I want to be able to be just focused.

My Beliefs (recorded from the past several weeks): 

I need something else to be successful.  

need to spend lots of hours trying to write my statement of purpose and figuring out graduate school applications.  

I don’t have time to exercise.  

I can leave the shopping / groceries / doing x till the last minute – I don’t need to do it now because it’s not a priority.  I have time.  We have the whole long weekend to relax.  

I will get SO much done! I will get EVERYTHING done.  I will finish my essay, send out 100 job applications, send out 100 emails to friends, colleagues, contacts, finish a draft of my applications, and study for the GREs.  

I find myself so stressed out mentally when I do things like this.  I feel that I’ve lost time, haven’t read anything positive or substantial aside from blog posts on self-help, and lost the window to exercise.  And to boot, no draft of essay, no query, no article to post, zilch.

Reversing My Beliefs

I’m following this model.

SUCCESSFUL:

1.  I need something else to be successful.

Is this true?  Yes.

Is this 100% true?  No.

What is this limiting belief doing to me?  This is causing me to second-guess myself, be uncertain, and be insecure.  This is causing me to spend countless hours exploring possibilities (but never really acting upon them).  If I knew that I had everything I needed to be successful and that my to-do list was manageable, I would just stop spending all this time thinking and sitting down to write.  I would probably just know what to say and write, I would probably just schedule things like writing, studying, working, exercising, cooking, time with friends, and so on.

Who would I be without this limiting belief?  I would be calm, happy.  I would read for reading’s sake.  I would clean, work out, be a happy homemaker with a flexible schedule, be a successful professional / writer, I would be a mother.  I would know what I want and I would not be afraid to speak up for it.  This whole drive to be “successful” is just driving me mad.

Why do I want to get a PhD?  I want to immerse myself in the world of ideas and become adept at the methodologies, form arguments, defend ideas, advance knowledge in my field, and train incoming students in this field.  I want to feel competent in my job, in my writing, and I want the chance to learn and grow consciously.

SUCCESS = LOTS OF TIME

2.  need to spend lots of hours trying to write my statement of purpose and figuring out graduate school applications.  

Is this true?  No.

What is the limiting belief doing to me ? Causing me to go in circles and second guess myself, leaving me utterly wordless and essayless.

Who would I be without this limiting belief?  My thoughts are clear, and clearly make their way onto the page.  I go through a process of writing — multiple drafts, feedback from others, edits, professional editor if necessary, gut check, rewrites, final draft, polish.  I would spend my extra time on working out, making lovely meals for my family, and reading quality literature, and WRITING. 🙂

NO TIME FOR ANYTHING ELSE:

3.  I don’t have time to exercise.  

Is this true?  No.

What is this limiting belief doing to me?  Making me FAT.

Who would I be without this limiting belief?  Realistic about my time.  Slender, beautiful, HEALTHY.

DEEP PROCRASTINATION

4.  I can leave the shopping / groceries / doing x till the last minute – I don’t need to do it now because it’s not a priority.  I have time.  We have the whole long weekend to relax.  

Is this true?  No – Gotta do it now to have the time later.

What is this limiting belief doing to me?  Leaving me in states of frenzy that I need lots of downtime to recover from.

Who would I be without this limiting belief?  A mature, time-realistic adult.

UNREALISTIC NOTIONS OF TIME

5. I will get SO much done! I will get EVERYTHING done.  I will finish my essay, send out 100 job applications, send out 100 emails to friends, colleagues, contacts, finish a draft of my applications, and study for the GREs.  

Is this true?  NO.

What is this limiting belief doing to me?  Leaving me hopelessly ambitious and devastatingly disappointed.

Who would I be without this limiting belief?  Someone who makes realistic plans for each day, sets mid-term goals, and long-term goals and actually achieves them.

 

Wow.  This is crazy.  What are my goals for today?

 

1. Spend time writing essay (GONE)

2. Go for a short hike. (2 hours)

3. Make my last-minute thanksgiving items for friend’s place tonight.  (2 hours)

4. Get ready and look fabulous. (1 hour)

5. Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with friends. (5 hours)

6. IF TIME: finalizing my programs, proposed advisors, and people to contact.  IF TIME: organizing my essay thoughts into something of a very very scrappy outline – pretend I’m talking to a friend on the phone about what I would like to accomplish. (2 hours)

Hours left till I go to bed: 12

 

Goals for 2012: Apply to PhD programs. Be realistic about time.

 

Enough said. Signing off.

Missed this list of 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers:

1) Separate the writing and the editing processes. When they write, they write, not worrying about the quality of their work. Writer/director Cecil Castellucci says: “”The best flowers are fertilized by crap.”” Remember this and give yourself permission to write a crummy first draft.

Editing is a job for later. That’s when you’ll have plenty of time to rearrange big chunks of text, monkey around with sentence structure, obsess over word choice and fix punctuation.

2) Focus on the interesting. Effective writers (and speakers) always tell lots of stories. If they have to communicate something “”theoretical,”” they illustrate it with real life examples and anecdotes. They know that human beings don’t just crave food—they are also starved for stories.

3) Tap into the power of metaphor. As metaphor expert Anne Miller likes to say, “”metaphors lead to instant understanding.”” There are at least three metaphors in this article (can you find them all?)

4) Do adequate research. There is nothing more painful than trying to write when you have nothing to say. Effective writers understand that good research is all about asking interesting questions—of themselves, of the books, Web sites and reports they read and of anyone they interview. And this needs to be completed before any writing can begin.

5) Learn from the writing of others. Effective writers understand that they are lifelong apprentices. They learn by reading—constantly. Note: this is not just passive, flip- through-a-thriller-while-sitting-on-the-pool- deck kind of reading. This is active sit-up-and-pay-attention-to-technique dissection—similar to what a scientist would do in a lab. You won’t want to read this closely all the time, of course (it’s work—although fun work, to my mind). But effective writers do some of this every week.

6) Write in small bursts. Creative work doesn’t require oodles of time. That first draft you need to write? It’s best done in dribs and drabs, a little bit at a time. Instead of procrastinating, effective writers persuade themselves to write a little each day, no matter how frazzled and frantic they feel. (Editing, on the other hand, usually needs space, time and quiet.)

7) Read their work out loud. Language isn’t just meaning—it’s also music. The most effective writers can often be found sitting by the computer keyboards, madly whispering to the screen, repeating their words back to themselves. Yes, it looks kooky and co-workers may become alarmed. But effective writers don’t care. They do it because it works.

In the last 24 hours, I got very positive news on the grant application.  It made me so happy, and brought me back to a place of confidence.  And it got me thinking…

Great writers come from a place of great confidence.  The ground beneath their feet is solid, and if it isn’t, they are making it so each step of the way.  The story must be told, and there is a deep belief in the story.  There is a certain amount of “knowing” that must happen, whether it is conscious or subconscious.

However, confidence can be amorphous.  Truly prolific writers give confidence a particular form by writing — they consistently verify their state of confidence through the act of writing.  They “ship” and get their work “out there”.  Writing coupled with serial affirmations becomes a positive feedback loop, reifying the prolific writer’s confidence.

I was taking a quiz to self-diagnose whether or not I am a “serious writer” (I would link it here, but dope! I closed the window).  The quiz has 13 questions, and if you answer ‘Yes’ for all of them, then yes, by God, you are a “serious writer”.  Out of the 13 questions, I got 10 of them.  Of the ones I did not get, one of them asked whether I was part of a book club, a writer’s circle, or group of some sort.  Another one asked whether I published an article, or book chapter, or post once a week.  And the last one asked me if I knew what success looks like for ME (this is a ‘Yes”, but it’s a qualified, course-correcting yes – and each time this question is asked, I take the opportunity to answer it, so it is partially a ‘No’).  All of these three questions got me thinking — I write so privately and alone, leaving myself so vulnerable to what others may think.  And when I do publish, it can be hit or miss.  If I published more, I could be more successful, and be less scrappy.

I immediately RSVPd at one of my local writing meetups.  I also made a resolution to make a daily “ship” that has to do with furthering my writing goals (to start for the next 7 days: draft of my statement of purpose, PhD application essay 1, essay 2, revise statement of purpose, a post on my work blog, posts on my personal blog, posts on my family blog).  These two approaches will help me give form to my own confidence.

Finally, to the million dollar question: Do I know what success means for ME?  To answer this, I first think: Success means luxury to write about my chosen genres, positive relationships with editors, co-authors, and my community, writing regularly and getting it out there, and making a living by connecting and conveying ideas on a daily basis.  Holy sh*t.  Holy sh*t.  Guess what?  I already HAVE THESE THINGS.  This is the part that beguiles me.  Why have I been operating from a place of lack of confidence, uncertainty, and VOICELESS.  Have you ever felt VOICELESS? That’s literally the feeling I’ve been carrying with me for 5 years.  Like the cat got her tongue.  Just this sheer inability to stand on my own two feet – or my own words.  Hiding behind managers, being “busy”, and so on.

On the point of “making a living” – I want to make more money.  Successful writing will bring me more writing opportunities – to the tune of $100,000 / year and lots and lots of time flexibility.  Contractor wants to come by on a Tuesday afternoon?  Sure!  I have to meet my swimming coach from 7:30 – 8:30am?  Sure!  I want to spend the afternoon cooking for a family dinner?  Sure!

So, success to me is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.  Feeling the fear and writing brilliant copy for  work projects, writing compelling presentations, writing essays that move and shake, doing the research I want to do and writing about it in a 100 different ways, making connections and writing about them, meeting people and writing about my meetings.  Just doing it.  I have a platform, I have a stage.

My personal success statement:

To me, success means that I regularly write feature articles, blog posts, academic articles, book chapters, professional reports.  Success is making a plan and doing the work.  To me, success comes from a place of deep positivity, the support of my loved ones, self-love, and confidence. Success is work that is well-received, and success is having the right mentors and coaches to help me make it happen.  Success is doing great research and communicating it well.  Success is telling compelling, clear stories that change the way people see the world. 

After this, I quickly went to some blogs and articles that EFFECTIVELY help answer the question of identifying success as a writer:

  • The 7 Habits of Writing Success school of thought is: writing, focus, reading, learning, redrafting, professionalism, reflection
  • Five Smarter Habits of Great Writers: 1. Write for Others, 2.  Write Something Scary Every Day, 3. Finish Shorter Pieces, 4. Test Your Skill by Submitting for Publication, 5. Disregard All Advice

Talent is natural ability. For a writer, it means facility with language and/or skill at storytelling. It includes imagination and as in other fields, it involves being able to suss out one’s own niche. What particular things are you, as a writer good at?

[Response: I am good at interdisciplinary narration. I am good at writing out the story versus telling the story.  I am good at descriptive writing.  I want to work on impromptu writing and storytelling.]

Knowledge has to do with the mechanics of storytelling, sentences, the way a reader’s mind works and how to get out of that way, and so on. There are a whole string of elements that can be learned about writing. You can find a bunch of them on Chuck Wendig’s website, terribleminds.com. You can learn them by taking a course. You can read books about writing.

[Response: I am good at academic and formulaic writing, but I want to get better at creative writing.]

Experience comes from writing and from reading. Because you need to have been a reader in order to understand both what works generally as well as the way your own mind works in terms of words. You need to write, a lot. I don’t remember the exact number of words or stories he mentioned, but Warren Ellis once told me you have to write so many bad words or stories to get to the good ones. So experience is, in a way, first writing stories that don’t work. It’s like trying to make a map of cool places when you don’t have GPS or Google. You have to walk the streets and make notes. You have to explore.

[Response: Yeah… I need to write more and read more. :)]

Passion is your innate drive to pursue your creative work. It is what Jung talked about when he said that writers had been known to abandon their entire lives in order to write a story. It’s what people mean when they say they ‘have to’ write. It might be that a writer feels she has never been good at anything else. It’s very strong, this passion. It confronts and defeats obstacles. It doesn’t listen to nay-sayers. It’s a river carving its way inland from the ocean of your subconscious. Without it, all the talent and knowledge in the world will not get you there. It’s because of this element that people follow their bliss, pursuing creative work although it means living on the edge financially. Or when they have other demands on them, such as family and responsibility, they continue to pursue their creative work in spite of it not being the easiest or most lucrative thing they could do to make money.

[Response: This is me.]

 “The life-changing message of ‘On Writing Well’ is: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity.”

Twice a day, place your hand on your chest and say out loud “I choose to become a successful writer. I have the attitude of a successful writer.” This is a declaration, not an affirmation.

Carolyn encourages us to consciously visualize the successful writer’s life we want to have in the future in detail, including what we’ll wear, if that’s important to us, what friends we’ll have, where we’ll live, and more. That kind of visualization is important, I think. If we don’t put some thought into what we want, how will we know when we’ve achieved it? She encourages us to go into detail because some of the details are easier to achieve than others. It’s very tough to make the New York Times bestseller list, but it’s not so hard to save up for a splashy cape or dramatic trench coat.

 

Boiling it down:

Being a successful writer means that I will have a steady stream of writing projects that are guaranteed to result in research publication, successful reports, paid articles, and then some!  As a successful writer I will get the time to spend and devote to my family, friends, spiritual, mental, and physical emotional health.  As a successful writer, I will make over $100,000 a year as a freelance writer, part-time or full-time research employee, part-time researcher at a research institute, blogger, adjunct and/or assistant professor.  As a successful writer, I will also have the time to diversify my sources of income by launching a new business.  As a successful writer, I will work out daily, be graceful and beautiful, be well-dressed and on-point, have the time to read, comment, and attend lectures, connect with people in my genre and field, and play an active role in my community.  As a successful writer, I will be a successful person — present, active, full of life, graceful, slender, a beautiful mother, wife, employee, friend, daughter, sister, and colleague.

I write daily when I wake up, I blog daily at least once a day, I complete my professional and freelance assignments early and really well.  

 

 

I did it.  I shipped today.  I wrote up two grant inquiry letters.  I didn’t work out, I procrastinated by reading random websites on self-improvement and eating too many cookies, but I didn’t revert to cigarettes or trying to run this errand or that one, I ignored everything else, but I did it.  I made it happen.  I did it.  I wrote up the grant inquiry.

 

 

Every day without fail I spend about 15 minutes to an hour thinking about my goals, writing about my goals, and thinking about how to be productive that very day.  Today, I’m reading this post on being prolific and this rather operational how-to to get started.  

The thing I can’t get over is the sheer anxiety of having talked about this stuff that I am supposed to do, but haven’t actually done.  The sheer anxiety of deadlines, and just not knowing how/where to start.  But I’m thinking this whole not knowing how/where to start business is a part of the anxiety.  Many times this year I’ve tried to abandon my dreams, but they haunt me.  

Thinking about this is no longer OK.  It’s gotta happen.  There is only a set amount of time we get on this planet.  There is only a set amount of time we get where people are listening and waiting for us to ship.  After that, we’re just there.  We can go back to comfort food and TV, we can go back to this hot new restaurant or that one.  I want this.  I am going to go after this right now.  Nothing else makes sense.