“Turning Pro” to Go with the Flow

“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

– Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art” 

Last night I had an interesting conversation with one of my roommates. We traversed a variety of topics, ranging from the meditation habits of Kobe Bryant to what it truly means to go with the flow in life. At one point during our discussion, I started telling my roommate something I had never talked about with anyone before (mainly because I thought it would make me look like a crazy person). It went something like this:

Sometimes there’s this noise in my head. It always starts when I know I should be working on something – whether it’s writing, making a video, or going to the gym – but I don’t do it.

First come the thoughts, hollow rationalizations whispering inside my head. I know I should be taking action but I’m trying to deny it. As my denial continues, emotions like anxiety and guilt join those thoughts, increasing the noise from a subtle murmur to a distracting hum. It’s not long before the noise becomes overwhelming. My mind feels scattered and focusing is nearly impossible.

At this point I have two options: escape into mindless distractions (watch Netflix, get on my phone, blast some music) or do the thing I know I should be doing. I’m quite familiar with the first option. It’s the easy fix, but it’s also temporary. As soon as the distraction is over the noise comes back.

But every now and then I summon the willpower to choose option number two. I glue my ass to a chair and just write. I set up my tripod, turn on my camera, and just start talking. That’s the magic bullet. It doesn’t even matter if the work I produce is any good; within minutes the noise subsides. I’m left with an empty mind.

Last week I wrote about my growing interest in going with the flow. I sometimes envision that as a state of content laziness, an avoidance of the work and responsibilities that are supposedly causing me so much stress. Yet it’s that very avoidance that inevitably leads to the noise in my head, and thus more of the stress I want to escape.

So if avoiding action isn’t the key to going with the flow, does that mean taking more action is?

Not surprisingly, I’m turning to a book for the answers I seek. That book is Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.”

I first read “The War of Art” during my senior year of college, but only recently did I realize how valuable it is.

Pressfield begins the books by talking about resistance, the invisible force responsible for all of our creative blocks. It’s the voice in our heads that tells us all the reasons why we can’t achieve our dreams. It’s the inner saboteur that makes us rationalize and procrastinate. It the reason so many people “die with their song still inside of them,” as the saying goes.

Fortunately, Pressfield spends the rest of the book describing how to conquer this destructive foe. He gives plenty of great advice, but most of it can be summed up with two words: turn pro.

Turning pro means treating your creative work (or any work/activity that pushes you to grow as a person) like you would your job. No matter how bad you feel or what rationalizations your mind tries to create, you always show up for work. Rain or shine. Excited or miserable. You show up because it’s your job.

It means sitting down every day to write. It means going to the gym on the days you’re supposed to. It means taking action towards your goals, even when your thoughts and emotions are doing their best to make you do the opposite.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “That’s a nice concept and all, but what does it have to do with going with the flow?”

In my earlier post on going with the flow, I talked about how non-resistance and being present to the moment seemed like the best ways to do that. Ever since I discovered “The Power of Now” I’ve tried relying on those things whenever that noise in my head appeared. However, those things haven’t been very effective. The only thing that has ever been able to quiet my mind in those moments is doing the work I’m avoiding.

That tells me that things like acceptance and mindfulness only make up half of what’s necessary to truly go with the flow in life. The other half? Turning pro. It’s counterintuitive, but dedicating yourself to the work that truly matters to you is just as important as learning how to take it easy.

Of course, this could be completely subjective. But I know from personal experience that I am the most relaxed after working on my passions, even if resistance tries to convince me otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

Quote of the Week #32

Photo: Zarautz, Spain
Photo: Zarautz, Spain

Since 2013 I’ve had a list of personal dreams and goals that I review (almost) every morning. I read somewhere that keeping a list like that would help bring me closer to what I wanted to accomplish. But the results have been pretty sparse over the past few years.

The reason: I didn’t follow up on those aspirations with action. I had a vision, but I didn’t put in the work necessary to make it real.

Someone who does a great job at describing the ideal balance between vision and action is entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. One of his notorious maxims is, “clouds and dirt.” Clouds represent the vision, and dirt represents the hard work it takes to achieve it.

Interestingly, he doesn’t describe it as finding a middle-way between the clouds and the dirt. For him, the middle represents people who neither take the right actions or have a strong vision. What he counsels is living simultaneously in both the clouds and the dirt, having a ridiculously powerful vision and a ridiculously strong work ethic to back it up.

 

Two Keys to Finding Motivation

img_20161005_192604

In my last post, I mentioned some of my doubts about being able to handle my workload this year. In the two days since writing that I picked up a third private English lesson and a fourth is in the works. This extra work hasn’t eased those doubts, but my determination to crush it this year remains strong.

If I’m being honest, my newfound motivation is a little shocking to me. This time last year I was doing my best to avoid hard work, and finding any kind of lasting motivation seemed like a battle I was destined to lose. Yet now I’m  filled with a burning desire to make the most out of my life.

How did I get to this point?

Starting this blog last April was the spark that lit the fuse. Since then, my motivation and ambitions have both grown exponentially. To get more specific, though, here are two different focuses that have fueled this change.

  1. A focus on doing
  2. A focus on giving

A Focus on Doing

“Personal power is the ability to take action.”

– Tony Robbins

I’ve been a thinker for most of my life. I like to think about all the things I want to accomplish and how I might accomplish them. I make plans and imagine different scenarios. I think, and I think, and I think.

For years I wondered why I could never create any lasting change in my life. I had so many great plans and even more theories on how to accomplish them. But the plans always seemed to stay plans, never coming to fruition.

It’s obvious now, but my problem was that I never acted on those plans.

Thinking about what I wanted to accomplish was easier than actually trying to accomplish it. There was no risk of discomfort or failure. Plus, indulging in all that mental masturbation was like a dopamine hit for my brain. I could take pleasure in my potential without having to work to fulfill it.

If taking action was so difficult for me, then how did I even start this blog?

I guess I had a momentary convergence of inspiration and motivation. I was also extremely dissatisfied with my life at the time, and taking action seemed to be the only way out of that negative space. Either way, I’m really grateful that I was able to take that initial step.

Since starting this blog I’ve experienced the rewards that taking action can offer. I’d like to write a more in-depth post about them, so I’ll just talk about the biggest one for now: momentum. The most amazing thing about taking action – even if it’s something small like choosing a WordPress theme for your new blog – is that it provides the fuel for even more action.

It’s a matter of inertia. An object at rest isn’t going to move unless something makes it. But when something is moving, it’s not going to stop unless something forces it too.  So now that I’m taking action on a daily basis, I can hardly imagine stopping. Each action fills me with inspiration and motivation to take even more action.

This doesn’t mean each day has to be filled to the brim with activity, though. Some days I only get one or two important things done. But just a little bit of action on a daily basis helps me maintain my forward momentum. Plus, as the momentum builds, the amount and intensity of my actions also increase.

P.s. – Watching this video also helps get me in the “doing” mindset.

A Focus On Giving

“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in your mind.”

– Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3, Verse 19)

For all my talk about doing, staying motivated can still be a struggle at times. I experience this most when it comes to teaching English, probably because I’m not as passionate about teaching as I am about writing and creating. Still, it’s something I’ve committed to doing (and it gives me a paycheck), so staying motivated in this area is really important to me.

This is where a focus on giving comes into play.

I first discovered this powerful idea when I read the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu spiritual text. The Bhagavad Gita talks about selfless service, which means acting for the benefit of others without the expectation of any reward.

It’s not so much about being the next Mother Teresa or even making sure all your actions directly help someone. What it’s really about is the mindset you have while taking action.

I’ll use teaching English as an example. There are two ways I could look at it:

  1. I’m teaching because I want the opportunity to live abroad and make money while doing it, or…
  2. I’m teaching because I want to help students learn and improve their English. I want to have a positive impact on as many students as possible.

Both of these statements contain some truth. Teaching is by no means my greatest passion, and I mainly decided to do because it was the easiest way to move my life abroad. At the same time, I do genuinely want to help my students, even if I don’t feel overly qualified to do so.

My natural tendency is to approach my work with the first mindset. This means viewing each day of work as a necessary duty so that I can live in Spain. As you can imagine, this makes work feel like a chore, which then makes me less likely to stay motivated.

Things become a lot easier when I approach my job with the second mindset. Instead of viewing work as a chore, I look at it as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students. This has been like finding a hidden stockpile of energy. I can now bring the same amount of passion to my teaching as I do to my more creative endeavors.

It takes discipline, but I’ve found there’s always a way to think about an activity in terms of benefiting others. Take working out consistently for example. By being in great physical shape you’ll have more energy to help others, you’ll be in a better mood which will rub off on others, and you can set a positive example for the people closest to you. This is a really basic example but you get the idea.

 

Note: I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve got this motivation thing all figured out. What I’ve written here is just what has helped me on my journey so far, and I hope it can help you with any motivational struggles you might be facing as well. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minding My Focus

Photo: Seville, Spain
Photo: Seville, Spain

This year’s grind has begun.

For the first time since college, my days are filled to the brim with stuff I want to accomplish. Among my many to-dos’s are English lessons to prepare, videos to film and edit, blog posts to write, and plenty of books to read. In addition to all of that, I decided to join a gym here in Seville, adding three workouts and tracking my diet to my weekly schedule. Oh, and I want to maintain an active social life as well.

I can already hear that little voice in my head saying, “you’re biting off way more than you can chew.” That voice may have a point. But I figure it’s better to aim too high than too low. Whether I manage it all or end up burning out before the year is up, I’ll be happy knowing I pushed myself harder than any year prior.

The Problem

As I hustle to get things done, I’ve started to notice a habit that really inhibits my productivity: I’m always focusing on too many things at once.

It’s not so much that I physically do multiple things at the same time; I long ago accepted that multitasking is not something I excel at. The real problem is my mind. Whenever I’m working on a specific task, my mind is constantly fixated on the future. It’s planning out the day and then re-planning it based on imaginary scenarios. It’s worrying about the result of my current actions and all the things I’ll need to work on when I finish.

I end up focusing on everything except what I’m working on at that moment.

But here’s the worst part:  the constant worrying and mental back-and-forth causes my stress levels to skyrocket. Even when my to-do list is manageable, my neck and shoulders end up tighter than vice grips, and I barely make it half-way through the day before feeling worn out.

If the sustainability of this year’s workload is a concern for me then something needs to change.

The Solution: Mindfulness

Though my interest in things like mindfulness and meditation continues to grow, I still sometimes question their practical value when it comes to achieving material success. Sure, it’s nice to have inner peace and live in the present moment, but getting shit done just seems more valuable a lot of the time.

However, I think my current struggle with focus is a testament to the value of mindfulness and meditation when it comes to achievement. Getting absorbed by thoughts and anxieties while working is just another form of unconsciousness. Instead of using my mind to enhance my life, I’m getting lost in it.

Fittingly enough, mindfulness is what brought me to this realization in the first place.

My struggle with focus isn’t some new development in my life. I’ve always had a problem in this area, but it was only through practicing mindfulness that I became aware of it. Now I want to use mindfulness and meditation to not only be aware of the problem but actually fix it.

Moving forward, I want to cultivate a laser-like focus when it comes to work. This means fully engaging with every task I work on, no matter how small.

I think my focus on abdominal breathing this month is a great way to start doing this. Whenever I notice my mind jumping towards past and future while working, I want to bring my attention back to my breath. From there I can refocus on the task at hand.

To end this post here’s a quote by Eckhart Tolle that really captures the mindset I’m trying to develop.

“Your outer journey may contain a million steps; you inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now.

– Eckhart Tolle

 

 

 

Quote of the Week #30

Photo: San Sebastian, Spain
Photo: San Sebastian, Spain

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.”

– Mahatma Gandhi 

I recently wrote about “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. “Always do your best” is probably my favorite agreement, and I think this quote from Gandhi carries the same message.

Our full effort is all that we can ask of ourselves at any moment. Sometimes that effort will produce amazing results. Other times it will leave us massively short of our goals. The fact of the matter is that results will always vary.

All we can control is the consistency of our effort.

 

 

 

 

 

Quote of the Week #29

without-hustle_2

“Without hustle, your talent will only get you so far.” 

– Gary Vaynerchuk

The tone of this week’s quote is a little different than what I normally post, but I think Gary Vee’s words really highlight my mindset going into 2017.

For most of my life, I’ve gotten by on my natural talents combined with a ton of support (both emotionally and financially) from my family. While I’ve put a lot of work into my mental and emotional health over the past few years, I’ve yet to really exert myself when it comes to achieving the life I want externally. I guess you could say I’ve just been skating by my whole life, never failing at anything but also never achieving the kind of success I I know I’m capable of.

Along with focusing on mindfulness, I want to make this a year of hustle and execution. And for what seems like the first time in my life, I actually have a clear purpose to work towards: building this blog and my Youtube channel.

Here’s to a year filled with both presence and productivity!